To enhance the NWT’s ability to detect and react to COVID-19, the GNWT has expanded the number of in-territory rapid tests used for COVID-19, and procured additional equipment to expand this capacity further in the coming weeks.

Starting immediately the NWT now can process up to 240 COVID-19 tests per week in-territory. Rapid testing was previously limited to select, high-priority cases.

The GNWT notes that careful analysis of current territorial testing supplies has determined this level of testing is sustainable in the NWT. These tests will be processed using the BioFire test platform. An immediate benefit is that patients can expect to receive their COVID-19 results sooner.

Sue Cullen, Chief Executive Officer, NWT Health and Social Services Authority mentions that staff across the NTHSSA has worked hard to ensure COVID-19 testing is easily accessible and results are received as quickly as possible.

“Residents also have an important role to play, stay safe, keep your distance, wash your hands, wear your masks, and get tested if you have symptoms to keep us all protected.”

Additional swabs beyond the NWT’s capacity of 240 tests per week will continue to be sent to Alberta for analysis. Should this expanded local testing capacity be exceeded, high priority cases, such as individuals presenting at local healthcare centres with more severe symptoms, will be prioritized for local testing.

Four additional rapid testing units are expected to arrive for installation by the end of this week. Validation will begin immediately and human resource needs are currently being addressed.

It is expected that in the coming weeks, the territory should be able to move comfortably to 500 rapid, in-territory tests per week with further expansions on-the-way as human resource and supply capacity allows.

Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services notes that this is a good first step as the GNWT work towards getting the turnaround times needed to rapidly identify and respond to COVID-19 cases in the territory.

“We will continue our work to expand in-territory testing and put ourselves in a position to deliver on every COVID-19 test within our boundaries.”

The GeneXpert testing platform in Yellowknife and Inuvik will continue to be used for high-priority cases and will complement this expanded capacity.

Expanding rapid in-territory testing is one part of an ongoing expansion of epidemiological surveillance to prepare the NWT for an additional surge in infections of COVID-19 according to Green.

“By increasing our capacity and timeliness of testing, not only will we provide better service to residents, but we will also be better positioned to consider the expansion of testing criteria and potential changes to public health guidance.”

The average number of tests collected weekly across the NWT since the beginning of August is 175 and the maximum number of tests collected in the NWT in one week during the pandemic is 478. In total there have 4,335 completed tests as can be seen on the NWT COVID-19 Dashboard.