COVID-19 cases stretch Nunavut’s capacity, top health official says

Territory has 70 cases in total—with 54 in Arviat alone

Eight more cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Arviat, the Government of Nunavut announced today, as a two-week territory-wide lockdown goes into effect. The territory’s total number of cases has grown to 70. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(Updated at 4 p.m.)

There are 10 new COVID-19 cases in Nunavut, bringing the total case count to 70 as the territory goes into a two-week lockdown in an effort to hamper the spread of the virus.

Eight of the new cases are in Arviat, bringing to 54 the total number of cases in that community of approximately 3,000.

“This is it, folks,” said Premier Joe Savikataaq during a press conference Wednesday. “It’s time to stand and fight against COVID-19.”

The Government of Nunavut reported the following new cases as of Tuesday, Nov. 17:

  • Arviat: 8 (total 54)
  • Rankin Inlet: 2 (total 6)
  • Whale Cove: 0 (total 8)
  • Sanikiluaq: 0 (total 2)

Despite the increase in cases, there is currently no evidence of community transmission in Rankin Inlet, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.

It’s too soon to say if community transmission in Arviat is contained, Patterson said. Case levels in the three other communities are more stable, so “we’re certainly at or closer to [containment].”

Nobody with COVID-19 in Nunavut currently needs hospitalization, Patterson said. Their symptoms vary, ranging from none to one or more of the following: cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and loss of taste.

“It can feel like a bad flu or a mild cold,” he said.

All 54 people in Arviat who are infected are isolating at home.

Nunavut’s current capacity to handle the outbreak is “stretched,” Patterson said. There are staff who could be moved around “if we have to.”

If there were to be another outbreak in the near future, public health staff’s ability to manage it will depend on the size of the outbreak and the community, and how much work is needed to get it under control, Patterson said.

Patterson said the increase in cases is concerning but not surprising, given the nature of the virus. The fact that Nunavut’s public health staff have been able to quickly identify new cases demonstrates the work they’re putting in to test, trace and contain the virus in the four communities with cases, he said.

The lockdown was imposed because public health staff are almost at capacity with the current rate of spread, Patterson said.

“How effective we are in containing the outbreak is in large part dependent on the co-operation of all Nunavummiut,” Patterson said. “Today I am asking everyone to do their part in helping to contain the virus.”

That means following the public health orders of Nunavut’s two-week lockdown that went into effect Wednesday.

Non-essential businesses and schools are closed, and most people are working from home.

Restaurants are takeout only and bars are closed. Events are suspended and health centres and the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit are closed except for emergencies.

There have been questions as to who is an essential worker, Patterson said.

“If you closed back in March, you should be closed again,” he said.

Patterson implored Nunavummiut not to go visiting. “The best thing to do is stay home and keep your social contacts limited to the people you live with,” he said.

People are allowed to visit with each other outside, in a group of up to five people, while maintaining distance from each other.

Masks are mandatory in communities where there are confirmed cases of COVID-19, and are recommended everywhere else.

“Businesses have the right and authority to require masks for patrons and staff,” Patterson said.

Daycare operators can close if they choose to, Patterson said, but added he hopes some stay open to help essential workers without childcare to do their jobs.

He also said that essential workers who don’t have the option of sending their children to a daycare may have a babysitter in their home.

But Patterson said that doesn’t apply to non-essential workers who are working from home with school-aged children.

Negative tests as of Tuesday, Nov. 17:

  • Sanikiluaq: 103
  • Rankin Inlet: 60
  • Arviat: 114
  • Whale Cove: 5

The number of negative tests nearly doubled from Tuesday to Wednesday in Sanikiluaq, from 65 to 103, and in Arviat, from 63 to 114.

Forty-five negative tests were reported in Rankin inlet on Tuesday, with 60 reported Wednesday.

The Government of Nunavut is asking that anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days. It’s asking for anyone with symptoms to call 1-888-975-8601 and to isolate.

Anyone who travelled from or through Arviat since Nov. 2 is being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

— With files from Dustin Patar and Mélanie Ritchot

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jay f on

    The government should assist it own people get back on the land where its isolated to their cabins outside of the general populations, our current government and Premier is not implementing the agreement between its own Inuit of the Nunavut settlement area, and Her Majesty in right of Canada as amended in the land claims agreement under Article 7.6.1
    ever shameful that people have to stay in their homes locked up in the communities as they should be living a great lively hood in the last frontier

    • Posted by Observer on

      The majority of people don’t have cabins, and sure, let’s send people out where they can’t easily get help, have no power or other utilities, and have to huddle against the cold. Great plan.

