Baffinland says it “respects severity of pandemic” as it handles first presumptive case

Lab results confirming case should arrive in Nunavut early next week

There are currently between 700 and 750 employees staying on site at Baffinland’s Mary River mine. One of them is presumed to have COVID-19. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The person who’s presumed to be infected with COVID-19 at Baffinland’s Mary River mine tested negative when they first arrived in the territory on June 23.

The mine flies up around 400 workers every two weeks, about half from their western transfer hub in Edmonton, and the rest from a transfer hub in Montreal, to rotate into their shifts.

The person in question came from western Canada. The mine’s protocol is to re-test everyone five days after they arrive. The second test on this person was done on June 29, and the positive result was discovered on June 30.

“The individual tested on the low end of the infection spectrum,” said Tim Sewell, senior director of health and safety for Baffinland’s Mary River mine, over the phone from Oakville, Ontario.

Although the person tested low and was asymptomatic, they were treated as if it was a “full-on positive test,” Sewell said.

They tested positive again on July 1, and that’s when the GN was notified of the presumptive case.

The person was isolated and contact tracing was done. Eight other people were thought to have come into contact with the potentially infected person, and they were also isolated, Sewell said. Earlier, the GN had said that 12 people were placed in isolation after contact tracing.

The eight people have been re-tested too, and those results were to have been available last night, on Thursday, July 3.

The mine is consulting with infectious disease specialists who say it’s very unlikely the person who tested positive will be contagious, said Sewell, but he said the mine is taking every precaution.

“This is not something that anybody wanted to happen,” Sewell said.

“Mining is considered an essential service and we have a partnership with everybody.”

The mine secured a lab at the mine so they can test employees as soon as they arrive at the airport, and regularly after that. They’ve also chartered flights so their employees don’t have to fly through international airports.

In addition, Baffinland changed the rotation schedule its employees are on. Normally shifts are two weeks on, two weeks off. Now employees stay for 28 days, and have 28 days off, with new people coming in every two weeks.

This is the busiest time of year for the mine—ships will start to transport boatloads of iron ore out to be processed. Because of this, Sewell said there are more people at site than usual, between 700 and 750 right now.

Because mine workers are classified as essential, they don’t have to self-isolate before entering the territory.

“We completely respect the severity of this pandemic and we’re tried to accommodate it as such.” Sewell said.

“It’s hard work and we want to make sure we get it right.”

The person who tested positive is waiting for test results to come back from Ontario. The results are expected to arrive in Nunavut early next week. If these are also positive, Sewell said they will take advice from Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, on what to do next.

If there was an outbreak of symptomatic cases in the mine, Sewell said Baffinland would consider an evacuation.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    why are mine workers considered essential?


    thank you, i’ll have a side of coronavirus with that chunk of iron.

    • Posted by Observer on

      Gee, might it have to do with mining being the single largest part of the Nunavut’s overall economy?

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Who ever thought that a grocery store clerk would be considered an essential worker, but they are if you want to eat.
      For the record I do agree that mining is not essential in the short term. It can (probably) be carried out with minimal risks with the proper safeguards. I’m just not sure that enough safeguards are in place.
      I guess that we will see.

    • Posted by Miner on

      Mine workers are essential to the profits of the mine’s shareholders. The mine have litttle real impact on the economic life of most Nunavummiut. Lots of money involved, but almost all of it just passes through on its way to southern workers who pay taxes where they live, and to southern businesses who employ workers in the south.
      Mostly, Nunavummiut just get the tailings, the polution and the hole in the ground.

      • Posted by The Horrible Aesthete on

        Miner, you forgot to complete the cycle of life for those tax dollars. After going South they are sent back to Nunavut, to the tune of around d 2 billion a year, and basically fund everything the GN does.

    • Posted by Mine worker on

      Why work , when you can stay home and collect welfare

  2. Posted by Pork Pie on

    Amazing that we are this far into the pandemic and it still takes weeks to get a result. Unbelievable really.

  3. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    if the mine workers were required to isolate in hub cities, like everyone else who are coming up o Nunavut, this would not have happened. this could have been caught and treated in Edmonton and the patient sent home to recover.

    I am glad that the case is isolated in the mine site but it should not have happened.

  4. Posted by Silas on

    Some of the policies created during this pandemic do not make sense. Even essential workers are prone to this virus.
    I am glad that Nunavut residents are made to isolate for 14 days prior to coming back up north. Even though the price is high, I think it is worth the sacrifice. Money can be regenerated whereas a person cannot.

  5. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    It would be interesting to know the cost of the lab equipment and training needed to run a small lab to process Covid-19 tests.
    Reading online, back in April of this year the University of Toronto was trying to develop testing equipment that would be cheaper and easier to use than the current PCR testing which requires a complete lab. Anyone know where this research & development stands?
    Seems that the GN could speed things up a lot if they had testing equipment in each regional centre.
    Maybe one of the intrepid Nunatsiaq News reporters could look into this a bit further and maybe gently prod the GN for a response?

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