N.W.T. healthcare workers undergoing extra screening for COVID-19

One of the ways COVID-19 can be brought north is via some of the people we are relying on most during this pandemic: health care workers. But officials say precautions are being taken to reduce that risk.

Every N.W.T. community relies on healthcare providers who fly in from other parts of Canada, according to the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).

The N.W.T. and Nunavut Workers Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) has said essential workers such as nurses or doctors can skip the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period all other travellers arriving in the N.W.T. are subject to, but only if self-isolation would interrupt the delivery of their essential service.

WSCC sets rules for essential workers returning from outside N.W.T.

"ALL travellers from outside the territory are considered potential carriers of the virus and must self-isolate at home or a similar place in which to stay," cautioned the WSCC in a message sent Saturday setting down rules for employers, including local health authorities.

"To preserve essential services, it is key to consider the risk that a returning worker could pose by endangering the health of multiple other essential service staff, which could jeopardize the ability to provide essential services."

The WSCC says health authorities must question returning healthcare workers about where they travelled, what types of activities they engaged in while away, and whether they or anyone they were with exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath and coughing.

If they answer yes to the last question, the WSCC says the worker must be assessed and cleared by a health professional before returning to work.

If allowed back to work without self-isolating, health workers must be screened daily for symptoms of COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolate for 14 days if any symptoms are present. They are also required to  self-isolate at home on days they are not required to be at work.

The WSCC says they must also avoid close contact with others when travelling to and from work.

Health authority says it is exceeding requirements

The NTHSSA says it is being even more careful than the WSCC requires.

In an email, it says employees who are cleared to return to work will wear protective equipment and take "other precautions."

The authority did not specify what protective equipment is required and what other precautions are being taken and have not responded to CBC's requests for clarification.

The authority says all healthcare workers and staff are being questioned daily to determine whether they have any symptoms. If they do, they are not allowed at work. The authority says efforts are being made to reduce the number of nurses and doctors coming in from outside the territory.

"For small communities outside Yellowknife we have been working to extend current locum/casual workers where possible and are sending local staff from regional centres to support local health centres when possible," a spokesperson said in an email.

At Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, all staff are required to fill out a screening questionnaire each day they report to work and receive a sticker they must wear to show they've been screened.

"A similar process is happening in Inuvik," said the authority in the email. "In our higher-risk sites, such as long term care, we are implementing daily staff and patient temperature monitoring."

Teleconference meetings are being held daily to assess staffing levels at health centres across the territory.