OHS Canada Magazine

No shift in N.W.T. COVID-19 measures this winter


By Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CABIN RADIO

Mask-wearing, gathering restrictions, and isolation requirements will not change this winter, the Northwest Territories’ chief public health officer reiterated on Wednesday.

While the territory’s fall COVID-19 outbreak has dwindled, Dr. Kami Kandola said case numbers were increasing across Canada and an expect increase in travel and gatherings made the holidays a “risky period.”

The new Omicron variant of concern, about which little is so far definitively known, is also a factor.

The N.W.T. government is instead introducing a campaign designed to reinforce a “new normal” of living with COVID-19.

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The campaign, Setting COVID-19 Safety Nets, outlines “layers of protection” residents can use to combat COVID-19 and assess risk when the territory’s public health emergency eventually gets lifted. No timeline for that currently exists.

“At some point in the future we will have to adjust to a time when individuals take responsibility for reducing their own personal risk,” Kandola said.

“The public health emergency will not always be around but COVID-19 will remain for a long time, so people need to make decisions based on that reality.”

The main pillars of the campaign follow standard guidelines, promoting vaccination, safe travel, everyday healthy habits like wearing a mask, staying at home if ill, and social distancing.

“These habits are something that we want to keep in play even long after the public health orders are lifted,” Kandola said.

She stressed assessing the risk of COVID-19 in your community, when travelling, and at personal gatherings should be done throughout the coming holiday season.

Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory’s medical director, said COVID-19 had played a part in the recruitment and retention crisis currently be experienced in the N.W.T.’s healthcare system.

“It’s important to maintain awareness of the societal and mental impacts of this pandemic,” said Pegg

Asked if the territory would be prepared for a COVID-19 spike following the holiday season, Pegg said that depended on the number and severity of cases. that depended on the number and severity of cases.

In previous outbreaks, she said, the strain mostly fell on those performing contact tracing and testing.

In terms of acute care capacity, Pegg said the N.W.T. system has limits but Alberta healthcare — on which the N.W.T. relies as a backup — is “somewhat in a better situation” than when the territory’s latest COVID-19 outbreak began in August.

“A large outbreak would not be what the territory needs right now, and I would really encourage everyone to think about how they can keep themselves and their family safe if they are going to be travelling and when people are coming back,” said Pegg.