N.W.T. health officials are awaiting test results from roughly 90 people identified as contacts to a cluster of five COVID-19 cases in Yellowknife.
All but five of the approximately 90 people have been tested. Eighty-five people have either tested negative or are awaiting results.
Officials are also awaiting to learn whether any of the cases are variants of concern.
"There is no need to panic. This does not mean that there's no reason to be concerned and concern is very justified right now," Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, said in a press update Monday.
Kandola said many people have been required to self-isolate as a result of the cluster.
"This is, more than anything else, a safety measure. We must stop this cluster from becoming an outbreak," Kandola said.
"Right now we have a map. We know who is connected to whom and that matters. It means we have some control over the situation and I do want to reassure you of that."
The media briefing comes after the territory recorded eight COVID-19 cases within a week — six cases in the capital and two in Fort Smith, N.W.T.
Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn identified himself and a family member as two of the cases in Yellowknife.
Kandola declined to answer questions regarding Norn, citing privacy legislation. "If a high-profile member of the public has made statements on his or her own accord, we will not be confirming any details," Kandola said.
Why Yellowknife school was not named
Dozens of the 90 contacts were from École St. Patrick High School in Yellowknife, though the school was not initially named by the office of the chief public health officer.
When asked why she chose not to name the school, Kandola said her office had reached out and contacted students and were able to tell them to isolate after identifying an exact time period, the names of contacts and place of exposure.
In that scenario, she said limited information is released because it wouldn't have lead to any more contacts or exposure.
"Whether it's a school, restaurant or fitness centre, if we know who the contacts are, we can reach them, we can tell them to isolate, we don't typically do an exposure notification," she said.
She said students who experience any of the major COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, difficulty breathing or loss of taste or smell, cannot attend class until they have been assessed by a health-care provider and told when they can return.
If they are experiencing any minor symptoms, students will need to stay home for 24 hours. If symptoms have resolved, they can return to school. If they don't, or more symptoms show up, Kandola said they must stay home and consult with a health care provider.
Emerging Wisely delayed
Kandola also announced a revised version of the territory's Emerging Wisely plan has been pushed back to the end of May, saying the last few days "are a stark reminder that we can't get complacent."
"This is a time to focus on containment. With a few more weeks, we can also give the rest of Canada some time to catch up and get the third wave of outbreaks under more control."
Kandola had previously said an update to the territory's COVID-19 restrictions was anticipated by the end of April or early May.
900 COVID-19 tests last week
Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director, said the laboratory at Stanton Hospital is on "surge mode" with close to 900 COVID-19 tests processed over the last week, with a turnaround time of just over 24-hours.
A rapid response team has been deployed to isolation centres to provide testing support and additional staffing and nurses have been added to assist with contact tracing.
"This situation is a stark reminder of how fast the virus can move and how only a few cases can involve dozens of contacts," Pegg said.
When asked to comment on a decision by some communities to institute their own measures in response to the cluster of cases, Kandola encouraged them to reach out to her office to avoid "unnecessary disruption."
Last week, the Łutselk'e Dene First Nation issued a travel advisory to Yellowknife and closed its school for two weeks in response to cases in the capital, and Fort Providence, N.W.T., announced it is closing its doors to visitors and hunters.
Missed the COVID-19 briefing? Watch it here: