The N.W.T. has not yet seen any hospitalizations or other severe outcomes from Omicron, despite a ballooning case count, said the N.W.T.'s chief public health officer, Dr. Kami Kandola, on the The Trailbreaker Thursday morning.
The phone-in came after the territory tightened gathering restrictions to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is now the dominant viral strain in the N.W.T.
Kandola said the number of positive cases in the territory are likely an undercount, since there are many cases that haven't been recorded due to the fact those people haven't been tested.
"What we should focus on is our severe outcome data, which we have a better understanding of," Kandola said.
Sixyt-two people have been hospitalized in the N.W.T. since the pandemic began, with 94 per cent of those related to the Delta variant. Most ICU admissions and all deaths so far were related to Delta, Kandola said.
But the N.W.T. hasn't seen cases of the Delta variant since Dec. 19 due to the prevalence of Omicron.
Kandola said students in some schools will learn online from Jan. 10 to 21.
That's because some small communities are now seeing community transmission of COVID-19.
Those include Aklavik, Fort Providence, Whati and Behchoko.
Earlier this week, Colville Lake School announced its students would be learning online for the first week of classes.
Other schools, including those in Yellowknife, will rely on students doing rapid antigen tests before they start school.
"We will continue with school opening specifically in those regional centres on Monday, but will have a high level of monitoring," she said.
The current situation
There are about 395 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the N.W.T., Kandola said Thursday morning.
At least half of the territory's communities are reporting cases, and health officials are expecting a "dramatic increase" in the number of cases in the coming days.
Kandola said the new gathering restrictions and limitations on high-impact indoor activities, which are in place until Jan. 21, were brought in because Omicron can be transmitted through the air.
She said those activities — including indoor singing, dancing, winter sports, hand games, use of brass instruments and high-impact aerobics — come with higher exertion, which means higher transmission of the virus.
She repeated the advice for travellers to avoid contact with others during the first 72 hours after they return to the territory, regardless of their vaccination status.
The N.W.T. has been providing rapid take-home tests at the Yellowknife airport, among other locations. Kandola said they ran out of tests, but now have more back in stock and plan to continue offering them.
That's partly because the territory was expecting about 6,700 people to return home after the holidays.
AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director who also took questions Thursday, said the demand for rapid testing kits across Canada is exceeding the supply, so the N.W.T. needs to preserve them for the people who need the tests.
"We don't have enough for everyone who wants one," she explained.
The tests are being prioritized for health care staff, people who work with vulnerable populations, shelter users and those who have symptoms or have been exposed and need testing.
The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority has roughly 19,000 rapid antigen tests in stock and expects about 14,000 more to arrive in the coming weeks, though that's dependent on the federal government, which co-ordinates the supply.
Pegg said the territory is looking at other options to procure the tests, since demand is so high.
What about vaccines?
About 76 per cent of eligible N.W.T. residents have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Pegg said the latest data shows two doses still protects against severe disease, but it doesn't do much against getting infected.
"The good news is, with the booster, that protection goes back up quite high," she said.
As for vaccines for children under the age of five, Kandola said those are going to be delayed. Clinical trials have shown two small doses haven't produced the level of immunity scientists are hoping for, so they are going back to study the effects of a third dose.