Hundreds currently in self-isolation to be tested following positive COVID-19 wastewater results

The chief public health officer is asking people in self-isolation between Nov. 30 and Dec. 9 to get tested, even without symptoms.

Dr. Kami Kandola, NWT chief public health officer from October 2020. (File phot/CKLB)

Dr. Kami Kandola says the request for everyone currently in self-isolation to get tested for COVID-19 is being done out of an “abundance of precaution.”

The chief public health officer issued an advisory earlier Wednesday saying traces of the virus were found in Yellowknife’s wastewater.

At least one undetected case

Since there are no active cases in the city, Dr. Kandola says it’s very likely there is at least one undetected case.

That’s about as much the CPHO knows so far. During a news conference on Wednesday, she said public health officials don’t know whether there has been transmission of the virus, whether it’s a single case, or even if the person is still in the NWT.

That is why she is asking everyone who has self-isolated between Nov. 30 and Dec. 9 to be tested. (Except if you’re self-isolating due to someone in your household returning to the NWT, or if you’re an essential worker that is already being tested as part of their job.)

Public health workers are currently tracking down all those in self-isolation during this period.

“While we are reconciling our lists currently, we expect this number to be in the hundreds,” said Dr. Kandola.

The latest case of COVID-19 in Yellowknife was reported on Nov. 27, when a non-resident tested positive. Wastewater test results from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 showed traces of the virus higher than for a single active case.

“Because of this, public health has assessed the evidence points towards an undetected case or more of COVID-19,” says Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the secretariat.

Dr. Kandola said she received the wastewater results up to Dec. 4 prior to speaking with media, which showed the same levels of the virus on the wastewater. This, she added, meant there is not an increase in undetected cases.

Asked if this was a possible false positive, Dr. Kandola said, “Someone could have tested positive, cleared and recovered, and still be shedding the dead virus for weeks… We’re just erring on the side of caution and making sure we can test everyone so we can pick up an active case.”

Dr. Kandola added that people receiving a negative test will still need to do their full 14-day self-isolation.

“The tests aren’t mandatory – just strongly recommended,” said Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the COVID-19 secretariat. “It’s why we’re very focused on encouraging folks to come forward.”

Increase staffing at test sites

To manage the rapid rise in the number of tests, public health has increased staffing at both testing locations: behind the primary care centre downtown and at the Chateau Nova, the main self-isolation centre.

Scott Robertson, the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority’s co-lead on COVID-19, says he doesn’t expect the influx of tests to surpass the territory’s capacity.

Dr. Kandola said despite the samples that detected the virus being from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, health officials wanted to “cast a wide net” and that is why residents in isolation as of Dec. 9 should be tested.

“We don’t know the extent of transmission,” she said. She added that travellers staying in isolation centres are sometimes paired up if returning at the same time, which could lead to transmission if not detected.

Those coming into the NWT starting Dec. 10 will not be required to get tested.

Dr. Kandola also strongly recommended that Yellowknifers continue to wear masks when inside public spaces when nearing the holidays.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis has been a general news reporter with CKLB since January 2019. Originally from rural Ontario, he first came to the NWT in 2016 as an intern with Up Here magazine and fell in love with the North. In his time with CKLB, he's had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures. Otherwise, you can find him hanging around the Legislative Assembly. If you have a story or want to chat, reach out to