If COVID-19 strikes, this Nunavut community is ready

Rankin Inlet has sites for screening, quarantine and hospital treatment

Rankin Inlet’s Maryanne Tattuinee, deputy mayor Martha Hickes and mayor Harry Towtongie celebrate the opening of the community’s new arena with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 23, 2019. Now the arena could be repurposed as a hospital, if needed. (Photo by Doug McLarty/ArcTech Design and Services)

By Jane George

Rankin Inlet’s new $26-million arena is ready to step up as a makeshift hospital, if the new coronavirus hits the central Nunavut community of about 3,000.

“We’ve done what we can to prepare,” said Mark Wyatt, Rankin Inlet’s fire chief and manager of protective and emergency services, who is part of a community-wide team that has been working to prevent and prepare for possible COVID-19 cases.

So far, Nunavut has no confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, Rankin Inlet, like other communities in Nunavut, has been more fortunate than other places in the world for another reason, Wyatt said: they have been able to learn from COVID-19 preparations and actions that have taken place elsewhere.

“And per capita there is probably more awareness here about the virus,” Wyatt said.

Rankin Inlet’s arena, which opened last November, has year-round ice-making capability, facilities such as changing rooms and washrooms and spectator viewing for up to 900 people.

The arena floor could accommodate many rows of hospital beds, Wyatt said.

The hockey season in Rankin Inlet came to an abrupt end in March when the Government of Nunavut ended all gatherings and discouraged all unnecessary travel to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The decision to postpone Rankin Inlet’s 2020 Terence Tootoo Memorial Tournament was made by the tournament committee, in consultation with retired NHL player Jordin Tootoo, brother of the tournament’s namesake, Terence.

To prepare the arena for its use as a possible hospital, the ice was melted and the cement surface cleaned.

While some had mentioned the Forward Operating Location in Rankin Inlet as a possible place for this purpose, Wyatt said that would not have worked because the facility had not been used recently and requires some repairs.

There are no beds yet in the arena, but, according to need, these could be set up, with the aid of Canadian Rangers or other military assistance.

The Kivalliq Hall residence and Nanuq Lodge have also been earmarked as possible quarantine areas for those suspected of having COVID-19 or recovering from the virus, if needed, Wyatt said.

The hamlet has also set up a COVID-19 screening area, but to date, it hasn’t been used, although many residents are in self-isolation, he said.

To keep residents healthy, the food bank is handing out coupons for those in need, and hampers of food and cleaning supplies have been distributed, with the support of Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.

The mining company also gave $11,500 to keep the community radio station on air after bingos, its major source of money, were cancelled due to the chance of spreading the virus.

But Rankin Inlet’s two biggest challenges for now are ensuring they have enough personal protective equipment for all emergency responders and health workers and dealing with an issue that lies beyond their control—the overcrowding in homes, Wyatt said.

That means many children, who are not in school, are more likely to be out and about.

Outside hockey rinks, which the hamlet made after the arena closed, had to be ploughed over because too many kids were using them.

“Kids are kids and don’t realize what social distancing is when they’re playing,” he said.

But “everyone is doing their best.”

Their community has become quiet as many have headed to cabins outside town and the usually busy airport has almost no traffic.

Air travel to and from the nearby Meliadine gold mine, which is now under a lockdown, has also been reduced, as part of Agnico Eagle’s effort to limit any spread of COVID-19 into the community.

Wyatt said he wanted to commend the Government of Nunavut for limiting access to Nunavut to keep COVID-19 out of the territory.

“Now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed like everyone else,” Wyatt said.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Community Preparedness Committee on

    Crisis such as pandemics need to be included with Nunavut CPCs, where are they in all of this? They should be taking the lead instead of waiting for something to happen then act upon it. It shows that we as communities are not prepared for pandemics.

  2. Posted by Keep It Real Rankin on

    Being virus free is probably most attributable to the travel ban for sure, also to the good luck (so far) of our remote geography. I bristle at the idea sometimes heard that we are doing it better than others or “showing the world” which is just nativist non-sense. I would respectfully question the idea that our level of awareness is higher than elsewhere too. But this kind of mindset can easily grip you when you are caught in the gravity of such a small orbit.
    Still, it’s true that for many in Rankin this is clearly serious; credit to the staff at the Northern and Coop stores for being a literal lifeline for the community. I do hope you are being compensated extra for the higher level of risk you have taken on through this. I know Northmart in Iqaluit was paying their staff more, I hope the stores in Rankin consider this.

  3. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    China wasn’t ready but the virus originated there. They tried to shut down news of the virus. Then they tried to downplay the severity. We still probably don’t know their true numbers of infected and dead. China was not ready, but previous experience and an authoritarian country able and willing to do anything to contain the virus showed that it was possible to stop the virus but at a great cost to the economy, and human life.
    Next up was South Korea. They got on it quick, shut down nonessential businesses, tested, and tested, and tested, and isolated anyone who hand the virus. South Koreans remember a government that not too long ago was very strick, and their society is still regimented. But the key was being prepared, testing, and isolating people who were infected. They now have the virus under control.
    Next up Italy. Weep for Italy. And Spain has just passed Italy in the number of people infected. Weep for Spain. You can add the U.S. to that list. Mexico may go the same way, and Brazil almost certainly will follow.
    Any guesses about the rest of South America? I understand that in Ecuador they just pile bodies out in the street.
    I read a report that Covid-19 cases are now in the slums of Mumbai India. And Africa should be good at handling a pandemic, after all Covid-19 is “just like the flu” according to Vile Donnie Trump, obviously not nearly as deadly as Ebola. Does anyone think that this is going to end well?
    But hey, Rankin Inlet is ready. Yeah, right.

  4. Posted by Atatsiak on

    Expect the unexpected Mr. Fire Chief.

  5. Posted by Janet on

    Now if only people took the pandemic more seriously, if it hits today it will be very bad.

  6. Posted by Ilisapirjuaq on

    It is good to see Rankin Inlet doing serious forward planning to deal with covid19. It is tragic that such efforts will be wasted if the GN insists on bringing Nunavut teachers currently in southern Canada back to Nunavut by April 21. I hope the leaders in Rankin Inlet and the elders and parents will let the Premier and MLAs and KIA and NTI leaders how dangerous it would be to bring over 90 teachers back to Nunavut when they could do any necessary work from their locations outside Nunavut. Even with quarantine, and certainly without testing them all, the risk of any of them bringing covid19 to Nunavut is just too high! Has everyone forgotten what happened when polio and TB devastated the north?

  7. Posted by Marc O. Rainville on

    You people up north can forget about making room for the sick in your local arena. If the virus strikes, you will lose all your Elders.

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