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”

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, says his department is still trying to determine how an individual in Pond Inlet got COVID-19. This is the territory’s first case of COVID-19. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

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.

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(32) Comments:

  1. Posted by Concerned in Nunavut on

    Much attention will be given to this first case, understandably, but Nunavut-wide should include the bans put in place NOW and including curfews and stricter enforcement of limiting customers in stores, post offices, families not allowed in (only one shopper/family) and simple things like every single public doorway should have hand sanitizer (and someone near watching to ensure only one person entering and using it), etc. Hire security guards or reallocate current staff in these roles.

    • Posted by don’t get crazy on

      let’s not get carried away. first off all it’s very likely that are positive cases we just don’t know about because people haven’t been tested. second, how are you going to stop a single parent from food shopping with their kids??

      having a curfew is such an extreme approach. most of us a very lucky here to have GN jobs where we’re still getting paid. it’s very easy for those of us, in that position, to throw insane ‘suggestions’ out there with no science behind it when the consequences of said suggestions do not really affect us.

      There’s a lot of people here that are in very vulnerable situations and a lot who are in very privliaged (not a lot in between).

      in short, lets leave the suggestions up to medical professionals. not yahoos on facebook or politicians making decisions that are solely political and not health related.

  2. Posted by Nunavummiut on

    Thank you for naming communities. It is not shaming. It can be any of us and perhaps an awakening for too many. It won’t matter after a while without the tightening up of a watchful eye on things and implementing further stricter enforcements.

    I would rather now than later. Thank you too the RBC who greets customers with hand sanitizer and to a small store which has a ‘guard’ allowing in 10 customers at a time. If there are not the consistent ‘rules’ (guidelines are NOT good enough) then what effort is being made is weakened. Thank you to all who are trying hard.

    • Posted by okay on

      I see no shame in naming the community. Also, I see no shame in a person contracting Covid. By naming the community it helps in controlling the spread of Covid. I live in the NWT and there was a case in a small community. There was panic until the wise Chief named his community ignoring the NWT government.

    • Posted by iThink on

      I don’t think the comment about shaming had to do with which community it was, but the circumstances around which this individual might have become infected. This might identify what “group” this person is from, and given our heightened consciousness of “in groups and out groups” in Nunavut, could stoke needless animosities.

  3. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I had hoped that this day could have been postponed, or even not occur. It is useless to start pointing fingers but that’s almost a national pastime so let’s start with our federal and provincial politicians and public health officials.
    Borders should have been closed sooner, and returning Canadians screened and tested on arrival, with a mandatory 14 days enforced quarantine. We also needed our PM, Premiers, and all party leaders screaming from the rooftops to stay home. Instead we got a series of half measures. And FFS Quebec is talking about relaxing Covid-19 measures? Did their Premier even learn to count – you just had the second highest day of infections since this started, you’re not even at a plateau you IDIOT!
    I am very angry with Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta for not doing a better job of containing the virus. If there were fewer cases in Montreal, Ottawa, and possibly Edmonton there would be a lot less risk for Nunavut patients or essential service workers.
    Note that I have placed no blame on the GN or Nunavut’s public health. The steps that they have taken are better than most provinces, and hopefully with allow public health to isolate and stop this outbreak in Pond.
    What the Nunavut politicians and other officials should be doing right now is to be shouting from the rooftops that we now have a big problem. Lock Pond Inlet down now, and lock it down tight. You want to stop this here and now. How to do that is a 24 hour curfew. Someone who has been tested can deliver groceries, same with water, etc. Lock the place down for 7 – 14 days. otherwise the infection will spread and people will DIE. That is what politicians are hesitant to say, stay home, 100% masks and social distancing if anyone is outside the house for any reason, OR PEOPLE WILL DIE!
    I do think that the CPHO should investigate and let people know how the infected person was allowed into Nunavut. There are obviously cracks in the prevention plan and any weakness should be exposed and corrected.
    I have seen comments about people isolating at southern hotels getting together to smoke in the stairwells. Just a scenario, you run out of smokes, sneak out to buy some, and contract the infection a couple of days prior to going north. Sounds possible?
    Officials need to explain to people that this is important, or PEOPLE WILL DIE.
    Good luck Pond Inlet. Let science and strict public health procedures rule the day. Tell your relatives, friends, even enemies – follow the rules or PEOPLE WILL DIE.

