N.W.T. residents can't play indoor winter sports, but they can share a meal together. Here's why

·3 min read
N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola, pictured on October 21, 2020. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC - image credit)
N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola, pictured on October 21, 2020. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC - image credit)

Under current public health restrictions in the N.W.T., the same group of people suspended from playing a sport could presumably sit down together for a meal.

But the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer says there's a good reason for that.

The latest public health restrictions for the N.W.T. say bars and restaurants remain open with limits, while activities like indoor dancing, winter sports, singing, swimming and traditional hand games have been deemed high-risk and therefore too dangerous to proceed.

Those restrictions were announced Jan. 4 and will stay in place until the end of the day on Jan. 21.

Although sports facilities and leagues across the territory require proof of vaccination, the activities themselves "result in a higher number of aerosolized droplets," according to an email from COVID communications manager Richard Makohoniuk.

Sara Minogue/CBC
Sara Minogue/CBC

Since the droplets are aerosolized, meaning suspended in the air, Makohoniuk said the risk of transmission is made greater by heavy breathing. He added that in colder temperatures, like those seen at skating or curling rinks, droplets remain suspended in the air for longer periods of time, "which extends the risk for participants."

Targeted measures

Asked on the CBC's Trailbreaker to rationalize the risk assessment Thursday morning, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said in the latest round of restrictions, the government specifically targeted high risk activities that produce higher levels of aerosolization.

"Unlike most jurisdictions, the N.W.T. hasn't shut down bars, gyms and restaurants," she said. "We haven't put in those severe restrictions but we are looking at certain activities that can produce the greatest amount of risk to the greatest population."

Makohoniuk said the risk of transmitting COVID-19 at a bar or restaurant generally doesn't go beyond the individuals sharing a table.

"Presumably you are exposed to [those people] as part of your normal life," he said.

Makohoniuk pointed to outbreaks in American sports leagues as further justification for the latest restrictions — specifically, a 2020 article from The Washington Post reporting over 100 cases in a youth hockey league in Massachusetts, and a referee in Maine exposing hundreds more to the virus.

On sports leagues requiring proof of vaccination, Makohoniuk said "though participants are vaccinated there is still a possibility of spreading COVID-19 as seen in the fully vaccinated professional sport leagues across North America over the past several weeks."

Sports groups 'to wait just a little longer'

Kyle Kugler, executive director of Hockey NWT, said "like everybody else," the organization was hopeful to return to their sport but they "understand that we'll have to wait just a little longer."

He confirmed that though it's not mandated in every community, all Hockey NWT leagues require proof of vaccination for players aged 12 and older.

He said that in the last two years Hockey NWT has seen a decline in leagues, particularly as a result of less travel.

"Hopefully this break allows for numbers to drop and we're able to get back into arenas across the territory on January 22," he said.

Jillian Brown, secretary of the Norman Wells Curling Club, likewise said the club is keeping its fingers crossed to "be able to get out and curl at the end of January," but that "we will just have to wait."

The club had planned to start after the Christmas holiday, but their already "generally short" curling season will be cut a little shorter.

Singing, dancing and playing wind and brass instruments are also among the activities listed as high risk.

Trevor Sinclair, president of Music NWT — an association dedicated to developing and promoting the territory's music industry — said the latest directive doesn't change much.

Sinclair said while award ceremonies and events planned for earlier in the year are now called into question, the group has already been carrying out programs virtually.

With the newest directive, he said Music NWT is still operating at "the status quo."

"It just reaffirms that we're still in this situation and that light at the end of the tunnel just got a little further away."

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