COVID-19 cases climb in Yellowknife as schools close until at least Sept. 24

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer has ordered the closing of all JK-12 schools in Yellowknife, Dettah and N'Dilo from Tuesday Sept. 14 to at least Sept. 24.

As of Monday, there are 117 active cases in Yellowknife, 22 in Behchokǫ̀ and 14 in Whatì

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer has ordered the closure of all schools, including trade schools and colleges, in Yellowknife, Dettah and N'Dilo as the region grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer is closing all JK-12 schools, colleges and trade schools in Yellowknife, Dettah and N'Dilo until at least Sept. 24 as COVID-19 cases continued to climb in the capital over the weekend.

The order takes effect at 5 p.m. Monday.

A note to parents from Yellowknife Education District 1 said staff are working on remote learning, which is expected to begin on Thursday, Sept. 16. It said more specific information for parents will be shared by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

In a Monday news release, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) said the school closure is a result of public health in Yellowknife not being able to complete testing and contact tracing in a timely manner.

"The increase in COVID-19 activity in Yellowknife risks the safety of our students, especially those under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination," says Dr. Kami Kandola in the statement.

Day homes and day cares are exempt from the order.

179 active cases in N.W.T.

The N.W.T. is in the midst of its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic. The OCPHO reported Monday evening that there are 117 active COVID-19 cases in Yellowknife, 22 in Behchokǫ̀ and 14 in Whatì. It says all three of those communities are experiencing community transmission.

The OCPHO is asking anyone travelling from Yellowknife, Behchokǫ̀ or Whatì to another community in the territory to get tested for COVID-19 on day one and day eight after arriving. 

Overall, there are 179 cases across the territory, an increase from 137 reported on Friday.

The current outbreak originated in the Sahtu region in early August, following a handgames tournament that took place in Fort Good Hope. The number of cases in the region hit a peak of 249 active cases on Aug. 30. The case count for the region now stands at 18, with eight cases in Fort Good Hope, and five each in Norman Wells and Tulita.

A containment order for Norman Wells is expiring at the end of the day Tuesday and will not be renewed.

There are also two cases in Hay River and K'atl'odeechee First Nation, and one each in Inuvik, Fort Smith, Łutsel Kʼe, Fort Providence and Fort Liard.

K'atl'odeechee First Nation declared a state of emergency over the weekend. Chief April Martel is asking everyone to stay home until contact tracing is completed.

Restrictions in capital area

Since cases started to increase in the Yellowknife area, Kandola has imposed gathering restrictions in Yellowknife, Behchokǫ̀, N'Dilo and Dettah. A number of cases among staff and people who experiencing homelessness have led to indefinite reductions in services for that population, even as temperatures drop. 

Kandola also clarified a public health order Monday, ordering anyone in Yellowknife, N'Dilo and Dettah that tests positive for COVID-19 to isolate immediately for 10 days from the time they received the result of the test.

Under the Public Health Act, the territory can lay fines of up to $10,000 and six months in jail — or both — for a first offence in violating a public health order.

School closure 'a significant shift'

The school closures are "a significant shift" in the government's response to the threat of COVID-19, Kandola said, acknowledging the burden it will place on families. 

"If you have the capacity to help, please reach out to your neighbours and fellow community members and help one another out," she said in a statement.

Students across the territory have shifted to remote learning in recent days. Students in Behchokǫ̀, Whatı̀ and Norman Wells were already learning from home, because of containment orders in those communities. Students in Colville Lake, Délı̨nę, Fort Good Hope and Tulita are also at home, due to the decision of local district education authorities.

Kandola is also reminding people of the restrictions in place in Yellowknife, Dettah and N'Dilo, including keeping indoor gatherings at fewer than 25 and outdoor gatherings at a maximum of 50 people; limiting household gathering to 10 people; avoiding all non-essential travel outside the community, and self-isolating and contacting public health to arrange for a COVID-19 test if you feel any symptoms.