Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly is raising concern over what will happen to NWT residents receiving medical treatment in Alberta if the province’s health system collapses under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to members of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight on Tuesday evening, O’Reilly asked Health Minister Julie Green what the plan is in case Alberta’s health system is overwhelmed.
“At what point do we stop sending people to Alberta? For testing, for whatever? I think we need to recognize that this is a real possibility. And it’s going to happen in literally weeks, because Alberta is not doing what they should be doing,” O’Reilly said.
Green responded that NWT health authorities are aware of the hospital situation in Alberta and are in regular communication with officials at Alberta Health Services.
“There has been no change in the service level for NWT residents at this time,” Green said. “I know that people have been deciding not to go to Edmonton for routine medical appointments because they’re concerned about the outbreak there. But the service continues to be provided at the same rate that it was previously. And if there’s a change to that, that will be well publicized.”
Alberta experienced its worst month in the pandemic in November, with Covid-19 cases rising from 6,002 on Nov. 1 to to 16,628 by Nov. 30 and hospitalizations tripling in that period, CBC reported.
A total of 479 patients were in hospital on Nov. 30 and 97 were in ICU beds.
Restrictions to remain in place
Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who also spoke in the committee meeting, said that the intensity of the second wave of Covid across Canada means that the NWT isn’t ready to relax restrictions.
Her comments came in response to a question from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who asked if it was possible that residents returning to the NWT from travel could isolate closer to their home communities rather than in the four hubs of Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik.
Kandola said that in August her office was considering making changes to the travel restrictions and self isolation orders because Covid cases across Canada were relatively low at that time.
But over the past few weeks cases have risen dramatically across the country and “any move to relax restrictions would not be a prudent response to the pandemic right now.”
“We’ve seen – looking at Nunavut – just how quickly in the space of one or two weeks you can obtain community-wide spread,” she said. “I made a decision that relaxing restrictions needs to be postponed. And we need to look at actually maintaining and tightening restrictions on travelers so we can get through the next six weeks.”
Johnson also asked if it was possible that bans on students singing in schools, which he called “ridiculous,” could be relaxed since the Covid risk to the NWT is mainly travel-related.
Kandola said that coronavirus doesn’t care whether or not a situation is “ridiculous” and it knows the conditions it needs to spread to a large number of people.
Aerosol transmission, such as singing, could increase the risk of Covid infection and lead to a super-spreader event, she explained.
“Across Canada, literally thousands of school outbreaks have occurred and hundreds of schools have been closed,” she said.