    • Posted by Jeff on

      I wdn’t be so hard on Ontario & Alberta. Ontario has bulk of Canada’s population & it is ethnic diverse. The bulk of international air travel lands or takes off in Toronto or Calgary. As for QC, timing of their spring break didn’t help. ?

  4. Posted by Northener on

    I think we have a right to know if they were south and if so the date in wich they flew back. I know if i was on the same flight i would appreciate a heads up on the situation

  5. Posted by Islander on

    So residents have to quarantine, but noth health care workere or rcmp. It didnt come from teachers or residents, they had to wait 2 weeks before traveling. It gets around by nurses and rcmp not needing to quarentine like everyone else. How history repeats itsself

    • Posted by Islander on

      Please, I apologize for my mean comment. I love you guys and just want freedom for humanity. I hope you find a balance and take care of each other up there, asurayu

      • Posted by Visitor on

        Why does it always come back to being the fault of nurses, RCMP or southerners? Blaming ‘outsiders’ (many of whom are working front lines trying to protect Nunavut’s residents from this virus), is shameful. Let’s work together instead of contributing to the already big divide between the residents of this territory.

      • Posted by Tin Foil Hat on

        What makes you think RCMP or Health Care workers don’t have to quarantine before traveling north?

        • Posted by Public Reporting on

          Because that’s how it’s been reported in the media.

          Their travel history in Residence for three weeks before Coming to Nunavut is examined, but the essential workers don’t quarantine in hotels.

  6. Posted by Annie on

    How are plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, dental workers, and similar job positions determined to be essential workers?? Those are people I have seen and heard returning to Nunavut from south. And they are shopping at the stores.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Plumbers are needed for sanitation, hand washing, and removal of bodily wastes.
      Mechanics, depends if it’s for furnaces it would be essential.
      Dental workers are health related, bad oral health could lead to infection and death, plus it can be incredibly painful.
      Police, nurses, firemen, etc. are pretty obvious.
      Carpenters – not sure why they would be included. Quebec is letting the construction industry go back to work, likely a huge mistake.

  7. Posted by Tommy on

    The blame game begins. The perfect Nunavut just got hit. The fear mongering from the government continues.

    Wash hands frequently, clean the house, keep the distance, and try not to touch the face. Disinfect, disinfect, disinfect. Even in huge populations like Ottawa, prevention is possible. Forget them, think about yourself instead.

  8. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    This is a global pandemic and it is now easy to look and see the best ways to handle the virus.
    Take New Zealand. Isolated with no land borders. One of the tightest lockdowns, and any returning citizen has a mandatory quarantine. Testing, testing, testing. Stage 4 lockdown for 6 weeks. The result? One of the fewest infection and death rates, and virtually no new infections, and the chance to reopen their economy amid renews physical distancing guidelines.
    Take the original site of the infection, Wuhan. Draconian lockdown with drones patrolling. Only 1 person per household allowed to shop once per day. No travel in or out. Yes the Chinese probably lie about the number of cases, and the number of deaths, but they built a hospital dedicated to Covid-19 patients in 6 days. And now they test, test, test. Result, Wuhan is mostly open again.
    South Korea, another success story based on test, test, test and quarantine anyone infected.
    At the other end of the scale you have Italy and Spain who were late to lock down, and late to test, with roughly a 10% mortality rate. But you can’t trust their infection rates, or even their mortality rates as their health care systems were overwhelmed.
    Now the U.S. Where Trump’s narcissistic behaviour has made America #1 again – in coronavirus infections, and deaths.
    Closer to home look at New Brunswick, or PEI with good lockdown, and enough tests. Then look at Quebec and Ontario who abjectly failed our senior citizens.
    To those that don’t take social distancing, wearing a mask, or quarantining seriously, know that you are the reason why more people get infected, and more people, especially your elders will die from the virus.
    Stay home, stay safe.

    • Posted by Disciplined Society on

      Sadly, culturally we In Nunavut are much closer to the Americans (words I never thought I would hear myself say) when it comes to unwillingness to follow rules for our own good, disdain for expertise, sense of exceptionalism, strong sense of individualism, and all those other traits that make creating a disciplined society so difficult.

      And that is what we need most, a disciplined ociety willing to follow the health rules for the benefit of all.

