No word yet on N.W.T. school reopenings as COVID-19 cases remain high

·2 min read
Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife, photographed on August 28, 2020. Schools in Yellowknife and other N.W.T. communities are currently closed. (Graham Shishkov/CBC - image credit)
Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife, photographed on August 28, 2020. Schools in Yellowknife and other N.W.T. communities are currently closed. (Graham Shishkov/CBC - image credit)

Health officials say schools in some areas of the N.W.T. won't be allowed to reopen until COVID-19 case counts start dropping and pressures ease on the territory's health care system.

Junior kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, colleges and trade schools in Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndılǫ were ordered to close on Sept. 13 as cases of COVID-19 in the region continued to increase. At the time, there were 117 active cases in Yellowknife, 22 in Behchokǫ̀ and 14 in Whatì.

Those numbers have continued to grow. On Monday, the territory reported its second confirmed COVID-19 death, along with 62 new cases that were detected over the weekend.

There are now 132 cases in Yellowknife, 47 in Behchokǫ̀ and 31 in Whatì.

In an email to CBC News Tuesday afternoon, Richard Makohoniuk with the N.W.T.'s COVID Secretariat confirmed there is no update at this time.

When the decision to reopen schools is made, it will depend on several criteria: the outbreak and community transmission in Yellowknife, Ndılǫ, Dettah, Behchokǫ̀ and Whatì needs to be under control; active case counts need to be declining; and the territory must have regained capacity in its health care system.

When those criteria are ticked off, "the local containment and gathering limit orders will be lifted in the affected communities and schools will re-open to in-person learning," Makohoniuk wrote.

In a separate email to CBC News, Makohoniuk wrote that in Yellowknife and surrounding communities, an outbreak in the underhoused community, declared on Sept. 7, had "peaked" and the focus has shifted to secondary and tertiary contacts.

He added the number of active cases among the underhoused and those that work with them is currently at 31, much less than the 70 the territory's chief public health officer reported on Sept. 14.

The board chairs for Yellowknife Catholic Schools and Yellowknife Education District No. 1 both told CBC News they haven't heard from health officials yet about whether their schools will be able to resume in-person classes next week, but expect an update soon.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools chair Erin Currie said the board chairs met with Minister of Education R.J. Simpson and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola on Thursday evening, but haven't received any information since on whether schools will be allowed to reopen.

"I asked for as much notice as we could possibly have," she said.

CBC News reached out to the superintendents of both school boards, but did not hear back.

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