The Northwest Territories is grappling with an explosion of COVID-19 cases, as its residents prepare to gather with family and loved ones for Thanksgiving.
As of Friday, the territory is reporting 452 active cases, the most that it’s ever had since the start of the pandemic. According to CTVNews.ca’s tracker, N.W.T is seeing an average of 43.1 new cases per day based on the late seven days.
That works out to 960 new cases per million residents – an infection rate that is higher than any other jurisdiction in Canada. It’s also higher than every U.S. state other than Alaska.
Nearly two-thirds of the active cases are in the Yellowknife region, where the territory’s largest and capital city is located. The territorial government is urging residents of the Yellowknife region to hold virtual Thanksgiving celebrations and discouraging non-essential travel between Yellowknife and other communities.
“It’s not a good situation in the N.W.T., but we’re doing our best to contain it, and to hopefully get over the peak of this.” said Premier Caroline Cochrane in an interview with CTV News Channel on Friday.
The territory had largely been able to keep the virus at bay up until the fourth wave. Between May 22 and Aug. 15, the Northwest Territories had reported zero cases. Daily caseloads quickly ballooned from there, peaking at 66 on Oct. 7. In the last two weeks alone, there have been 529 new cases reported, representing more than a third of all COVID-19 cases in the territory
“I think that we’re a victim of our own success. As soon as COVID hit, we knew that our health-care infrastructure wasn’t up to par,” said Cochrane, noting that her territory was the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement border controls.
But as restrictions started to lift in August and September, Cochrane says that she knew that there was a potential for a surge in cases.
“It’s been a long year and a half, and the public was tired. We have a lot of family that lived down south and so we knew that once we opened up to allow people to travel, we would be looking at this potential,” she said.
“We didn’t ask for it, but we knew that we had to take care of the mental health of our residents as well. So, we’re doing the best we can with our outbreak at this point,” Cochrane added.
While around 70 per cent of COVID-19 patients in hospitals are unvaccinated, vaccinated people make up the other 30 per cent, Cochrane said. After the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended booster shots for immunocompromised people in September, the Northwest Territories began offering third doses to people over 75.
“We’ve been proactive. We’re now giving the third shot to people that are 75 and over, and we’ll be looking at watching that research as we go forward,” Cochrane said.
The Northwest Territories has received oxygen supplies from the federal government, as well as support from the military and the Canadian Red Cross. Alberta’s hospitals have also continued to treat N.W.T. residents, despite that province’s own challenges with COVID-19.
“I do have faith that the federal government will continue to be there, and I also have faith in all jurisdictions, all premiers across Canada. We’re all in this together and will continue to support each other,” Cochrane said.