8 days or 14? Here's what changes to N.W.T.'s self-isolation rules mean for territorial residents

·5 min read
The territory has shut its border to non-residents, with some exceptions, amid COVID-19 concerns. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC - image credit)
The territory has shut its border to non-residents, with some exceptions, amid COVID-19 concerns. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC - image credit)

If you're fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and have travelled outside of the N.W.T. but have not left Canada, you can now potentially shorten your isolation period upon return from 14 days to eight.

The change was announced Wednesday by Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer.

So how does it work, and what do these changes mean for Northwest Territories residents? Here are a few questions answered:

What does 'fully vaccinated' mean?

Kandola said a person is fully vaccinated when at least two weeks have passed since they received their full dosage. For most N.W.T. residents, that means two weeks after their second does of the Moderna vaccine.

If you're fully vaccinated, you will still need to file a self-isolation plan with the territory and self-isolate for at least eight days after arriving back to N.W.T.

On day eight, you can take a COVID-19 test. If the test comes back negative, you no longer have to self-isolate. You will, however, still be required to wear a mask for the remainder of the 14 days when indoors in public places, and when you cannot keep a physical distance of two metres outdoors.

Everyone returning from travel still needs to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

How do I prove I'm fully vaccinated?

You won't need to, if you're an N.W.T. resident and have received your vaccines in the Northwest Territories. The information is captured in your electronic medical record.

On day eight, when you go to get tested, health care providers will check your medical record for proof of vaccination, and you'll be offered a test. The COVID-19 test is free.

Residents can also request their immunization records online.

Health officials say they are working with other jurisdictions to look at what type of documentation would be acceptable as proof of immunization for non-N.W.T. residents.

Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director, said, "without getting into the whole idea of a vaccine passport," that would either be a territorial or provincial health document.

Why didn't the N.W.T. issue a vaccine passport?

It was considered, Pegg said, but since officials aren't sure what will constitute an official proof of vaccine Canada-wide, and potentially internationally, they opted not to, to avoid having to go back and potentially reissue a second document.

Where do I get a COVID-19 test?

If you're in a bigger centre, you can do that by calling the health center or the public health department. In smaller communities, you'll need to contact your local health center.

Residents in Yellowknife can book a test online.

How long will it take to get the result back?

The territory offers point-of-care testing, which produces a result within 15 minutes. If the result is negative, the person can end their self-isolation.

If the result comes up positive, however, it needs to be confirmed. Right now, the turnaround time for that is still about 24 hours, Pegg said.

But it could be longer if demand increases, or if the territory needs to respond to an outbreak or an increased wastewater signal.

"My best advice would be once you know what your day eight is, is to book that test early so you're insured to get it as close to that date as possible, if not right on day eight, and ideally will be able to keep our turnaround times quite low," Pegg said.

My roommate is fully vaccinated. Do they need to self-isolate as well?

No. If you are re-entering the territory and the others in your household are fully vaccinated, they are no longer required to self-isolate at all. But, if you or your roommate develop any symptoms, everyone in your household must self-isolate immediately and contact a local health care provider.

What about if I'm travelling with my kids?

If you're travelling with kids, or anyone who has not been fully vaccinated, then all of you will still be required to self-isolate for the full 14 days upon return.

If you're coming back from travel to a home with children and/or people who haven't been fully vaccinated in it, those people must self-isolate with you for 14 days, or until your COVID-19 test comes back negative on or after day eight.

Can my fully-vaccinated relative from the south visit me?

Yes, but there's a catch.

The changes announced Wednesday apply to non-residents as well, however, non-residents are still only allowed into the territory under certain circumstances and will still need to apply for a travel exemption.

Non-residents will also need to supply proof that they've been fully vaccinated if they want to shorten their self-isolation period to eight days, and provide that to an N.W.T. health-care provider when they go for their COVID-19 test on or after day eight. If they don't have proof of full vaccination, they'll need to do the full 14 days of self-isolation.

Why 8 days?

COVID-19 symptoms may take up to 14 days to develop, but the average is five to seven days. After that, there is a 90 per cent reduction, and with additional health measures, such as wearing a mask and providing a symptoms check on days 10 and 14, the risk is greatly reduced, according to N.W.T. health officials.

What if I've left Canada?

Sorry, the self-isolation exemption doesn't apply to you. You'll still be required to follow federal regulations.

What if I've had 1 Moderna shot?

You'll still be required to complete the full, 14-day self-isolation period — and so will the rest of your household, even if someone is fully vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, 51 per cent of the eligible population in the N.W.T. had been fully vaccinated, and 63 per cent had received the first dose of the vaccine.

"While we continue to offer the vaccine to all N.W.T. residents who are eligible, we must be mindful that what happens beyond our border is beyond our control, but it does matter," Kandola said.

"This pandemic is not over here until it is over everywhere else."

More information on changes to self-isolation rules is available on the N.W.T. government's website.