Nunavut government wrestles with how to report COVID-19 deaths
Five Nunavummiut have died of COVID-19, but territory’s death count sits at one
A total of five Nunavummiut have died from COVID-19, a figure the Government of Nunavut made public for the first time Tuesday morning.
But most of those deaths have yet to make their way to official statistics, because the territory is still working to determine in which jurisdiction they should be reported.
Four contracted the virus in southern Canada, Premier Joe Savikataaq said at a Jan. 5 news conference in Iqaluit. None were linked to any outbreaks of the virus in Nunavut.
“It’s likely those deaths will be recorded in those jurisdictions,” Savikataaq said.
Arviat resident Luki Sammurtok, who contracted COVID-19 in Nunavut, died in a Winnipeg hospital Dec. 19. He is the only person to be included in the territory’s statistics for COVID-19 deaths.
Another Nunavut resident, from Rankin Inlet, died from COVID-19 the same day and was initially counted as a second Nunavut COVID-19 death. But because the man is believed to have contracted the virus outside the territory, the territorial government later revised its statistics to report just a single death.
Over the weekend, a 35-year-old woman from Sanikiluaq died in a Winnipeg hospital, more than a month after she was infected with COVID-19.
The identities and circumstances of the remaining two Nunavummiut who died of COVID-19 remain unclear.
In a Jan. 4 email from the Manitoba government, a provincial spokesperson said out-of-province COVID-19 cases and deaths are not included in its own data reporting, meaning deaths like Qavvik’s are not being reported in either jurisdiction.
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said as far as he’s aware, Manitoba and Nunavut have yet to finalize how they plan to attribute those deaths.
“The direction of the premier and the ministers of health is that we should be as transparent as possible in all aspects of our response to COVID-19, and we intend to do that with all deaths,” he said on Jan. 5.
“The question is really ensuring that they’re all properly reported in the federal data sets, so not only are deaths not lost but that they’re not reported more than once.”
When someone who lives in Nunavut is infected with COVID-19 and treated in the south, Patterson said there are different factors to consider, like the information the patient gives to the treating health-care providers and contact tracers, and how long they’ve been outside the territory.
“That is the work needed to ensure that, by the end of the pandemic, we have clean data that everyone can make sense of,” Patterson said.
“It’s not intended in any way, shape or form as a comment that some deaths in Nunavut count more than others.”