      • Posted by boris pasternak on

        you have no idea city boy (or girl), how stupid your remarks are. many spend all winter in their cabins up here. Ii like to see you trying to live off the grid like some ppl I know. you be dead or die of fright from the looks of what you wrote. I spent 6 months a year in or at my cabins varying distances from the community. wood stove or coleman, biscuits or caribou, sad part? u have to live without a cell phone….

        • Posted by Observer on

          I live in Nunavut, and not in Iqaluit. I also grew up in the country and spent many winter nights in the family cabin, and didn’t have a cell phone until years after I moved to Nunavut, so, y’know, don’t feel too foolish you got every single thing wrong.

    • Posted by Booleen on

      I think Article 7.6.1 refers to Inuit already living in outpost camps, not on re-location, but i’m not a legal expert. Either way, what’s stopping you from heading out? Maybe just go?

    • Posted by Stephen Grasser on

      Ah, the great outdoors. Very easy to keep social distancing and avoid microbial transmissions. BUT, the problem is in the cabins: if you are in one with a couple of members of your current household, it shouldn’t be that bad. However, cabins have notoriously poor ventilation (and in many instances sanitation). So if you bring in people to your camp from outside your nuclear family with whom you dwell, you are asking for problems. Botton line: get outside the town with a partner and enjoy the freedom and fresh air. But spend the nights at home.

  2. Posted by Ben on

    Please listen and stay home, right now it’s time to isolate, keep clean, wash your hands a lot, disinfect door knobs light switches when you can.
    We can all get through this if we do our part, stay strong and stay safe.

  3. Posted by Scared on

    Observer is correct: most people don’t have the luxury of owing a well built and insulated cabin and or their cabin is located far from town. What you want them to stay in tents for the full 2 weeks or longer in this cold weather – No, thank you, it will cause more health problems by having people stay in tents. Staying home and adhering to the protocols will help lessen the spread of this deadly virus.

  4. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    Saying there is no evidence of community transmission is not enough.

    How did the 54 cases of COVID-19 in Arviat happen, a community of 2,657 (2016)? That’s an infection rate of 2.03%, as compared to Quebec’s infection rate of 1.54%, which is the highest in the country.

    The GN needs to be transparent and tell us how these infections occured.

    • Posted by Answers on

      It happened because someone got in with the virus. How they did is an important question, but no relevant right now. As to how it spread, have you ever *looked* at how people interact? Lots of hugging and kissing. Babies being passed around. House parties. Many people living in single structures not big enough to house that many. No one observing social distancing. No one wearing masks. People visiting all the time. Children constantly going from home to home.
      .
      Back in April people were predicting that if it got into a community and wasn’t detected soon enough it would go through it like hot knife through butter. So what’s happening now in Arviat isn’t some kind of shockingly unexpected development; it’s exactly what people who paid attention six months ago thought was likely to happen.

    • Posted by Don’t treat us like kids on

      Well said. Standard information all around the world: detected cases, where they are from and how did they get it (isolation hub, travel without isolating, close contact -family-, community transmision), recovered (criteria to consider hem recovered), hospitalized, critical condition, deaths. Also total tests each day, criteria for testing and where they are from. There is not enough available information for people to understand the reality and make smart decisions. We people are not idiots, with the right information we can make informed decisions, we don’t want to be lectured about how to behave while you are hiding data. Facts, not lectures.

      • Posted by Stop on

        Stop behaving like kids and all will be good. It does not matter how it came to the community, what matters is follow rules and stop behaving like complaining kids

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      We already know how the disease was brought into the community through a patient returning from medical treatment in Winnipeg. And we know how it was spread because until this outbreak Nunavummiut were playing fast and loose with the rules, congregating in bigs groups, having house parties etc instead of physically distancing. Do you have any other questions you need answered?

    • Posted by In the Article on

      It was said that Rankin had no community transmission. Arviat cases are obviously community transmitted. The sheer numbers tell that.

  5. Posted by Austin City Limits on

    There’s no evidence of community transmission in Rankin Inlet. There is definitely community transmission in Arviat.
    .
    Also you can’t really make a clean statistical comparison between a community of around 3,000 an a province of over 8 million broken into multiple communities.

  6. Posted by trapper on

    Here in the south, people are dropping like flies. You can run, but you can’t hide.

  7. Posted by Matiusi on

    don’t go everywhere stay home wash hand in public wear a masked be save if you sick stay home

  8. Posted by Northern Guy on

    One more big outbreak and the GN will be completely overwhelmed. How many rapid response teams do Nunavummiut think the GN is able to muster? Be smart and don’t help this virus, stay isolated, limit contact to immediate family members, self-isolate if you aren’t feeling well. The alternative is pretty dire.

