New devices to diagnose COVID-19 may allow Nunavut to reconsider isolation requirements

“I don’t want to give a date because I wouldn’t have guessed we’d be in July and we’d still be having this conversation”

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, doesn’t want to guess when the territory’s new COVID-19 testing machines will be ready to use in Iqaluit. It’s taking longer than anticipated. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Government of Nunavut is setting up two new machines to diagnose COVID-19 in the territory.

The devices, called BioFire, have panels that can test for 14 different pathogens that cause respiratory tract infections, including COVID-19.

Once these new devices are set up and approved by Health Canada, and assuming cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in southern locations frequented by Nunavummiut, the requirement for returning residents to isolate for 14 days before entering the territory will be reconsidered.

“I don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to start using them,” Patterson said. “I don’t want to give a date because I wouldn’t have guessed we’d be in July and we’d still be having this conversation.”

There are two machines that can test for COVID-19 currently in Nunavut—one in Iqaluit and one in Rankin Inlet. They’re called GeneXpert machines. The problem is, there’s a worldwide shortage of cartridges for them, Patterson said.

Cartridges are needed to operate the machines. Nunavut gets 20 to 30 a week, which isn’t enough in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19.

“In an outbreak we could use up the amount that we get in a month in three or four days,” Patterson said.

The machines do allow the Department of Health to perform tests and get results in-territory. That eliminates a delay of five days on average caused by sending tests to labs in the south.

“We reserve the GeneXpert for situations where a delay of even a few days is too high of a risk—elders homes, congregate housing, shelters. Situations like that,” Patterson said.

“And I don’t know when they’re going to solve that shortage.”

The public health office is working to get BioFire approved by Health Canada in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.

“It sounds like the manufacturers of the BioFire will be able to deliver enough cartridges to meet our needs for even our routine testing,” Patterson said, meaning that when they’re up and running tests won’t have to be sent south.

There’s one machine ready to go in Iqaluit, and lab staff have started work to get it approved by Health Canada “either last week or this week,” Patterson said.

The health centre in Rankin Inlet is undergoing renovations so the machine there can be set up.

Once the machines are approved by Health Canada, they can be used to test for other respiratory tract infections, like pertussis, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, and other pathogens “that we deal with on a regular basis in Nunavut,” Patterson said.

“I get it that everyone’s frustrated with how long it’s taking, and I appreciate the patience that everyone’s shown,” Patterson said.

Meanwhile, tests to confirm whether or not the positive test result obtained using Baffinland’s machine at the Mary River mine was accurate will take longer than expected.

That’s because the test swabs the mine uses were either not compatible with lab machines in Ontario, or not federally approved, said Patterson.

The mine sent test swabs to Iqaluit this past Friday, a day after the presumptive positive was announced. In Iqaluit it was determined they swabs weren’t compatible. The Department of Health sent the correct swabs on a charter plane to the mine, a test was done, and the swabs were sent back.

“I’m not sure if they got to Iqaluit in time for Friday’s flight, I think probably not, in which case they would have gone out Sunday,” Patterson said.

The test results from the mine’s machine will be considered presumptive until they’re confirmed by a Health Canada-validated lab in the south.

Patterson hopes the results will be available at some point this week. On Thursday, the hope was that they would be available early this week.

The person who tested positive, along with seven other people linked to them, continue to self-isolate at the mine site. None of these individuals are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by james on

    AEM tests 4600 in four months, but of course these tests are no good,our gn tests 1500 in 4 months and they are perfect tests,now this,and everyone in the world is expecting a second wave,we here in nunavut should be up to 2000 tests by then m-i-c-k-e-y-m-o-u-s-e but our mighty capital will be ok,the rest of us can live in fear.

  2. Posted by Left out on

    What are we suppose to think, yeah! the people in Iqaluit and Rankin will be OK, let’s celebrate. The rest of us aren’t important anyways. I don’t know why I’m so upset, Iqaluit has always done only what they want and expected the rest of us to take it and keep our mouth shut.

