(Sara Minogue/CBC - image credit)
Teachers in the Northwest Territories will be prioritized to receive the vaccine against COVID-19, heath officials confirmed Wednesday.
Teachers in smaller communities already had the opportunity to get vaccinated, but those in Hay River, Inuvik, Yellowknife and Fort Smith were unsure whether they would get priority.
During the territory's regular COVID-19 update, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola confirmed teachers will be able to get the vaccine ahead of the general public.
"In phase 2, any front-line workers who cannot work virtually will be considered a priority and that includes teachers," Kandola said, adding that teachers will start getting vaccinated at the beginning of March.
The teachers' union had been asking for this measure.
"We have simply asked not to get in line before health workers or these at-risk people, but simply to be prioritized over the general public, as we do work in settings with large amounts of people, with many contacts," said Matthew Miller, president of the NWT Teachers' Association.
Several MLAs have called for teachers to get priority for vaccinations in the legislature. They also want to see teachers declared "essential workers."
Kandola said at the news conference that prioritizing teachers did not change their requirements to self-isolate after returning to the territory from travelling outside of it.
"Whether they're essential workers or not, this doesn't change the fact they will still be required to self-isolate for the full 14 days when they return from out of territory," said Kandola.
Vaccination rollout on track
Public health officials also said the territory will receive its fourth shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the week of Feb. 22, as originally planned. But they still don't know how many vaccines they will receive in that shipment.
Despite that, territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg said she doesn't anticipate a delay in the rollout of the vaccine.
She said the territory is looking at the timing of second doses for people who have received their first dose.
Pegg said clinics will be scheduled for priority groups that have received first doses in line with the timing to receive the second dose.
"At this point, it's looking like we won't have any problem falling within the 42 days that is recommended by the national advisory council on immunizations," she said.
Officials urged N.W.T. residents to regularly check the vaccine schedule on the territory's website. They said it is updated every day and is the best place to get the most up-to-date information on vaccien clinics.
Missed the news conference? Watch it here:
Health Minister Julie Green said as of Feb. 15, the territory has administered 13,578 first doses so far, and 579 second doses, adding that it represents 39 per cent of the adult population in the territory.
"N.W.T. is still leading the country in the delivery of first doses," she said.
Kandola said 34,400 adults are eligible to be vaccinated in the territory.
More cases at Gahcho Kué mine
The territory announced earlier Wednesday there were six new cases of COVID-19 in the territory, five of them at the Gahcho Kué Diamond Mine and one in Yellowknife related to out-of-territory travel.
In a news release Wednesday morning, the office of the chief public health officer said the new cases related to the Gahcho Kué mine outbreak were all confirmed in individuals in quarantine at the mine site, or at an isolation centre in Yellowknife.
Kandola said at the new conference that none of the cases were a variant of COVID-19.
She said that a third of the mine's 330 workers were repatriated to their home provinces, another third are in isolation in Yellowknife and one third remain at the mine site for maintenance. Operations at the mine have been shut down since Feb. 6.
Kandola said workers at the mine site are separated from each other and that DeBeers, the company that owns the mine, is working with her team to contain the outbreak.
"They have done everything possible to try to minimize the impact of the outbreak," said Kandola.
She said everyone who is currently isolating from the outbreak are in day eight of their 14-day isolation period.
With March break nearing, Green said she knows people are eager to travel outside the territory.
"Non-essential travel is not recommended at this time," she said because transmission rates across Canada remain high and the new variants are more infectious than the original strain.
Premier Caroline Cochrane urged N.W.T. residents to keep up with public health measures of wearing a mask, washing hands and keeping a safe distance from each other.
"These are trying times for everyone. The pressure this pandemic is placing on residents and businesses is apparent," she said. "Pandemic fatigue has been setting in for many of us."
She urged people who may be feeling down to reach out to friends, family or the N.W.T. Help Line for support.