      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        How true. Sometimes we have to admit that we are not experts in everything (unlike a certain President of the U.S.)
        One factor which seems to be universal is that people have a hard time both listening to contrary information/opinions, and if need be changing their minds when confronted by better facts. We get so invested in supporting our previous opinions and decisions that we are unable to accept that we can be wrong.
        I know that I’m not one of the world’s preeminent virologists. Everything I’ve learned about Covid-19 has been through the news media, but I do look at a lot of different sources, CTV, CBC, BBC, CNN, newspapers from around the world, and yes even FOX and I am loathe to admit OAN and REDSTATE. I figure that I need to know the lies being fed to the gullible.
        The best thing that anyone can do is listen to the experts They may not be right, but they are usually not wrong if you know what I mean.
        As for the independence of Inuit, it’s generally a good thing. When your life depends on your own decisions, instead of those of a wider society then you get into the habit of being right, or being dead. What people have to realize is that society is a lot more complicated now, with more and varied risks. We cannot all be experts in everything.
        Stay safe. Stay at home. Watch out for zombie, they are everywhere.

        • Posted by Not Singapore on

          I wasn’t referring only to Inuit, but I take your point. Most who choose to live in Canada’s north, regardless of ethnicity, tend to be an independent-minded and stubborn lot. This is a problem when a cohesive and disciplined society-wide response is needed. Nunavut may be many things, but cohesive and disciplined are not words that I think anyone would use. Singapore we most definitely are not.

          One thing that I think will come out of all of this is an increased realization that we are part of the whole, be it internationally or nationally. Traditional skills and ways of life, while they have much value, are wholly insufficient in today’s world. I would like to think this will lead to an embrace of ways that are beneficial, and a rejection of values or behaviours that are detrimental.

          • Posted by The Old Trapper on

            Good points.
            We are all in this together. It’s about “us” not about “me”.

  9. Posted by Frances Veszlenyi on

    This individual came from south, meaning that they traveled with a flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit to Pond Inlet route. Which means that tracking and self isolation must include all points in between and those in close contact with the individual during their travel; therefore, Iqaluit must be included and anyone who had traveled on the same flight from Ottawa, then proceeded to another community. We need solutions, not more blame game.

  10. Posted by Interesting on

    Now that everyone is panicking and feeling the heat in Nunavut. I wonder, do you feel the need to be close to your families?
    Imagine your situation of one case (minor) magnified with thousands of cases with hundreds dead and your family is living amongst them – would you not feel it necessary to get to them? If you were in another province would you feel the desperate need to be near them, to take care of them.

    Are you still blaming teachers for leaving now?
    Now that I see it happening in Nunavut and people are realizing how real this is. I wonder. Do you still think homework packets are more important than lives? Do you think teachers who left to be at the side of their families are selfish and shouldn’t be paid?

    Where are all the naysayers now?

    • Posted by Teacher guy on

      I stayed like most teachers did but this may have been my last year here in light of all this.

      • Posted by Noah on

        I’m done with Nunavut. Not paying $3500 approx & doing a quarantine to return there. NWT, YT or BC my next stop.

  11. Posted by Pond inleter on

    WOW, QIA helping 1 family….way to go QIA!!

    • Posted by QIA on

      QIA has been helping elders, in Iqaluit, at the stores. Aren’t they doing the same in your community?

  12. Posted by Why u dum on

    I wonder, how many new teachers will be hired now. Would not want to start any new job, having to do 2 weeks isolation before they start, on their own dime. Not much for thought, or thinking going on these days! Not much at al

  13. Posted by Buh Buh on

    Yep, bye bye Nunavut. Loved the place until about six weeks ago. Now, won’t be sorry to see the back of it.

    Still love the people, the lifestyle, and the landscape – just can’t stand the incredibly weak leadership. Might try again in 20 years when a new, and hopefully competent, generation has taken over.

  14. Posted by I Wonder on

    Another good check would be to find all the people who have the virus but no sickness. They could infect others.

  15. Posted by Concerned on

    I heard the individual never travelled outta the community and it was community transmissions.

    Need to locate the individual who carried the virus into the community and contact trace everyone who was on the flights with that individual.

    I am going to assume there will be other people infected in other communities as well.

  16. Posted by George on

    Nunavut is about to enter a very dangerous phase in this pandemic. We have managed, mostly by luck and geography, to keep the virus out. Now the provinces are set to relax restrictions, giving us in the north a warm, fuzzy feeling that things are getting better. But Nunavut will be hit hard when travel restrictions are lifted. Our troubles have not even started yet.

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