Social gatherings now the main cause of COVID-19 spread in Iqaluit

‘These activities put people at risk and will extend the outbreak if they continue,’ Patterson says

Cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut continue to trend downward, five weeks into an outbreak in Iqaluit. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

Social gatherings, such as parties, are now the main factor contributing to the further spread of COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

“These activities put people at risk and will extend the outbreak if they continue,” said Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, during a news conference on Thursday.

Patterson said he is aware of at least three such events, but there may be others contact tracing teams are not aware of.

Because of this, Patterson has asked that anyone who has attended a party in the last three weeks to call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. eastern time and book a test.

Patterson clarified that this isn’t for enforcement purposes.

“We will test them, we’ll work with them to reduce this risk of spread and transmission but we will not be passing that information on to law enforcement,” he said.

In addition to avoiding interactions with other households, Patterson reminded residents that the territory’s public health measures include wearing masks when in public, including when alone outside on a walk or a run.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as eight recoveries and a dozen new cases were reported in Iqaluit, which ties April 16 as the highest single-day increase since the outbreak in the city began.

There are currently 84 active cases in Iqaluit.

The two people in Rankin Inlet who had COVID-19 have now recovered and were released from isolation.

Although two active cases remain in Kinngait, Patterson says that the outbreak there has been contained.

The outbreak at Baffinland’s Mary River mine, which suspended operations yesterday as a result, has worsened. There are now 23 active cases of the virus at the mine and staff there will be transferred south to complete isolation, Patterson said.

Meanwhile in Iqaluit, another person with COVID-19 complications has been sent to a southern hospital, bringing the total number of medevacs to three.

Although Patterson wasn’t able to provide a breakdown of the ages of infected individuals, he did say that there have now been 30 active cases of COVID-19 in youth, an increase of seven from earlier this week.

Following last week’s announcement that a positive case of the virus had been discovered at the Tammaativvik boarding home, Patterson reassured Nunavummiut that the facility is safe.

“There have been no COVID-19 cases confirmed in clients from the boarding home,” Patterson said.

“The staff who tested positive and those who are high risk contacts are in isolation and will not return to work until they have recovered.”

Other steps taken by the facility to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the facility include enhanced cleaning, prohibitions against indoor gatherings and visitors, support for guests to isolate in their rooms including the delivery of food and beverages, and restrictions on clients spending time outside of the home unless for appointments or to pick up prescriptions.

The number of infected staff members there is below five, or too few for Patterson to disclose for privacy reasons, but it is not impacting operations at the home.

Two more cases have also been confirmed at Baffin Correctional Centre, where there are now 10 cases.

Most of recent cases involve people who were exposed before health teams knew the virus was present at the jail, said Patterson, who expects that another mass screening, expected to take place before the end of the week, will provide a better sense of whether the virus is still spreading at the facility.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Iqaluit on April 14, there have been 2,049 tests conducted in the city; 149 of those, or seven per cent, have been positive.

During a news conference last week, Patterson told reporters that contact tracing teams were roughly four days behind the spread of the virus. Today, Patterson said that looking at contact tracing efforts in that context isn’t a useful measure of where the teams are.

“The reality was that it was in a group of individuals, essential workers, who were working two or more jobs,” said Patterson.

“How to track it when it’s moving through groups like that is really difficult.”

Patterson clarified that last week’s statement wasn’t about a backlog of tests awaiting results. “We’re getting all of the tests done either the day they’re collected or the next day,” he said.

Individuals with positive results are notified and contact tracing starts within 12 hours, he added.

Although most transmissions are now happening because of social gatherings, Patterson said that the number of contacts per positive case, which he previously identified as being between 10 or 12 at the beginning of the outbreak, are now either zero or one for non-household contacts.

Even when a party was identified earlier this week, Patterson said that the number of contacts per positive case only increased to three or four.

Following yesterday’s news that fully vaccinated travellers would soon be allowed into Yukon without isolating for 14 days, Patterson said that this was possible because the risks for that territory are much different than those currently facing Nunavut.

“There’s a much greater proportion of the population in Yukon that’s eligible for the vaccine and their uptake [of the vaccine] is over 70 per cent,” he said, adding that increasing the number of vaccinations in Nunavut is the best way to reduce the risk to the territory.

To date, 16,271 Nunavummiut have had the first dose of their vaccine and 12,692 are fully vaccinated.

In Iqaluit, Patterson says that about 80 per cent of eligible adults have received their first dose.

Although the number of people getting their vaccine has leveled off recently, Patterson also said that there’s a large group of residents in Iqaluit who have received their first dose and have to wait for four weeks to get their second dose.

“At the end of the month, we’ll see the numbers start to rise again,” said Patterson.

Those who would like to book a vaccination appointment can call their local health centre.
For updated information and resources on COVID-19, visit the Government of Nunavut’s website.

The government’s COVID-19 updates will continue next week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. eastern time.

