Diane Thom: COVID-19 Update

Yellowknife — March 16, 2020
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide Members and the public with an update on NWT efforts in containing the spread of COVID-19 and assure everyone that their health and safety is the number one priority of our government.

Currently, we have zero confirmed cases in the Northwest Territories. Our Chief Public Health Officer remains confident our residents are currently at a low risk of infection.  We also know that world-wide, roughly 80 percent of people infected get only mild symptoms.

We are working very hard to slow the spread of infection and know that everyone has a stake in doing their part.  We have been promoting good respiratory practices.  This means that you and your family members should stay home if you are sick and keep your distance from Elders and people who may have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to infection. Wash your hands frequently, turn and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing with your elbow, and making sure we are two metres apart in all social situations.  In this way we can slow the spread together.

Mr. Speaker, the Chief Public Health Officer is leading our public health response planning while the GNWT Territorial Planning Committee is leading the broader, all-of-government emergency response planning. 

Our health system’s Emergency Operations Centre has been activated.  This allows us to coordinate rapid COVID-19 system planning and preparation. 

A NWT COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Guide and Checklist is guiding our system preparations. We currently have a sufficient stockpile of personal protective equipment for frontline workers and will continue to track this.  Community Health Centre and hospitals are completing their planning and preparation and testing kits are in every community. 

Mr. Speaker, NWT health professionals are testing residents and visitors for COVID-19 who present flu-like symptoms that have travelled outside of the NWT recently, regardless of where they have travelled.  This action permits us to take prompt action should a positive COVID-19 case be confirmed.  We began this enhanced testing well before Coronavirus was declared a pandemic and this is helping us.

The Chief Public Health Officer issues regular public health alerts to frontline health professionals.  These alerts reinforce the need for heightened awareness and the use of best practices for communicable disease control at the local level.

Frontline staff and management are also ensuring protections and protocols are in place for workers and others within health facilities to reduce the spread of the virus in those settings.

The Chief Public Health Officer has communicated to all NWT schools and daycares, advising on travel outside the NWT, planned international travel, and general advice to prevent infection. These letters were sent to parents and caregivers and are being updated.

Long-term care facilities have been provided information on precautions, protections, and protocols from the Chief Public Health Officer via our Health Authorities to all health care facilities and healthcare professionals; this advice includes following usual flu season-visitors’ hand-washing protocols and staying away if sick. 

The Chief Public Health Officer is also assessing all mass gatherings to determine if they should proceed.  Most large indoor events have been cancelled and non-essential travel and attendance at conferences by GNWT employees has been suspended.

Over the weekend, the Chief Public Health Officer issued new advice to our residents in keeping with the latest guidance from the Federal government.  We are strongly advising all travellers who have arrived or are arriving from international destinations to now self-isolate for 14 days.  These measures are necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, I know there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety among us all.  There is no denying that COVID-19 is a significant challenge around the world and in the NWT.  But it is important to remember that by following advice and working together we can to manage this together. 

The Chief Public Health Officer and the Department are committed to providing residents with up to date information and will advise the public when confirmed cases have been identified in the NWT.  They are using every available means to communicate with residents in all official languages to provide the most current information so you know what is going on and what you need to do.

Mr. Speaker, Northerners are known for their strength, resiliency and strong sense of family and community.  I know that it is those qualities that we can draw on to keep our communities and our territory healthy.  Staying informed, following the advice provided by our health officials will help us all manage this unprecedented situation together.

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak directly to all of our health care workers across our system.  Thank you for your hard work and dedication in making sure we are in the best place possible to respond to COVID-19.  I recognize that there are many challenges ahead and know that you will continue to serve our residents, as you always have, with professionalism, compassion and commitment.

For more information on COVID-19, please refer to the following link. 

http://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/en/services/coronavirus-disease-covid-19

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.