Nunavut begins contact tracing in connection with first COVID-19 case
Chief medical officer says he doesn’t know “the full details of how this individual got COVID-19”
With the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Nunavut, the territory’s next step is to determine who the individual has been in contact with.
So far, 20 people, all residents of Pond Inlet, where the case was confirmed, have been identified as having contact with the individual and have been swabbed for the virus, Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference this morning.
The territory confirmed the case in the north Baffin community of about 1,600 in a news release issued by the Government of Nunavut earlier in the day.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, we knew that no combination of preventative measures can absolutely guarantee COVID-19 will not arrive. We anticipated that sooner or later the virus would be detected in the territory,” Patterson said.
Patterson said his department has been in touch with the hamlet and has initiated the department’s rapid response plan.
That includes a rapid response team that’s set to arrive in Pond Inlet this afternoon. The team will immediately begin containment measures, contact tracing and monitoring.
Pond Inlet’s health centre is well staffed and its operations will continue, Patterson said.
Patterson said his department does not yet know “the full details of how this individual got COVID-19,” and contact tracing will help to determine those details.
“If, through that, we can’t figure it out, we’ll cast a wider net trying to find the source of this individual’s infection,” Patterson said.
The individual’s results came back positive yesterday, on April 29. The person had developed symptoms last week and was tested on April 23.
The individual has been isolating at home since then, “to our best information,” Patterson said.
Patterson would not say whether the individual had been through one of the isolation hubs in the south. He also did not comment on the person’s travel history.
“There’s some information that we’re just not going to share because we don’t want to contribute to blaming or shaming people,” Patterson said.
“There are parts of this that we will not discuss.”
Some of the results from the 20 Pond Inlet residents swabbed are expected to come back later today, Patterson said.
Those tests are being sent via charter plane to Iqaluit, where they are being analyzed using the hospital’s GeneXpert machine, the same machine Nunavut uses to test for tuberculosis.
The turnaround time for those results is a couple of hours. Tests are then sent down to a public health lab in Ontario for secondary testing, where the results will come back in two to three days.
“Our rationale for doing both is the GeneXpert is relatively new to us. We want to ensure that we don’t miss a false negative with the GeneXpert and so until we’re certain that the machine is working properly, and we know how reliable it is, we’re going to continue to do both tests.”
Patterson said with the rapid response team in the community, the department should have an exhaustive list of people the individual may have had contact with later today or tomorrow.
In today’s briefing from federal health officials, Dr. Tom Wong, the executive director and chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services Canada, said “we will support the Nunavut Health Department in contact tracking, epidemiological support as well as public health measures.”
Travel to Pond Inlet restricted to prioritize containment
All travel to and from Pond Inlet should cease in order to prevent the virus from spreading to more communities, Patterson said.
“This includes any movement in or out of the community by land travel.”
On Monday, the Government of Nunavut replaced an open-ended ban on gatherings of any kind with a more limited ban on social gatherings of more than five people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Patterson said no changes are being made to that order, but visits in Pond Inlet should not take place.
And until the extent of the spread of the virus in the community is determined, all non-essential offices and services will be closed in Pond Inlet.
“There are to be no social gatherings within dwellings and all residents of Pond Inlet are asked to maintain social distancing and good hygiene.”
Patterson acknowledges that residents of Pond Inlet might feel frightened by the news of a case in their community.
“The Government of Nunavut would like to assure everyone that although travel is restricted, you are not cut off from health or support. Critical services will be maintained and plans are in place to ensure that access to services such as heat, power, water, sewer and communications will not be interrupted,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the priority now is to contain the virus to prevent further transmission within the community.
“No one wants this virus. No one brought this virus to Nunavut on purpose. No one deserves to be shamed or blamed at this time,” Premier Joe Savikataaq said.
“Nunavut is no exception to this global pandemic. Now is the time for patience, kindness, staying at home. We will get through this together. We will beat COVID-19 in Nunavut.”
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association also announced it will provide support to the individual who tested positive and their family.
“QIA is working with the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and our contacts at Arctic Co-op, to ensure the family receives delivery of necessary cleaning supplies, groceries, and other social supports needed to self-isolate,” a QIA news release said.
“Our thoughts are with the individual who has contracted COVID-19 and their family,” says QIA President P.J. Akeeagok. “We want to make sure that this person and their immediate family receive the supports and resources they need to self-isolate at home while fighting the virus.”
Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to COVID-19 is advised to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., or notify their community health centre right away, and immediately isolate at home for 14 days. “Please do not go to the health centre in person,” a GN news release said.