N.W.T. extends public health emergency as its 2nd COVID-19 case confirmed in Inuvik

The Northwest Territories has extended its public health emergency as the territory confirms its second case of COVID-19 — the first case outside of the territory's capital.

The person is self-isolating in their home in Inuvik, N.W.T., along with members of their household. The information was issued in a news release and in a subsequent media briefing with territorial officials Wednesday afternoon.

The patient is doing well with mild symptoms and they likely won't need to be treated in a hospital, said Dr. Kami Kandola, the N.W.T.'s chief public health officer.

They travelled to British Columbia and flew into Inuvik on March 21, where they went into immediate self-isolation, as ordered, she said.

The person developed symptoms five days after returning and showed no symptoms during their flight back. The person's whole household has been under mandatory isolation since.

"Kudos to that household," Kandola said. "They had minimal contact with the outside world. When they had to get tested, they called ahead ... They stayed isolated until the test results occurred."

The public is being told where the person with the case is living because Inuvik is a large enough community to protect their privacy. Kandola would not identify what flight they were on.

N.W.T. reported its first case earlier this month. Both of the COVID-19 cases in the territory are travel-related.

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

In a statement sent Thursday afternoon, Premier Caroline Cochrane said she was "saddened" by the news.

"While we knew that it was only reasonable to expect more cases would be discovered in the Northwest Territories, this news still comes as a disappointment to many," she is quoted as saying.

Health Minister Dianne Thom has ordered the public health emergency order extended for two more weeks, the maximum extension that's allowed under the law, Kandola said.

That order was first issued March 18 as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread through Canada and was scheduled to end Wednesday. It gives Kandola extraordinary powers including the ability to issue orders, procure medical supplies and restrict travel within the territory.

The territory remains in a state of emergency until at least April 7, as well. That order gives sweeping powers to the entire territorial government to act during a time of crisis.

Though there are only the two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in N.W.T., health officials are prepared for a surge in cases, explained Dr. Sarah Cook, the N.W.T.'s medical director.

The territory has increased the number of ventilators available, up to 19 from the 13 it had previously, Cook said.

979 COVID-19 tests so far in the N.W.T.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 2,029 self-isolation plans had been completed since the order went into effect March 21. Those plans are required for anyone returning to the territory.

Also as of Wednesday afternoon, there had been 979 COVID-19 tests completed in the N.W.T., with two positive cases. Another 130 tests are pending results. Across Canada, there have been more than 9,000 confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths, according to Health Canada.

Everyone who was in contact with the first person with COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories has tested negative, Kandola said.

Don't let up on physical distancing

Kandola credited successful physical distancing for keeping transmissions low. Those efforts and restrictions are expected to continue "until the foreseeable future," Kandola said.

"That time is not now, and that time is definitely not in the next four weeks," she said, when asked when the physical distancing measures could end.

That time is not now, and that time is definitely not in the next four weeks. - Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

Kandola scolded those who weren't following physical distancing protocols, saying she's heard reports of apartment parties and funerals continuing despite repeated warnings to stop.

"Bringing people together outside of the household is one of the quickest ways to spread the virus and hurt our communities," she said. "We understand that this is a difficult time in how we change in how we act."

Though Kandola is not yet prepared to ban all gatherings of any kind, she said she is considering that step.

"Nothing is off the table," Kandola said. "We're looking at all our options and having the necessary discussions."