Nunavut labs clear COVID-19 case count backlog 

Swabs get taken to labs on first flights out of communities, says director of Iqaluit Health Services

Nunavut reported 125 new COVID-19 cases on Monday because of a backlog of reporting being cleared over the weekend. (Photo by Mufid Majnun/Unsplash)

By Mélanie Ritchot

After the two Nunavut labs that process COVID-19 tests cleared a backlog over the weekend, the territory reported record daily increases in both new cases and recoveries on Monday.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, announced 125 new cases and 117 recoveries in a news release.

Multiple cases were confirmed in Taloyoak, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk and Naujaat. Each of those communities had previously reported one presumptive case of the virus.

The active case count in Arviat quadrupled, jumping to 32 confirmed cases from eight, while Qikiqtarjuaq’s confirmed case tally dipped back down to zero.

Iqaluit’s case count went to eight from 24 when the backlog was cleared.

The Government of Nunavut’s total case count only includes cases that are confirmed through PCR testing. It doesn’t include cases diagnosed through rapid tests at community health centres or through self-test kits.

Patterson said fluctuations in cases are to be expected as the daily totals can include corrections like removing double counts and removing false positives.

There were a total of 151 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut on Monday. (Graphic by Mélanie Ritchot)

Confirmed case breakdown:

  • Arviat — 32
  • Baker Lake — 25
  • Cambridge Bay — 4
  • Chesterfield Inlet — 1
  • Coral Harbour — 12
  • Iqaluit — 8
  • Kinngait — 21
  • Pangnirtung — 2
  • Pond Inlet — 1
  • Rankin Inlet — 17
  • Sanirajak — 2
  • Sanikiluaq — 11
  • Whale Cove — 3
  • Taloyoak — 3 (up from 1 presumptive case) ??
  • Gjoa Haven — 2 (up from 1 presumptive case)
  • Kugaaruk — 2 (up from 1 presumptive case)
  • Naujaat — 5 (up from 1 presumptive case) ?

Simone Marchand, the executive director of Iqaluit Health Services, said since Patterson changed the protocol for confirmatory testing and decreased the amount of PCR tests being done, the lab in Iqaluit is processing less than half the tests it was at the start of the outbreaks that began in December.

At its busiest, the lab was processing between 200 and 300 PCR tests per day, Marchand said in an interview.

Sonia Marchand is the executive director of Iqaluit Health Services. (Photo provided by Sonia Marchand)

Last week’s range was between 75 and 100 tests a day, she said on Friday.

Iqaluit’s lab processes PCR tests from the Qikiqtani region, while the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot communities’ tests get sent to the lab in Rankin Inlet for processing.

When a PCR test needs to be done — for example, to confirm the first case of COVID-19 in a household — a swab is taken at a community health centre, then flown to the lab on the next plane out.

“The samples are always put as priority on the flights, they would never leave that behind as cargo,” Marchand said.

Once the swab gets to a lab, results can typically be given within a 24 to 48 hours, she said.

This means if someone gets a PCR test done at their local health centre, it could be a few days before they get results back if there aren’t daily flights to their community, or a flight gets delayed by weather.

Last week, Francois de Wet, Qikiqtani General Hospital’s chief of staff, confirmed five of eight lab technicians in Iqaluit quit their jobs in November and December.

CBC reported the employees quit partly because they were denied a $10,000 retention bonus that was given to local nurses.

Marchand confirmed on Friday there are currently three lab technicians working in Rankin Inlet, and three fully trained technicians and a recent hire in training in Iqaluit.

A separate epidemiology team tracks and counts the new cases of the virus, as well as the recoveries and presumptive cases, she said.

The decision to limit PCR testing — which has resulted in an inaccurate daily case count across the territory — was made partly to free up communities’ health staff to provide other health-care services.

Marchand said nurses and public health staff have put in “an incredible” amount of work hours in the past weeks.

“Everybody’s worked a lot of overtime so they’re a bit tired, but their morale is good,” she said.

One hurdle to getting staff into work was daycares being closed during the Nunavut-wide lockdown.

“Nursing is a female-dominated profession and some of them are juggling the family life and the work life,” Marchand said.

Some public health staff had to miss shifts to stay home and care for their children, she said.

Daycares opened again on Monday, as public health restrictions eased in Nunavut.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by No Answers on

    How many Nunavummiut are in hospital in Iqaluit with COVID?
    How many are in clinics in other communities with COVID?
    How many have been sent south with COVID?
    How many cases of Long COVID do we have?
    How many Nunavummiut have died of COVID?

    Who was made the decission NOT to provide information? Why?

  2. Posted by Huraah! on

    I’m glad this piece of the story made it out:

    “five of eight lab technicians in Iqaluit quit their jobs in November and December… partly because they were denied a $10,000 retention bonus that was given to local nurses.”

    Like light escaping a black hole it unusual that these kinds of inner workings and controversies ever escape beyond the bowels of GN secrecy. After all, this an organization devotes tremendous energy into maintaining a veneer of competence by its reliance on silence.

    This might be an invention of imagination, but it also seems that in that not too distant past this publication appeared terrified to “rock the boat” with the GN and would barely allow a criticism to appear even in the comments, let alone report on one (this is clearly not the Jim Bell era I am referencing).

    True or not, we need more light cast into the dark corners of the GN. Let its incompetence, mismanagement and world of secrecy be known.

    • Posted by Doesn’t make any sense on

      Spend tens of millions of dollars for people to party in isolation hotels for an extended period of time, but cannot hand out $50,000 to five people who hold important positions within the health field – sounds like a usual GN boondoggle to me. Now, on to schools super-spreading omicron… stay hydrated Iqaluit and don’t run out of gas before this is all over.

  3. Posted by 5 days in on

    No test result in 2 or 3 days here in Western Arctic. 5 days in and no results still. Wasting time in isolation while not sick for what?

  4. Posted by George on

    Never fear – Pfizer to the rescue! Maybe.
    The new antiviral pill just approved will, if you believe the feds, be available at Nunavut Health Centres very soon. Since this medication has to be taken within a day or so of the onset of symptoms, how will that be of any use if the test results take three or four or five days to confirm a case? Will they put their faith in an unreliable rapid test? How safe is this new drug if taken by a person who turns out NOT to have Covid?

  5. Posted by Colin on

    Does that mean they will start testing again? With finally catching up to the tests done from before we really don’t know how many are currently infected with Covid.
    Some communities are doing their own tests, what is happening with the GN and testing?

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