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(35) Comments:

  1. Posted by …. on

    Like Arviats by-law use to say “stay home ?” says Iola Sagiatuk.

  2. Posted by Old times on

    Com’on wash up 6 feet apart mask easy as 123 and the igloolik song after u smoke.

  3. Posted by Duffman on

    With a lot of public drunkenness and house parties that go on, we will be in for the long run, last few times I went shopping for food there’s been drunk people by the entrance and no masks on. Groups of people drinking by the B&W store and not distancing or wearing masks.
    It doesn’t seem like we are in a lockdown and it sure doesn’t seem like there are rules right now.
    Most of us try and do follow the recommendations but so many also do not, where are the enforcement for the rules?

    • Posted by K Sheppard on

      And still people are hating on essential workers saying its all their fault. Yet people here refuse to stay at home and stop being lazy. Because of the few the rest of us get to deal with the implications. You can blame essential works all you want, but if you refuse to social distance, wear a mask then YOU are the problem.

    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      Stay home, wash your hands Iqluait…

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      I don’t think the RCMP has the man power to try and enforce the stay at home orders as long as the B&W is open. Once that place is shut down the bootleggers will benefit, it’s a no win situation.

      • Posted by Uvanga on

        In a second thought, once the B&W is closed down people’s gathering will not be as big because bootleggers prices will jack up and people will not want to share their drinks based on that.

    • Posted by drunkard on

      Providing alcohol is an essential service regardless of its effects. Drunkards absolutely do not care about rules and order- they only think and care for themselves, and our government is fuelling them. An oxymoron.

  4. Posted by Fearful on

    Most of the Inuit living in Nunavik communities are becoming complacent.
    Sooner or later our 14 communities will be hit hard by this virus.
    And those who are trying to keep the protocol in place are the people who are being bullied and told that they are wanna be police.
    my concern is for myself, my family and the community as a whole. Please follow the protocols that are in place.

  5. Posted by Doooit on

    At the press conference today, I believe Dr. Patterson mentioned house parties and how they are a large source of the spread right now. You know when your neighbors are partying. It often spills out the front door. Call the police. And for goodness sakes, I wish they would close the beer and wine store. Would it not be easier to treat people in a controlled way as they go through withdrawals rather than the sloppy mess and who knows how many drunken contacts that are impossible to trace as a result of partying and congregating near the beer store as people down their purchases together?

  6. Posted by Wonder people on

    Dozen cases more. Where are those positive individual isolate? 50% isolation hub (hotel) and 50% at home? Is time to enforce isolated positive individual at the hub, if isolate at home will easily to spread the virus. B & W store should have no more line up purchase, either deliver or pick up only. Same as food order. It is so sad to hear increasing everyday.

  7. Posted by Unprepared on

    Pleas on death ears. Why don’t you tell people for the 10000000th time to not have parties and to wash their hands? Do you actually think maybe it will work this time?
    Fines, fines, fines and a night in the drunk tank for party goers and roving bands of maskless kids.
    The GN has not prepared to enforce its laws so many won’t obey. They don’t want to appear colonial or to associate with the police too closely. Politics at play here and not science or law. I continue to call on Patterson to resign for not doing more to prepare for the arrival of covid 19.

    • Posted by Lol on


  8. Posted by Northener on

    How does closing stores at earlier hours help. Shorter hours force more people to show up at one time, absolutely no sense

    • Posted by temp on

      You need to have staff to be open, and the stores are struggling with that. Be thankful they’re open at all; they are the people at greatest risk

  9. Posted by Children First on

    Really?!? I thought it was spreading because of children having fun at the playgrounds.
    Let’s be honest folks, the city closed playgrounds because it was easy to do and no 4yo is gonna complain about it. Playgrounds have never been linked to an outbreak.

    • Posted by Don’t close the parks on

      Exactly. The city saying the parks are closed (but not doing anything about it, no yellow tape this time, swings are still attached) is BS. Just the mayor flexing his muscle because the city can do very little during this outbreak. Note that the GN never said anything about school parks (because they know closing them is counterproductive).
      The packs of maskless kids are the same packs that are on the streets. Doesn’t matter if they’re in a park or not. All the parents who are at the park with their kids are socially distancing and have masks on hand.
      Instead of just mentioning in passing that parks are closed and not giving any guidelines, why not say they’re open and give out clear guidelines on how to bring your kids there safely (stay in your own area with your family, bring a mask, etc). The vague announcement on park closures has just made the paranoid warriors on Rant n Rave target parents and kids who play responsibly and lump them in with the kids who are maskless and mixing with other families.
      Also: all these people in the comments saying WASH YOUR HANDS! WASH ALL YOUR SURFACES! Please note that the scientific community has shifted from the opinion that the disease can be contracted through touch. We’ve learned that almost all transmission is through the air, usually indoors with poor ventilation. So the park is a very safe place, just give each other some space.