  9. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Well I currently live in Ottawa and I would dispute that people are dropping like flies. From Quebec west most provinces are indeed hitting daily highs in new cases. This is not the situation in the 4 Atlantic provinces where cases are low but seem to be on a slight increase.
    .
    The reason for the difference is quite simple. The Atlantic provinces took their infections down to zero and then opened up very slowly. For any new case, contact tracing and testing was done, plus a 14 day quarantine was put in place for any new arrivals and it was enforced. Any sizeable outbreak resulted in an area quarantine. There was also a mandatory mask mandate.
    .
    All of the other provinces opened up with community spread still going on. No provincial mask mandates (some by public health region or city). Basically these Premiers listened to businesses, took half measures to control the virus, and buckled to pressures to reopen too much too quickly.
    .
    I’m not going to let the federal government off the hook either. Their “leadership” has been underwhelming. The economic programs were good but short term. The feds needed to use the time the programs bought to build a concensus to get wipe out Covid-19 in Canada. Screw this “plank the curve” bs, it should have been “Kill Covid-19”
    .
    Six out of ten southern Premiers are failing their citizens. Manitoba’s Premier may redeem himself with a province wide lockdown.
    .
    The GN is taking the right approach. Act early. Act decisively. Throw everything you have tracking and tracing. Lockdown the communities affected, and anywhere it may have gone.
    .
    If it was up to me I would be declaring martial law in Arviat and getting the armed forces in to enforce a remain at home order for 7 to 14 days. Done. Virus eliminated.
    .
    There are reasons why China and New Zealand are virtually virus free. It really shouldn’t be this hard to figure out how to keep the virus from spreading.

    • Posted by Young Trapper on

      – Martial law is pretty extreme. Fines Yes! but what u r suggesting No!
      – GN’s covid-19 plan has been flawed since day #1 – so NO! GN doesn’t get kudos for their handling of the pandemic so far.
      – This situation is similar to USA states… NU communities’ need to take charge of their own safety protocols.
      🙏❤

      • Posted by Paradigm Shift on

        I agree that martial law is a bit extreme, it wouldn’t make for great optics either considering there are some screaming about ‘colonialism’ for being required to wear facemasks. Add the military and it would probably be called a genocide.
        .
        As for the GN’s handling of this, only time will truly tell how that narrative is written. There’s a lot we don’t know and the consequences of particular actions have yet to be seen, for good or ill. I tend to lean to the side that we have been lucky so far and that our luck has basically broken down, as would be expected to happen.
        .
        Comparing us to the US states and saying we should emulate them in any way is an interesting thing to say. I don’t see many redeeming qualities in their fractured approach though.

      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        What I am suggesting is basically invoking the Emergencies Act (formerly the War Measure Act) to allow the government to enact and enforce specific laws concerning the gathering and movement of people for a very limited time period.
        .
        The only way to ensure that the virus is not passed from person to person is to keep people separate. If you do that for the life cycle of the virus it dies out.
        .
        There are not enough persons in authority (police/bylaw) to enforce such orders. Martial law would allow the military to do so. They would also be used to distribute food and other necessary supplies to each household.
        .
        We need strict rules, and people to enforce them. Otherwise people themselves decide that 1) it’s a hoax, 2) it doesn’t apply to me, 3) I’m special, and 4) reasons.
        .
        The virus doesn’t care. It just wants to multiply and if the conditions are right it will do so. We need to take those conditions away. Look at China, New Zealand, Australia and learn how they have stopped the virus from spreading. You have to be very strict because people (generally) will not do it themselves.

        • Posted by The Old Mapper on

          I’m with the Old Trapper on this one. This needs to be dealt with hard and fast. Living in the settlements for years in Nunavut and NWT I know what goes on there in social circles when the shipments come in. I implore people to take this seriously and heed the advice of Doc Patterson.

          • Posted by Just leave it on

            What goes on, goes on… people will have to live with the consequences of their choices. Sending the Military is a terrible idea because we all know the focus would shift into the court of the oppression grifters, and they are many. I’m sure this news outlet would do little to counter their non-sense, as it rarely does.

  10. Posted by Name withheld on

    The fact that their is community transmission is due to the infected person likely thought it was a regular flu, until the person started getting worst and went into the health centre to be later medivac, but before this I am sure this person interacted in family gatherings after being away 2 weeks or more or unless s/he is one of those that travelled down, seen the next day and travelled back to Arviat right after.

    The fact remains it is here in Nunavut, this person didn’t intend to come back with the virus, nor did this person intend to give to family members!!

    We have been told from the start limit the number of your gatherings aside from your household, but is anyone listening to this? Nooo there are still 20 or more in parties, gambling nights, legions, since the restrictions were lifted.

    We have seen number rising in the south with death, now is the time to pay attention and avoid visitors aside from your household for couple weeks to a month!!

    I have seen pictures of the streets in Arviat and they are empty, absolutely no one walking nor playing outside, the transmission had a open window of spreading for a week before this person went into the health centre so it is expected to rise

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