    • Posted by concerned on

      I really don’t get your comment… Isn’t it great that Iqaluit & Rankin will be doing the testing for Nunavut??? It will be much quicker than sending samples down south. QGH receives & processes samples from all communities every day. I don’t know why you “feel left out” . Do you expect each community to be able to do their own testing ???

      • Posted by We are all just prisoners here, with our own device on

        Assuming you only have sufficient resources to operate devices in two communities, Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet seem like pretty sensible places to me in terms of capacity and logistics.
        (I guess if we were doing this in 2002 we would locate them in Pangnirtung and Gjoa Haven, lol)
        Should we have more? Probably, but it’s not just about the devices and where they are located; we need a (much) better system all around, so we should welcome every modest improvement but also demand more.
        The status quo is not sustainable, for a number of reasons, many of which may not be immediately obvious and some of which are of absolutely no interest to the Department of Health.
        Declining recruitment and retention in skilled positions. Shaky federal finances and eventual consequences for Nunavut. Stunted education and career development in a population that needs these desperately. Business failures. Decline in government accountability and effectiveness because of cancelled legislative assembly sittings (go ahead and laugh, but if that’s not a thing, why do we even bother?). I don’t know about social impacts, but I’m guessing there are a few.
        Maybe Nunavut can be put into quasi-hibernation more easily than other parts of the country, but sticking with the current restrictions until a vaccine or treatment is approved (whenever that might be) will be increasingly difficult as the months wear on.
        Most of the rest of the country is managing to move on, we should too.

  3. Posted by James on

    Yea concerned about Iqaluit and rankin, you are right your from Iqaluit or rankin and don’t know any better, typical attitude from our capital the sun rises and sets there, who are we to question the mighty capital.

  4. Posted by frankly on

    umm…where’s the Premier these days?

  5. Posted by Joe on

    All the country is getting less and less everyday but nunavut still have to isolate I’m just coming off isolation in Newfoundland . Soon I’ll go back to Ottawa and isolate again for two weeks what a summer . Summer of isolation 2020 . But when we fly no social distancing. And people that don’t isolate on same plane . Don make no sense to me just send me home and I’ll isolate there ffs

  6. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Hey getting two (hopefully very accurate) diagnostic machines is a good sign, and money well spent during the pandemic.
    I’m not sure that the GN really wants to (or should) change the procedure where everyone must quarantine for 2 weeks if they have been in southern Canada.
    Granted southern Canada is having fewer cases, but there are still enough new cases in Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta to be worrying. Continuing to pay for the 14 days in hotels/meals may be a lot cheaper than having to close business and government in any community, just from a financial perspective.
    The GN is also responsible for all of it’s citizens, and remember that a large percentage of old people, and people with underlying negative health factors, die when they contract Covid-19. There is also growing evidence of longer term effects in both old and younger people who contract the virus.
    There are times when it pays to be ultra cautious, and I think that a global pandemic fits the circumstances, especially as we are learning more and more about the COV/2 coronavirus and it’s effects every day.
    Today the consensus seems to be that in the U.S. at least half of the new cases are the result of “silent spreaders”, people who spread the virus up to 48 hours before showing symptoms, or who don’t show any symptoms at all.
    It may just be a matter of time until the virus makes it’s way to the north. Hopefully not, but another 6 months or a year of mild inconvenience is surely worth the lives of hundreds of people in Nunavut.
    Just a FYI, the GN budget is 2.35B, and Agnico Eagle’s market capitalization is 15.95B. I know it’s comparing apples and kumquats but it does show that Agnico Eagle had lots of resources if needed.

  7. Posted by Bob on

    Come on Patterson, drop this mental illness inducing quarantine!!!

  8. Posted by wondering on

    why do we have to listen to all this nonsense anyways..sick of this covid..sick of the way its been handled..can someone tell me where esle in the world u have to qaurantine..before being allowed in?..didnt think there some hidden adgenda here going on..

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