How COVID-19 is managed in Nunavik as confirmed cases increase
Regional health board lays out plan of attack
Three more confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Puvirnituq over the weekend mean that Nunavik has had a total of five confirmed cases.
On the bright side, the person with the region’s first case, in Salluit, has now fully recovered, according to a news release issued on Sunday, April 5.
“Each of us is affected by this situation and we are grateful for the dedication of our health-care workers and all the partners from the municipal sector who are working for the safety and well-being of everyone,” said Minnie Grey, executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services in the release.
Nunatsiaq News spoke with Grey late last week about the novel coronavirus in Nunavik and some of the measures in place to manage a potential spread.
Nunavik residents who have contracted COVID-19 are all recovering in isolation at home and are being monitored daily by medical professionals.
But if more serious cases occur in the future, Grey said the region’s hospitals have been set up to receive those patients.
Both the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre in Kuujjuaq and the Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq are equipped with ventilators, Grey said.
These mechanical breathing machines blow air into a patient’s lungs to maintain proper oxygen levels when they can’t breathe properly on their own, for example, when suffering from a severe respiratory condition.
Additional beds have also been added to both hospitals, Grey said, and they’ve been divided into three sections, so that any patients with COVID-19, and staff attending to them, are completely separate from the rest of the hospital.
“In Kuujjuaq, for example, in the department of the hospital [which contains the long-term care rooms, observation rooms, maternity ward and the emergency room], patients have been moved to patient transit, and patient transit has relocated to the Kuujjuaq Inn,” Grey said.
“So the department is isolated from other parts of the hospital.”
A similar setup is in place in Puvirnituq.
For the most severe cases of COVID-19, patients will still be medevaced south.
In terms of staffing levels, Grey said they are fully staffed and haven’t lost any health-care professionals due to the current situation.
“Right now, we have all of our medical resources that we need, and we’re managing that,” Grey said.
But, she added, that could still change.
“If there was a large transmission, we’d have to deal with that,” she said. “We work in anticipation.”
Following a confirmed case, health-care workers need to inform that person about self-isolation measures, reach out to any people that person may have been in contact with to assess their risk and whether testing is needed, and speak with local authorities.
Grey said the health board initially envisioned the region’s teachers helping out with these roles during the pandemic, to supplement the board’s own resources, which are stretched thin.
The health board had used its authority to keep some southern teachers from returning to the south, but later backpedalled on the decision.
Similar redeployments of public servants are happening across the country.
In terms of equipment—sanitizing products, gloves, gowns, face masks and other protective gear—Grey said they are well-stocked at the moment.
“We’ve done an inventory of all our medical supplies. As of now, we are prepared, we’re well stocked and if ever we think there is a shortage, we’re in constant contact with the Quebec Ministry of Health to assess these needs,” Grey said.
They’ve also been in discussion with the provincial ministry to cut down on the time it takes to receive results for tests, after swabs are taken in communities.
“The tests are being sent south but there’s not much delay now because we’ve worked with the institute of public health in Quebec to label the tests ‘Nunavik,’ so they get prioritized,” Grey said.
Results can now take as little as two days to come back.
The board also now has a number of quick-result tests that can be taken and analyzed at the health centres in Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq. For these tests, results are available within a couple of hours.
But the supply of the quick-result tests is limited, Grey said, so they are saving them for emergencies.
The situation in Nunavik continues to change quickly, and so must the board’s plans, she said.
“This is a public health crisis and we are asking all people to comply with the very strict rules that we have put in place,” Grey said.
“Everyone should stay home as much as possible, [and] only go out when necessary. We aren’t putting people in confinement, but we ask them to stay home, don’t visit, don’t gather. You can go for walks as a household or go camping as a household. Youth and kids have to comply too.”
To prevent the spread of the virus, people are asked to wash their hands frequently, limit grocery shopping to once a week and only send one member from each household to do the shopping.
In general, Grey said, most people have respected the restrictions and advisories put in place, but there have been some who aren’t complying.
Local authorities are being asked to help oversee compliance, as are the Canadian Rangers, who will now support efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Nunavik.
Reminder: if you believe you may have been infected with COVID-19, do not go to your local nursing station or health centre. Contact the health information line at 1-888-662-7482 from Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Outside those hours, contact your local health facility.