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From Halloween to travellers in restaurants? N.W.T.'s top doctors answer COVID-19 questions

From out-of-territory travellers eating at restaurants to Halloween this year, the N.W.T.'s top doctors were on CBC's Trailbreaker to take your latest COVID-19 questions.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and territorial medical director Dr. Sarah Cook answer questions

Dr. Kami Kandola, left, and Dr. Sarah Cook joined the Trailbreaker live to take people's COVID-19 questions on Thursday. (CBC)

From out-of-territory travellers eating at restaurants to Halloween this year, the territory's top doctors took people's latest questions about COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories as we head into the fall season.

The N.W.T.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and territorial medical director Dr. Sarah Cook answered questions live Thursday on CBC's The Trailbreaker.

Since our last call-in show in August, students started going back to school as schools reopened across the territory.

The government announced a new territorial medical director — a "critical" role during the COVID-19 pandemic  — to replace Cook, who announced earlier this summer that she was not seeking a renewal of her term in order to spend more time with her family.

The N.W.T. extended its public health emergency for the 12th time Tuesday.

Here are your questions: 

When will the government shorten the wait times for test results?

Cook said "unreasonable turnaround time" for test results has been one of the biggest challenges for the government. 

She said most of the swabs from the N.W.T. are still going to Alberta, and the average wait time is about 5.8 days. 

We'll have our compliance enforcement task team check in to what's happening in Big River.- Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

"Fortunately, there's been really significant progress in the last few weeks on this," said Cook. 

She said the government will be announcing more details in the coming weeks, but can't give specifics. 

"We are procuring additional equipment to be able to do that," said Cook.

She also noted the government has a bit more capacity for rapid testing as the BioFire rapid testing is now "up and running."

What is Halloween going to look like for children? 

"That's an excellent question," said Kandola. "[It's] about keeping your circle small and your spaces large." 

She said as children tend to go household to household for candy, her office will have to further look at the risks.

"How do we celebrate in a safe manner? How do we minimize contact? ... But at the same time assure that kids are able to go celebrate their favourite holiday." 

Kandola said her office will provide guidance closer to Halloween in early October.

I saw people at Big River gas station near Fort Providence with Ontario licence plates, eating at the restaurant without a mask. What are the rules for visitors wearing masks?

Kandola said any traveller coming into the territory by vehicle, whether they are an essential worker or a resident, should be practising physical distancing, and wearing non-medical masks when that's not possible. 

She said visitors should be wearing masks, "especially when they're going to pay their bills" at places like restaurants. Kandola also said it's not recommended they sit down and eat indoors where others are. 

"We'll have our compliance enforcement task team check in to what's happening in Big River," she said.

What kind of preparations are you making for a possible serious outbreak in Yellowknife? 

Cook said the government's detailed pandemic response plan will be released publicly on Friday. 

"The pandemic plan really goes through exactly the answer to that question," said Cook.

She said the government is preparing for "surge" capacity at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, by opening up beds that are not currently used and repurposing day procedure beds.

As for ventilators, Cook said the government has been procuring more of those. 

As always with any medical emergencies that the N.W.T. doesn't have the resources to handle, she says patients would be sent to Alberta for treatment.

Cook also said an antiviral drug has been approved by Health Canada for use in "very, very specific situations." And that would be something the government may also use in serious cases.

As of Wednesday morning, according to the government's latest numbers, the territory had completed 3,969 COVID-19 tests and had 153 results pending. There have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, all of which have recovered months ago.

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

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