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Wastewater samples point to possible undetected COVID-19 in Hay River

·2 min read

N.W.T. health officials say wastewater testing suggests there may be one or more undetected cases of COVID-19 in Hay River.

They're asking who was self-isolating in that community or the K'atl'odeeche First Nation between Jan. 1 and 6 to arrange for testing immediately, even if those people have no symptoms.

"In Hay River, we picked up on a signal in the wastewater on January 5th and 6th, and we have no active cases in Hay River," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kami Kandola on Thursday morning.

"So that's an unanticipated signal."

A news release on Wednesday said it's possible the signal is from someone who had travelled outside the territory, and who may not currently be in the N.W.T. It's also possible that COVID-19 has been transmitted to others.

"Currently, there is not enough information to confidently assess public risk," the release states.

Health officials estimate that 251 people were self-isolating in the area on those dates. Hay River Public Health is operating clinics Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for any of those people to arrange for testing.

Essential service workers in Hay River or the K'atl'odeeche First Nation who were exempt from self-isolation requirements between Jan. 1 and 6 are also asked to get tested. Those who were already tested as part of their permission to work do not need to be tested again, the news release says.

People who are self-isolating because someone else in their household has travelled do not need testing unless they develop symptoms.

Officials say the results of testing, along with more wastewater surveillance in the coming days, will allow them to better assess the risk to the public.

Alex Brockman/CBC
Alex Brockman/CBC

Collection and analysis of wastewater began in Hay River last month. It's also being done in Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

Kandola calls it a "very elegant system" that allows officials to monitor for undetected COVID-19 without having to test residents all the time.

"It gives us an early warning system," she said.

Wastewater samples are sent to the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for analysis, with results sent to Kandola's office weekly.

Last month, the territorial government said the wastewater COVID-19 surveillance program signalled undetected cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife.