Target to fully immunize 75% of N.W.T. adults against COVID-19 pushed back a month

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Territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, left, and N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola provide an update on COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday. (CBC - image credit)
Territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, left, and N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola provide an update on COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday. (CBC - image credit)

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer said she expects the territory to have full herd immunity — meaning, 75 per cent of the eligible adult population having received two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine — by the end of the April.

Territorial officials, including Premier Caroline Cochrane, had previously stated that their goal was to have 75 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated by the end of March.

At the territory's weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Dr. Kami Kandola said the territory will receive 16,200 doses of the vaccine later this week and another 16,200 doses in the territory's fifth and final shipment, at the end of March.

She said the vaccination rollout to the general population in N.W.T. is expected to begin in late March or early April 2021, provided the territory receives its fifth shipment of doses in full and on time.

She said this will allow 75 per cent of the population to receive one dose by the end of March and two doses by the end of April.

"The N.W.T. is still leading the country in the delivery of first doses, which are already giving strong protection to about 42 per cent of our adult population," she said.

Kandola said that as of Feb. 20, the territory had administered 14,520 first doses of the vaccine, and 1,932 second doses.

She said all 33 N.W.T. communities have second-dose clinics scheduled. Outside of Yellowknife, Hay River and Inuvik, they are open to residents who are getting their second dose and to any resident who is 18 and older wishing to get their first dose.

On Wednesday, the territory announced it was expanding second-dose clinics in Yellowknife beginning March 1 to allow people who received their first Moderna vaccine dose between Jan. 23 and 30 to get their second dose.

Officials also announced they had finalized a schedule for vaccine clinics in all of the territory's communities, although they stipulated it was subject to change based on the supply and delivery of vaccine.

Kandola said that if people hadn't received their first dose at a previous clinic in their community, they can still receive them at second-dose clinics.

She also said that N.W.T. residents can now get vaccinated anywhere in the territory, not just the community in which they live.

"If you are not going to be in your community for your second dose, or now want your first dose, you can now get the vaccine in another community anywhere in the Northwest Territories where there is a clinic going on," she said.

She added that medical records are electronically stored and people will be assessed based on their home community's priority requirement, not the one they're in, if they're not home.

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Travel not recommended during March break

Students and teachers across the territory are about to go on March break.

Kandola said she knows it's a time people often travel but she reminded people that non-essential travel outside the N.W.T. is still not recommended.

She said transmission rates across Canada and other parts of the world are still high, the N.W.T. still needs to get 75 per cent of its adult population vaccinated, and public health officials still need more data on the impact of COVID-19 variants because they are more infectious than the original strain.

"We still need to keep our guard up to keep the pandemic under control," Kandola said.

Three hospitalizations from Gahcho Kué mine outbreak

Kandola said three people who contracted COVID-19 at the Gahcho Kué diamond mine have been hospitalized.

She wouldn't elaborate on their condition for privacy reasons but said it was a "stark reminder that we need to take this pandemic seriously."

"We still have work to do to defeat this virus," she said.

She said there are eight active cases at the mine right now. There have been 19 cases of COVID-19 at the mine and 11 people have recovered, Kandola said.

She added public health officials "remain cautiously optimistic the situation at the mine has stabilized."

Kandola also said the outbreak at the Gahcho Kué winter road worksite is over. The worksite, which is operated by a contractor and is 40 kilometres away from the mine, had three cases of COVID-19, all of which have recovered.

Kandola said there hasn't been a new case there since Feb. 1.

No Yukon-N.W.T. travel bubble at this point

On Feb. 18, the office of the chief public health officer announced it will consider self-isolation exemptions for people traveling from Nunavut.

On Tuesday, N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green said in the legislature that she was hoping for "good news" on a possible travel bubble, or some form of freer travel, between the N.W.T. and Yukon by the end of March.

Green said she would be meeting with Kandola about it Wednesday.

Kandola said at the news conference that she is not considering a travel exemption for people who are entering the territory from Yukon at this point in time.

She said that Yukon hasn't submitted a timeline or any direction as to whether they're going to ease their travel restrictions.

"Should Yukon decide to ease their travel restrictions, we just have to take into consideration these issues around the border to Alaska and the border to B.C. and the entry from other provinces," said Kandola.

Case numbers

As of Tuesday, the territory had 10 active cases, five of which are N.W.T. residents and five are from outside the territory.

According to the government's website, the N.W.T. has had 74 cases since the pandemic began, and 64 of those people have recovered.