Schools in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilo and Behchokǫ̀ will be able to reopen for in-person learning as early as Monday, May 17, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola told reporters during a Wednesday news conference.
Kandola did say, however, that while she is lifting the order to close schools it will be up to the individual school boards to decide whether or not they will open.
“In-person learning means the health and well being of our children,” she said. “It’s where they need to be.”
Kandola said that almost all new cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife were the result of household transmission and that her best assessment is that there was no transmission of the virus to school staff within the classroom.
By the end of the week, Kandola said 60 per cent of youth in Yellowknife, Ndilo, Dettah and Behchokǫ̀ will have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
All N.J. Macpherson students returning to the classroom and staff must be retested to confirm that they do not have COVID-19, Kandola said. Testing will begin at the school this Thursday for students, and Friday and Saturday for other contacts. Booking for testing will be open online as of today and people can also call public health at (867) 767-9120.
Upon return to schools, there will be increased health measures to mitigate transmission of the virus.
According to Kandola, in addition to already existing health measures there will be no school assemblies or singing indoors, mandatory indoor masking, and “enhanced seating arrangements” in classrooms.
Physical education and assemblies can take place outside, buses will require mandatory ventilation – meaning windows will remain open while transporting students – along with assigned seating. Classrooms will also open windows if weather permits.
Kandola also stipulated that any student or staff showing symptoms must stay home, get an assessment and provide an assessment card to the school.
“These new measures require dedicated educators, students and parents to be resilient and adaptable once again,” she said. “I am confident they will rise to the challenge and follow these additional measures. So we can finish out the school year safely and without additional interruptions to in school learning.”
Minister of Education, Culture and Employment R.J. Simpson attended the press conference virtually and said that he only received confirmation from the Yellowknife Catholic School Board that they will be reopening.
“I will likely have discussions this afternoon and I have a meeting scheduled with all of the chairs of education bodies, and I hope to know their decisions by then,” he said.
Simpson also said that schools have already been receiving ample funding to ensure there is enough PPE and cleaning supplies to deal with the new health measures.
“All together, I think ECE and the Department of Finance contributed an additional $14 million for PPE, enhanced cleaning technology and so on,” he said.
“So it’s my understanding that the school board should be well positioned and move forward with these additional safety measures. And if not, we are willing to ensure that they are OK.”
Youth vaccine update
Updates on when the Pfizer vaccine will be available to youth in remote communities will be coming this week, according to officials.
Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territorial medical director, said they are waiting for confirmation of additional shipments of the vaccine. Health officials are planning vaccination team visits for youth and distributing the Moderna vaccine to those over 18.
“There is additional Pfizer coming, I don’t have a date, nor exact amounts, but we have been assured that there is more coming and as soon as we have the dates for the delivery of that, we’ll be able to get in touch with you,” she said.
Minister of Health and Social Services Julie Green said 90 youth were vaccinated in Behchokǫ̀ at a clinic Tuesday and a total of 750 appointments for youth vaccination have been booked in Yellowknife.
A total of 27, 310 first doses have been administered and 22,501 people are fully vaccinated, bringing the fully-vaccinated total to 58 per cent of eligible residents.