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From in-territory COVID-19 tests to Thanksgiving: N.W.T. top doctors answer your COVID-19 questions

The Northwest Territories top doctors answered questions from the public, touching on the processing of in-territory COVID-19 tests over the past two weeks, Thanksgiving, singing in schools and hospital visits for palliative care patients.

Dr. Sarah Cook and N.W.T.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola were live on CBC's Trailbreaker

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and territorial medical director Dr. Sarah Cook took residents' questions during the call-in show. (CBC)

The Northwest Territories has been processing all of its COVID-19 tests in-territory over the past two weeks, slashing its turnaround time to less than 24-hours, according to the territory's medical director.

Dr. Sarah Cook joined the N.W.T.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola Thursday morning on CBC's Trailbreaker, fielding questions on the pandemic from listeners in a bi-weekly call-in show.

Between Sept. 9 to 29, Cook said 691 tests were processed in-territory rather than being sent south to Alberta, and the average turnaround time from the time of collection to the time a result was completed was 19.5 hours.

"That doesn't include the time to actually get the call, and that's another challenge," she said, adding the territory is working to ensure it has enough staff available to contact people as results come in.

The development comes as Health Canada regulators approved the ID NOW rapid COVID-19 testing device that's said to deliver results within minutes.

"We have ordered tests but it will be several weeks before we see anything on the ground," Kandola said.

Shorter isolation times?

At a Wednesday news conference, Kandola said rapid testing could lead to reducing the 14-day self-isolation period required in the territory.

Cook elaborated on that Thursday, saying one of the questions being looked at now is when the territory can test during that period and safely capture enough people that have the virus.

"And that depends on having the testing capacity, but we also want to make sure that we're getting a low enough false-negative rate that we can trust the results," she said.

"Even at day seven, and even at day 10 and even at day 14, there are going to be false negatives."

As of Wednesday, according to the government's latest numbers, the territory had completed 5,224 COVID-19 tests and had 32 results pending. There have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, all of which recovered months ago. 

While Cook said we still don't know when a vaccine will be ready, a flu vaccine will be available shortly, and more information will be coming out next week.

"It's really, really important that people get the flu vaccine this year," she said.

Singing in schools?

"Singing is still under review," Kandola said, after a listener asked when the territory would allow singing in schools.

"The data has shown that singing is one of those higher risk activities versus normal talking because you expel more droplets," she said.

Kandola said there is a way to do singing safely, but it requires a lot more distancing than is available.

"In a typical classroom with crowding, it's a higher risk activity."

Holiday gatherings might be smaller this year

With Thanksgiving approaching, one listener asked for clarification around the number of people allowed inside.

"You can have up to five additional guests to a maximum of 10 in your own home and if you need to do more, find other indoor facilities that you can have up to 25," Kandola said.

She said it's prudent to have a low amount of contact with other people and if you do invite people into your home, to keep it to your "fave five."

Exemption for visits to patients in palliative care?

Another question posed was surrounding visits to hospitals and whether there will be an exemption for visits to patients in palliative care.

Cook says those cases could qualify as an exception and are looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Missed the live call-in show? Watch it here: 

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