The holiday season is approaching, and the N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola says there is no promise the required 14 day isolation period will be lowered by December.
Across the territory, it now takes less than a day and a half to get COVID-19 test results, but as cases spike in southern Canada, Kandola plans to stay the path of caution.
"The level of infection we are now seeing is putting us on a trajectory toward the worst case scenario the federal government modelled over the summer. There is every reason for us to be vigilant," she said Wednesday.
Kandola still recommends avoiding non-essential travel outside the territory.
"I have to stress this recommendation will come even stronger now. We're on the upswing of a second wave. People have to make that decision if they're going to travel out," she said.
Testing backlog cleared
Kandola said improved testing has cleared a "small" backlog, enabling people to go back to their lives a little bit sooner.
She acknowledged that slow testing times might have "made it a tough choice for folks to call their local health-care professionals" to get assessed.
With quicker testing, Kandola says people with symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their health centre because it's one of the territory's best defences.
Kandola also reinforced the necessity of getting the flu shot for people of all ages, to reduce the number of days missed from school or work.
Is the N.W.T. ready for an influx of Christmas travellers?
Kandola said the COVID-19 secretariat and Protect NWT, an enforcement hotline for COVID-19 public health rules, will be prepared for people isolating in regional centres.
"We would develop a capacity but we anticipate there will be a large volume of people coming in and out," she said.
Kandola said that travellers should be taking precautions, including physical distancing, frequent sanitization, wearing masks on the plane and completing the mandatory 14-day isolation.
Kandola said she's confident in the territory's ability to manage a large number of travellers, and pointed to the summer, when the territory was able to handle an influx of teachers.
Since March, the territory has processed 21,000 self-isolation plans.
Asked whether the N.W.T. was prepared for a chunk of its labour force to be at home isolating at the same time in January, Kandola said travel is a personal choice.
"Employers need to be figuring out coverage and disruptions, but if the current model is continuing this way ... there is going to be an increased number of cases and so we just need to be prepared for imported cases from Christmas returnees," she said.
Bigger travel bubble?
Kandola said she would consider a bubble with Atlantic Canada but not the Yukon.
"We would be open in discussing and exploring this further," she said.
The four eastern provinces have been able to keep cases in their region at bay.
Kandola reached out to officials in the Maritimes, but an N.W.T.-Atlantic bubble will require meeting with multiple levels of government.
Yukon is bubbled with B.C., which has flattened the curve but has zero restrictions on travellers from Alberta.
"As long as Yukon has a bubble with B.C. and in addition having the Alaska highway coming through with an increase in cases in Alaska ... that's not a proposition we can look at," she said.
Kandola said the risk of opening the N.W.T. to its neighbour is simply too high and that the N.W.T.'s vigilance has kept it safe.
"That isn't luck, it's because ... we took strong action early to take control of our situation," she said.