Public health orders designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the N.W.T. are being extended, according to the territory's chief public health officer, Dr. Kami Kandola, and new restrictions are coming to the capital starting Friday.
A containment order in Behchokǫ̀ will go on until Oct. 7. A similar order in Whatì has been extended to Oct. 9.
Starting Sept. 24, increased restrictions are being placed on the order that limits gatherings in Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilǫ for 10 days, until Oct. 4. During that time, non-essential business will be limited to having 10 people indoors and schools in the area will also remain closed.
N.W.T. officials gave an update on the territory's response to COVID-19 Wednesday afternoon.
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Active COVID-19 cases by province & territory
Both Premier Caroline Cochrane and Kandola noted that the N.W.T. now has the highest per capita rate of active COVID-19 infections in Canada.
"Mere months ago we had zero," said Cochrane.
Kandola said the increased gathering restrictions in Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilo mean indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people while outdoor gatherings are capped at 25.
"And household gatherings are limited to five visitors at any one time, to a maximum of 10 people," she said.
She said that exemptions to the previous order for non-essential businesses and organizations will no longer apply.
"So they have to re-apply," she said.
Kandola said essential businesses include grocery stories, large retail stores, shelters, dental clinics, pharmacies, gas bars and convenience stores, liquor stores, airports and "workplaces where people are engaged in the provision of essential services"
She said that includes health care, supply chain workers, and workplaces that are engaged in construction of public and Indigenous infrastructure projects, as well as the mineral and natural resource industry.
"We are asking that they try to keep the minimum staff they need to keep their functions operating but they can exceed the 10-person indoor gathering limit," she said.
Impact on businesses
Cochrane said her government is aware the increased measures will have an impact on businesses.
She said the government is working with businesses to determine the best path forward.
"We're looking at what we can do to support them," she said.
She said the government is meeting with the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NWT Tourism to make sure it has identified all the needs of businesses "and that supports that we can implement are appropriate."
She said there are some federal and territorial programs to support businesses and those who work in them. She said the territory is creating a space on its website to provide all the information in one easy-to-find place.
Health system stretched
Kandola said the territory's health care system is stretched.
She said 23 people have been hospitalized, including nine who were admitted to the ICU.
She said small N.W.T. communities are still connected to Yellowknife and COVID-19 activity in the capital impacts the smaller communities.
"Our office is aware of [the] introduction of COVID-19 in at least five small communities after travel from Yellowknife," she said as she asked people not to travel in and out of any outbreak communities unless it is absolutely essential.
Cochrane said while health authorities continue to contact trace, test and isolate, "the sheer volume of cases means it's difficult to determine the full extent of the situation in Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilǫ."
She added that Kandola determined it was "unlikely" the number of cases would be reduced without further restrictions.
Kandola said the 10-day 'circuit breaker" will allow many people who have COVID-19 to recover from it.
"I anticipate this will be the only extension required," Kandola said.