The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer said the 'sheer volume' of new COVID-19 cases across the Northwest Territories will eventually lead to more hospitalizations too.
Dr. Kami Kandola said during a Wednesday news conference that there have been about 125 new cases a day during the past week in the N.W.T.
"If we continue at this rate, we will start to see the lag indicator of hospitalization start to increase," she said.
That is consistent with what's been happening elsewhere in Canada and around the world, she added.
So far, since the Omicron variant has become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the N.W.T., there has been one hospitalization reported due to COVID-19.
The territory reported 1,197 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday, an increase of 123 since Tuesday. The number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions remained the same at 63 and 20, respectively.
The majority of cases continue to be in Yellowknife, with 662. There are 217 in the Tłı̨chǫ region and 122 in the Beaufort Delta. There are also 65 in the Shatu, 52 in the Dehcho, 42 in the Hay River area and 37 in Fort Smith.
Missed the news conference? Watch it here?
Rapid tests still reserved for priority groups
Unlike in other jurisdictions across Canada where at-home rapid antigen tests are being distributed widely among the population, N.W.T. health officials said they're going to continue to distribute them only to priority groups for now.
Those groups include school children, daycares and day homes, people who work in high risk settings and travellers.
Health Minister Julie Green said the territory will receive its per capita share of the 140 million rapid antigen tests that the federal government announced last week it was going to distribute across the country.
However, she added the territory doesn't know when it will receive its share of the tests.
"Without that supply secure, we do have to use the tests that we have in stock wisely," said Green.
Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director,added the current supply of rapid tests can't be distributed to everyone who is interested in receiving one.
"While we would really love to do that, that's not something that's possible right now given the prioritized testing we still need to do in the territory," she said.
No mandatory vaccination in N.W.T.
Kandola said the territory is not considering new measures to get more people vaccinated, such as making vaccines mandatory.
On Jan. 7, federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos suggested provinces and territories may want to start discussing making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.
Kandola said 77 per cent of the eligible population five-years-old and over in the N.W.T. are fully vaccinated.
She said only 53 per cent of children five to 11 have received a first dose and she'd like to see that number be higher.
She also said she's encouraging people to get their booster doses, especially those who are at high risk of severe outcomes. Kandola said only 42 per cent of people eligible for the booster shot have taken it.
Dr. Pegg, the territory's medical director, added that while people may not be getting very sick on an individual level with the Omicron variant, the health care system won't be able to handle it if thousands of people get sick.
"What needs to happen in order to handle the Omicron rate is there needs to be less cases, and the only way that there can be less cases is if people reduce their contacts, make sure they're wearing a mask, get vaccinated and follow the public health measures," said Pegg.
She added public health recommendations put in place by Kandola put the emphasis on personal responsibility.
"I think that's an important point to get across, that there is an element of responsibility because the health care system actually cannot be prepared for thousands and thousands of cases," said Pegg.
"It's not a situation that we are designed to do."