The Northwest Territories is moving away from “phases” and towards risk mitigation and guidance.
COVID-19 will be around for a long time even with effective vaccines. We must continue to live with the virus and adapt to a new normal.
Variants of Concern
There are still high levels of infection, community spread and inequitable access to vaccines in many other parts of the world. That’s why we can expect variants of concern to develop and current vaccines will be less effective or ineffective to protect us from these new strains of the virus.
- These situations would require a booster dose of a vaccine that protects against these strains and would likely result in a need to return to more restrictive measures until vaccine coverage could catch up.
- There is increasing concern that the “delta variant” or B.1.617 variant first identified in India, could start a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections. It spreads more easily and causes much more severe sickness than other variants. It has now become the dominant strain in the United Kingdom and India and has spread to over 62 countries at the time of this publication. It is also the dominant strain in Peel region in Ontario.
- Fully vaccinated people have more immunity against the delta variant, but partially vaccinated people have significantly less immunity and are much more likely to become infected and spread it to others. Should a new variant or public health risk occur we will release an update to this plan to reflect the current risk at that time.
Opening International and U.S. Borders
As this plan was being released, the criteria to open Canada's borders to U.S. and international non-essential travel has not been announced.
- It is anticipated that over 75 percent of Canadians need to be vaccinated before the Government of Canada would consider reopening the U.S. border and lifting international restrictions on non-essential travel.
- The situation continues to be monitored as the pandemic evolves.
How to protect yourself
The most important measure is getting vaccinated. Globally, as of June 4, 2021, over two billion people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including hundreds of millions of people who received an mRNA vaccine. The vaccines in the NWT are very safe and effective. In some high-risk situations, however, like living in a home with someone who has COVID-19, even someone who is fully vaccinated can still develop COVID-19. Even if a person develops COVID-19, the vaccines are very protective against severe disease. People who are vaccinated should still get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and continue to follow routine public health measures. It is also important that NWT residents get their second dose as soon as they are eligible. As first dose vaccinations have increased across Canada, it is anticipated that the delta variant B.1.617 will become the dominant variant. Studies have shown that one dose of mRNA vaccine is only 33% effective against this variant.
Be careful with travel. For travel advice and guidance, NWT residents can review the Public Health Agency of Canada’s travel guidance. For domestic travel, it is always important to look at provincial and territorial breakdowns of regional hotspots for COVID-19 activity.
Make informed decisions and assess your personal level of risk when choosing to attend an event or activity.
A strong public health response is needed to protect the population until the pandemic is declared over or COVID-19 becomes much less of a threat.
Wastewater testing is a sensitive and cost-effective way to detect, identify and inform public health actions to stop the spread of COVID-19. It can detect the virus even before people feel sick or get tested.
The target turnaround time for COVID-19 test results is within 24 hours of receiving the sample at the laboratory. If the number of tests exceeds capacity due to an outbreak or an unexpected wastewater signal, tests may be sent to Alberta for processing. A detailed testing summary is available on the NWT COVID-19 Dashboard.
To be helpful to public health professionals testing people without symptoms, tests must be targeted toward people who are most likely to be positive for COVID-19. Of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the NWT to date, roughly 38% had no symptoms. Since we are screening incoming travellers most at risk to test positive for COVID-19 and essential workers in high-risk settings for testing, we are able to reduce self-isolation requirements.
Case Investigation and Timely Contact Tracing
In a case investigation public health staff works with a suspected or confirmed infected person to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. Contacts are people who interacted with a person with a COVID-19 infection and are at higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 themselves. Sometimes, out of caution, it is necessary to consider everyone who was at the same location or event as a person with COVID-19 as contacts. It is important that these people are contacted quickly to reduce spread.
Rapid Response Team
In an outbreak, or if community spread happens, case investigations and contact tracing will quickly overwhelm local public health capacity and compromise an effective response. The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority's COVID-19 Response Team’s (ACRT) brings together leads from clinical, operations, and logistics areas from across the three health and social services authorities. They collaborate on system planning and work with their respective local teams to ensure operational planning and readiness is carried out. It was developed to provide clarity for employees, patients and the public regarding the approach for caring for patients with COVID-19, the health and social services system’s staged approach to respond to a surge in COVID-19, and the structures in place to support decision-making in a complex environment through a pandemic.
Healthcare System Capacity
The NWT has carefully planned for how it will manage patients with COVID-19 who require hospital care. The NWT health and social services system is limited compared to southern provinces that have larger populations. Outbreaks and COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization would place huge demand on the NWT healthcare system and potentially limit services for other important healthcare needs. To stay healthy and safe, we will want to continue some of these regular public health practices even after all restrictions are lifted:
- Get vaccinated when you are eligible
- Stay home if you are sick, avoid close contact with others and get assessed
- Wear a mask, especially in indoor public spaces
- Turn and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Throw used tissues in the garbage
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer when appropriate
- Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces