OHS Canada Magazine

Northwest Territories reinstates mask mandate over growing COVID-19 cases


YELLOWKNIFE — The Northwest Territories has issued its first territorywide mask mandate in the face of growing COVID-19 numbers.

Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola said masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces starting Thursday.

Masks have been required in some communities during previous outbreaks, but never throughout the territory. They have, however, always been recommended.

Kandola said masks are one of the best protections against the Delta variant, which she said is spreading quickly across the region.

“We are seeing ongoing community transmission and we are seeing a significant rise in cases,” Kandola said Wednesday.

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“We know many people are scared.”

As of Tuesday night, there were 226 active cases in the territory spread across eight communities. There were fewer than five people in hospital.

Kandola also extended a lockdown order in the communities of Colville Lake, which has 74 cases, and Fort Good Hope, which has 22 cases, until Sept. 4. Both communities have been under the order since Aug. 15.

“As some residents in both Colville Lake and Fort Good recover from COVID-19, other residents remain at risk,” Kandola said.

She said all residents who have tested positive in the two communities must isolate until a health-care provider tells them they have recovered. After that happens, the lockdown order no longer applies to them, Kandola said.

The N.W.T. considers a person recovered when 10 full days have passed after symptoms started or, if there are no symptoms, 10 full days have gone by since the positive COVID-19 test.

A new public exposure notice from the N.W.T. says community spread of COVID-19 has started to occur in Yellowknife, where there were 27 cases.

“Residents should consider all public spaces as exposure sites,” the notice reads.

Kandola pointed to an increase in travellers to the territory and a rise in cases in the south as driving forces behind the current outbreak.

“We’re expecting to see more cases,” she said.

The Canadian Rangers, nurses with the Canadian Red Cross and an epidemiologist with the federal government arrived in the territory last weekend to try to help control the spread.

The territory’s medical director, Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, said although the resources have been helpful, they are not the “key component” of responding to the outbreak.

“The backbone of this response … has been done by our own staff,” Pegg said.

This is the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the territory, which reported its first death due to the virus earlier this week.

By Emma Tranter in Iqaluit

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship.