Nunavut aims to improve turnaround time for COVID-19 tests

Pilot project will see swabs from Baffin communities analyzed at Qikiqtani General Hospital

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, announced on Tuesday that a pilot project is starting this week to increase COVID-19 testing capacity in the territory. Once a reliable system of testing exists, the Government of Nunavut will look at possibly easing current public health measures. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Government of Nunavut is starting a pilot project this week that aims to speed up the turnaround time for COVID-19 test results in the territory.

Swabs from communities in the Baffin region will be sent to a lab at the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit to be tested. The goal is to have results within five days of a person being tested.

“Increased in-territory testing capacity, combined with [a] shorter turnaround time for results will give us more flexibility with public health measures and improve our response in case of an outbreak,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The GN has been working to increase its capacity to test for COVID-19 in Nunavut since the pandemic was declared in the spring. Iqaluit now has two testing machines up and running—a GeneXpert and a BioFire.

Rankin Inlet also has a GeneXpert machine and Patterson said its BioFire should be operational “sometime next week.”

The GN has hired a northern-based company called BBE Expediting to “track and expedite samples,” Patterson said. Test swabs will be sent to Iqaluit either by scheduled commercial flights or by arranging for a charter flight to pick them up.

“There’s a company that’s got a plane on standby to go to communities and pick up results from the health centres,” Patterson said.

It’s actually three companies: Canadian North, Keewatin Air and Panorama Aviation.

People have been hired in communities to transport samples to the airport, and in Iqaluit to pick them up and deliver them to the lab.

“Once this system is in place and working we will begin the same process in Rankin Inlet,” Patterson said.

The goal is to have “more flexibility with public health measures and improve our response in case of an outbreak,” Patterson said.

This may include looking at changing the requirement for most Nunavummiut to isolate for 14 days at a hotel in a southern city before entering the territory.

But even when there is a reliable, expedient system of testing in place for every community in Nunavut, Patterson said that there will still be a requirement for people to isolate before or after entering the territory.

“That’s not going away anytime in the near future,” he said.

Other public health measures that may change with testing capacity in Nunavut include increasing the size of indoor gatherings and some physical activities that are still limited in size and capacity.

Nunavut had two GeneXpert machines up and running in June. However, there is a worldwide shortage of cartridges for these machines. That’s why the GN has been working to get the BioFire machines working in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.

These testing machines still need to be validated. To do this they have to test at least 15 positive cases of COVID-19, Patterson said. To make this happen before a possible outbreak, he said that Nunavut may get known positive samples shipped up.

For now, if the machines show a positive result, it will still have to be sent south to be verified. But Patterson said if there is a presumptive positive case found in Nunavut, “we are still going to act on that.”

Patterson said he did not know how much money had been put towards this pilot project. George Hickes, Nunavut’s minister of health and finance, said that this number will be better known after the project is up and running.

Patterson reiterated that testing for COVID-19 works within a system of public health measures that together minimize the risk of the disease entering Nunavut.

These include isolating after travelling outside the territory, staying home if you feel sick, restricting gatherings and social interactions, and frequent handwashing.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Disconnect on

    Strange how the people in charge apparently have no idea what this is all costing. Clearly $ is not a factor being considered when developing policy on covid issues, which is a major problem since other services are going to be lacking to pay for all this.

  2. Posted by Doctor Know on

    The Minister of Health is also the Minister of Finance.
    Maybe he had one of those operations where they cut the brain in half, so the right side of the brain does not know what the left side of the brain is doing.
    Maybe he does Finance with his right eye closed and Health with his left ey closed.
    I wonder what the hourly rate is for that plane to be continuously on standby, 24 hours each day, 7 days each week? That sort of coverage requires 5 full crews, allowing for weekends, vacations, illnesses, etc.

  3. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    The GN should be aiming for no more than 48 hours to get a test result.
    If there is a legitimate suspected cases, and by this I mean something more than cough/fever flu like symptoms in someone who has not had known contact with someone who has been outside the territory then the swab should be able to make it to Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet (or Yellowknife) in 24 hours.
    A maximum of 24 hours for the lab to test the sample.
    One thing that we know now is that testing matters. Getting results in a timely manner matters.
    Mr. Premier we need a commitment that the GN will have procedures in place for 48 hour test results. Please make this happen ASAP, a competent government can get this in place by the end of this month.

  4. Posted by You must honestly think the average person living in Nunavut is clueless on

    Sept 8/20 the GN more specific Dr. Patterson announces a pilot project for testing samples
    Once the GN & DR. P knew the rapid portable testing kits such as the Spartan were not coming on stream or reliable Why wait 4 months to start a pilot project to see how quick we could get the samples to one of these hubs and tested ????
    You must honestly think the average person living in Nunavut is clueless
    Who is in charge of this horse and pony show !!!
    Sounds like everybody took the summer off, and now your all refreshed and ready to give it another try. What about us lower class residents that have to live with all of these restrictions day in and day out.
    Your also stating you bought new machines for testing COVID-19 that were not calibrated before they arrived in Nunavut, so now you will physically have to bring the deadly virus to Nunavut to calibrated the machines. OMG
    I think you need to spend more time getting your acts together instead of putting on make-up and combing your hair for you Covid press conferences….better yet just tell me where I can buy some of that stuff your smoking

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