A basket of needles containing Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine waits to be administered to patients at a COVID-19 clinic in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

N.W.T. reports first death related to COVID-19, outbreak grows to 219 active cases

Eight northern communities affected in territories’ worst outbreak since start of pandemic

The chief public health officer of the Northwest Territories has confirmed the territory’s first death related to COVID-19 as the N.W.T. experiences its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic with 219 active cases in eight communities.

Dr. Kami Kandola said in a news release that a N.W.T. resident died from the infection late Monday.

There are 190 cases in the Sahtu region in the territory’s northwest on Tuesday, including 74 in Colville Lake, where about 150 people live, and 84 in Fort Good Hope, a town of about 500. There were also 27 cases in Yellowknife, the territory’s capital city,

Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake are under a 10-day lockdown to try to contain the spread of the virus.

Kandola said she would not release any details about the person who died out of respect for the family.

“My thoughts are with the person’s family, friends, and community. At a time, when we are trying to keep an entire population healthy, this death reminds us that individuals are at the heart of this effort,” Kandola said in the release Tuesday.

“Our office knows that the memories of the person who died will weave into the collective memories of their loved ones and live on.”

A spokesperson for Kandola would not say whether the person who died was vaccinated.

In a joint statement, Premier Caroline Cochrane and Health Minister Julie Green extended their sympathies.

“The current case count in the N.W.T is a stark reminder that COVID-19 continues to impact our lives, and that the situation can change quickly. The health and well-being of N.W.T. residents and communities remains our No 1 priority — and it’s important we continue to increase the number of residents being vaccinated,” the statement said.

Cochrane and Green urged residents to follow public health orders.

“During this crisis, Northerners have remained resilient. You have helped neighbours, supported communities and residents who needed it, put signs in your windows to support our health-care workers, and lent a hand wherever possible.”

Several exposure notices have been sent out about events held across the N.W.T. The current outbreak began after a hand games tournament in the Sahtu region in early August became considered a super-spreader event.

Hand games are contests in which two teams take turns guessing the location of an object in the hands of an opposing player who tries to confuse the guesser. Singing and drumming are in the background. Sticks are awarded for correct answers and the team with the most wins.

The games were originally used by the Dene to hone their skills for hunting and fishing as well as for entertainment. They are still played in the North as a way to preserve tradition and culture.

The Canadian Rangers and nurses with the Canadian Red Cross have been deployed to the region at the request of the territorial government.

As of Tuesday, 74 per cent of eligible individuals 12 years and older were fully vaccinated and 79 per cent were partially vaccinated.

Data from the N.W.T. government said 72 per cent of COVID-19 infections since Jan. 1 have been in unvaccinated people.

Vaccinations vary across the territory. Some 29 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated in Colville Lake. Fort Good Hope has a fully vaccinated rate of 64 per cent and 89 per cent of Yellowknife residents are fully immunized.

—The Canadian Press

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