Be “more careful than happy,” Rankin Inlet mayor urges residents, following COVID-19 recoveries
Some residents remain in isolation, but all of community’s COVID-19 cases were declared recovered on Dec. 3
Cars, trucks, ATVs and snowmobiles paraded down the dark streets of Rankin Inlet last Thursday evening to celebrate something big — all the community’s cases of COVID-19 had recovered.
People were jubilant to hear the news, said Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North—Chesterfield Inlet.
But her husband, Mayor Harry Towtongie, warned, “We need to be more careful than happy.”
Some residents are still isolating because they may have had contact with someone who was infected.
The first active case was detected in the community on Nov. 11. There were 19 active cases by Nov. 24.
Nov. 26 was the first day that some people were said to be recovered. By Dec. 3, all 19 cases were recovered.
Assuming no one else gets it, “nearly a month from now” officials will be able to declare the outbreak in Rankin Inlet over, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, on Dec. 4.
Rankin’s fire Chief Mark Wyatt thought the recent celebrations were premature.
“Since March, my ambulance attendants have all been wearing masks, and they will continue to do so for the next 10 years, as far as I’m concerned,” Wyatt said.
Rankin Inlet had been prepared since March for a positive case of COVID-19.
Mayor Towtongie relayed health protocols “translated in my language at the radio station here.”
Cathy, meanwhile, shared government news releases on the Rankin community Facebook page.
At the same time, Wyatt said he worked with Dr. Stephanie Ansari from the health centre and the mayor to develop a “what-if plan,” which outlined what would happen if COVID-19 came to Rankin.
Wyatt worked with the doctor to train volunteers, one of whom was Cathy Towtongie.
They learned simple things like how to properly remove surgical gloves and dispose of tissue paper, and how someone can be infected without knowing it, she said.
When test results showed someone tested positive in Rankin on Nov. 11, they got texts right away from the fire chief, saying, “This is what you need to do now,” she said.
“Amazingly, it worked!”
Wyatt added: It’s “just a matter of luck more than anything else” that COVID was contained to several households.”
The contact tracing was “phenomenal,” he said, and people immediately isolated.
Meanwhile, the acting senior administrative officer put the “what-if” plan into action.
Ashley Ymana worked for the hamlet since 2009, but only became SAO in August.
She said it was overwhelming when COVID hit, “from my 11 years of tenure with the hamlet, I’ve never felt so supported.”
Ymana worked with her staff to ask for donations of personal protective equipment from the Government of Nunavut, Calm Air, and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.
They got “thousands of masks,” she said, and set up tables in the hamlet office and three grocery stores to distribute them.
Food security was a real issue in some homes — “it was worrisome,” said Cathy.
Agnico Eagle donated “a whole bunch of money,” said Wyatt.
They bought food and, working in five-hour shifts with five people at a time, per health restrictions, put together 900 hampers.
“It was really quite an incredible situation,” Wyatt said.
Firefighters helped distribute hampers to every home in Rankin Inlet.
Monday was Ymana’s last day in Nunavut. She flew south, where she will continue to work with the hamlet remotely and train her replacement.
People in the community followed public health restriction “to a T,” said Cathy.
The two-week lockdown was stressful, but she managed to make a pair of kamiiks and a seal skin jacket.
She knows that people still have to be careful to stop the disease from springing up again, but said that it felt like a boulder lifted off her when the last case was recovered.
Rankin Inlet’s message to Arviat — which is a short snowmobile ride away, and still has active cases — is to hang in there.
If you follow the rules, said Mayor Harry Towtongie, “it can be done.”