Arviat’s leaders look back on 5 months of COVID-19 isolation

‘No one else went through what Arviat did in the whole territory,’ mayor says

People in Arviat are looking forward to being free of COVID-19, says Arviat’s Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr., shown here, at the left, and senior administrative officer Steve England in front of the hamlet office. (Photo courtesy of the Hamlet of Arviat)

By Jane George

Arviat, the site of Nunavut’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, is set to be declared COVID-free next week.

This comes about 150 days after Arviat’s first confirmed case was declared Nov. 13, and 28 days since the last to be confirmed in the community of about 3,000.

A big public celebration is not in the works, according to community leaders, but the expected easing of restrictions to allow more visiting between households will alone be “a giant leap for Arviammiut,” said Mayor Joe Savikataaq.

While the pandemic is not going away, Arviat is in a much better situation to face infections now than last November, he said. That’s because many residents have either already had COVID-19 or have been vaccinated against the new coronavirus.

“No one else went through what Arviat did in the whole territory,” Savikataaq said about the number of infections suffered by Arviammiut.

When nearby Rankin Inlet saw its first confirmed COVID-19 case Nov. 11, the Hamlet of Arviat made the decision to immediately shut down.

“We will never know how much those two days saved us,” he said of the time between the community’s initial lockdown and the appearance of the first case.

“The [Nunavut government] was doing its part having the isolation hubs in southern Canada to keep COVID out, but somewhere it made its way in here.”

Back then, Arviat was the first community in the territory to see multiple cases, and that meant Savikataaq and his colleagues had to learn as they went.

The most challenging thing at that time was mitigating fear, he said.

“For the first two weeks, there was just case after case after case,” said Savikataaq.

“There were so many unknowns at the time. What got us through at the time was our local radio station and everyone tuned into that for updates and to encourage each other.”

Arviat senior administrative officer Steve England said his role moved into crisis management mode at the hamlet, where there were 60 worried employees.

“We had to get over our fear and replace it with knowledge,” England said. “We got hit hard, and keeping vital services going the first couple of weeks was a very big challenge.”

There was a plan in place to fly in heavy equipment drivers and water truck drivers if needed, but in the end, it wasn’t necessary. The hamlet also didn’t end up needing to seek help from the military.

“We came close, but then recoveries started to kick in,” England said, “and we knew we could make it.”

“It’s another chapter in Arviat’s history, and we’re stronger for it.”

The long haul for municipal leaders is over

Savikataaq says the pandemic has changed him – beyond the fact he uses a lot of hand sanitizer now.

He said he appreciates life more and “how things can change and affect our life.”

During the five-month outbreak in Arviat, days ran into each other, he said.

Savikataaq had to isolate for 22 days at home after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

“In hindsight, it didn’t really matter because everything was closed. At the time it was uncomfortable, and I was thinking, ‘Why I am under house arrest?’ But I was still busy at home, so it was OK,” Savikataaq said.

Support from family, including Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq, and hearing “people on radio encouraging other people” meant a lot to him.

“Small words are very meaningful,” he said.

(The Health Department has clarified that the COVID-19 outbreak in Arviat cannot be declared over until more than two weeks after the last person is no longer in isolation. In Arviat’s case that date is April 6. “This means, the declaration that the outbreak is over cannot be made before April 20,” the Health Department said. An earlier version of the story suggested the outbreak could be declared over this weekend.)

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Peter Alareak on

    I have learn to look at peoples eyes to see if they are smiling not being able to see their mouth. There is only two of us in my house, me and my Paniik but we were always washing our hands and what ever we might have touch. I miss my grands down to the core of my heart, but it’s coming to the end not being able to see them almost the whole winter. Our Mayor never turn away from his people with the help of his creator to keep the spirit of his people up. May he and Steve be highly blessed by our God, Long with the Mayors little daughter who reads Bible verses on radio to left up Arviamiut.

  2. Posted by Joseph E1-717 on

    We Learned to Wait in Patience.And Most of All Never let go of Hope 🙂

  3. Posted by Bubba on

    Bubba know now Arviat strong!

  4. Posted by Bubba on

    Bubba wanna give the hugs all over town!

  5. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I’m very glad that Arviat made it through it’s outbreak and that a lot of people did not get sick, require hospitalization, or die.
    But let’s face it, Arviat was very lucky. The GN did a lot of things right, but there were also a lot of mistakes. Many of the same mistakes that have been made from Quebec to B.C.
    I have said this before, and will say it again. People will act in their own self interest given any choice at all. Any pandemic response must be very strict, enforced, and able to account for changing conditions.
    New Zealand IMHO had the right approach. Step one, get Covid-19 under control. Step two, stop Covid-19 from entering the country. Step three, test, test, test. Step four, when there are cases found act quickly and decisively. You do have to be very very strict, have meaningful lockdowns with real consequences for any abuse, and this also means only essential services during a lockdown. Essential is power, food, water, and if you can’t limit your shopping to one or two days a week then tough luck.
    Canada has 28,124 dead and 1,091,786 wounded in this war on Covid-19, not counting the millions of other affected by loved ones getting sick or dying, or seeing their economic well being ruined, education stunted, or mental health impaired.
    By contract New Zealand has 26 dead and 2,589 wounded.
    Sure Canada is 8 times the population of New Zealand, so do the math. Our leaders got it wrong. Plain and simple.
    And to those that say that Canada couldn’t have done the same thing – it’s just not true. Yes New Zealand is an island (actually 2 main islands +600 other islands), but Canada has a land border with just one country and guess what – that border was “closed” to all but essential traffic.
    No matter what they say the federal and provincial/territorial governments had the authority to take whatever action was needed. People can argue that this or that might violate the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, or whatever they want, but the various levels of government could have, and I argue should have used their authority, real or just assumed, and shut the country down initially, eliminated Covid-19, and then from probably May or June 2020 controlled it.
    If you don’t believe me, on June 30, 2020 Canada recorded 320 new cases of Covid-19. That’s right 320 new cases in the whole country.
    A strict lockdown in May/June could have driven that number to zero, and a strict border policy, testing, strict monitored quarantines, limited return fights, and testing, testing, testing could have kept the number at or near zero. Why was this not done?
    At least 14,000 people have died and over 900,000 have been infected since June 30, 2020.
    We need a Royal Commission on a federal level, and the same should happen in each province and territory. We think that we are doing well because we compare ourselves to the U.S. – the country that handled the pandemic worse than any other country in the world.
    The people of Canada elected people to lead them, and keep them safe. Our leaders have failed us.

  6. Posted by Name withheld on

    You should get your facts first before you post!!

    Sure quite a few ppl thought they were immune , but a lot more listen to the restrictions in Arviat. I’ve seen pics.

    There is crisis around Canada and here we have ppl in Iqaluit out and about going out to bars to have a few and socialize…Who are the embarrassment now? Want to have a few? Pick up your wine or beer and keep your bubble to a handful. From 1 person to 13 in less than 24 hours is a lot., Now it will spread like wildfire as all those ppl who went out to the bar couldn’t handle staying in and enjoying things at home.

    According to Dr Patterson he thinks it’s been in Iqaluit for awhile now. Variant is going out of control in Ontario and Quebec and it could very well be in Iqaluit now!!

    Yes sure most of us have received our 2nd dose but what about our children whom cannot get vaccinated? They will be the ones suffering now with worst symptoms if it ever gets there.

    Think twice before you get too comfortable in public places as when we get our guards down that’s when it sneaks up!!

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