      • Posted by half on

        No one said it couldn’t be transmitted by touch. High touch surfaces still pose a risk. Handwashing is very, very important. What they said was the mass sanitizing of all hard surfaces isn’t that effective in stopping the spread of covid because it doesn’t seem to survive on hard surfaces for as long as they thought. Its very dangerous to pass along misinformation or cherry pick details from stories.

  10. Posted by George Puttak on

    What would one really expect here. I mean really? Be honest. Iqaluit is filled with ongoing boozin. Period. And its not stopping anytime soon.

    • Posted by Ken on

      I have to agree with you George, it would seem like there is a high percentage of functioning alcoholics in Iqaluit, the long lines at the B&W store even durning a lockdown and the amount of money the B&W store generates is unbelievable for the size of Iqaluit.
      Some of us do expect more but it’s also not hard to believe why the GN and the city’s priorities are in the wrong place.
      Opening a liquor store before any wellness centre or treatment centre is kind of unbelievable but at the same time not surprising.
      It really shows how deep the social issues reaches. How much further we need to go to be a healthier society.

      • Posted by Starchy Shorts on

        It’s possible to enjoy beer without being an alcoholic, believe it or not. All you moralizers coming out to make this issue about the B&W have a little too much starch in your shorts.

        • Posted by Ken on

          Yes we know it’s possible to enjoy beer responsibly, but unfortunately some enjoy it a little bit too much and apparently if the B&W store was closed it would endanger too many alcoholics with their withdrawal.
          Never mind the public drunkenness that we see on a daily basis and the functioning alcoholics that seem to take priority in Iqaluit on a lot of fronts.
          But I agree with you on being able to enjoy a beer or two once and a while. Just not every day or a 24 per day.

          • Posted by Big step to take on

            The first step to take is to admit you have a problem, if you don’t then you can’t work to correct the problems.

    • Posted by K Sheppard on

      When the NIMBY’ers have voiced any concerns about the impact of the Beer and Wine store since COVID started worldwide in 2020, everyone mocked them, attacked them on rant and rave on FB.

      It’s funny how that now that the partiers are in everyone’s back yard spreading the corona (not the beer) , that now all of a sudden everyone is outraged. The store should not have been opened before there was a treatment centre. And why is it that other private businesses are doing online contactless curbside pickup or delivery but the Beer and Wine store isn’t? There are lots of “work” from home staff available. Why is there an entire department dedicated to IT if they cannot make this happen? We all know why that is, the same reason EDSBY took over a year to be implemented…

  11. Posted by Beer store line myth on

    People love to bring up the infamous Beer store line. It’s almost as if they haven’t seen it since that first day it opened when it was a gongshow.
    Every time I’ve gone there’s been absolutely no line. Lines have been longer at the post office and Northmart. Should we close those down while we’re at it?
    If we close the beer store, the addicts will go to bootleggers. If we magically close all bootleggers somehow, the addicts will find another way.
    We don’t have a booze problem. We have a people problem. Addicts are running from their problems. A wellness center won’t magically cure all our addicts. It’s a lack of well-being in our community that’s causing the problems: broken homes, abuse, lack of critical thinking, adults with the mental capacity of children. All these problems are magnified and coming to the surface during this outbreak.

  12. Posted by disappointed! on

    This is so disappointing! Stay home! wear a mask!
    my elder mother with health complications lives in Iqaluit and has been abiding by all the public health measures to keep herself and the rest of you safe and this is happening! Partying, hanging around the stores, socializing outside the B&W store! She hasnt seen any of her grandchildren in weeks and so many of you are still walking around the streets with no mask, no social distancing.
    Please Iqaluit residents (those not abiding by the rules), take consideration of others and not just yourself, this is not just about you, this affects your entire town at so many levels. You want to party in the future? isolate now!

    Also, when covid hit the kivalliq communities so many stepped up and sewed masks and provided to the community, there was no more room for pride or hate at that time, so many stepped up and provided for each other, Are any residents of Iqaluit stepping up to help in that way? so many cannot afford to buy masks, so are any residents of Iqaluit helping their fellow community members in that way?

  13. Posted by Qikiqtaalummiu on

    We need a positive movement and we need to have the city involved where is the city council and mayor? time to enforce tougher fine if people are drinking.? but also keep in mind there are vulnerable people and with disabilitys that has no other access and places to go, SO a lot of people i mean everyone is effected by this that is leading to mental health. If we Listen to one another and ONE DAY we can fish/hunt/eat and laugh Together not from a distance but rather from good engagement for everyones sakes.? There is no competition in this pandemic but good leadership. One life is to hard to loose and NOW is not a good time.

    • Posted by aputi on


      • Posted by Cmon on

        What the heck’s wrong with you?

  14. Posted by Mayor for hire? on

    Is Joe Savikataaq Jr available for a short term mayor contract?

  15. Posted by Aputi on

    We Made Arviat Great Again by staying home during the outbreak

    • Posted by Bubba on

      I love you Aputi! Avriat Strooooonnnngggg!

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Having 1 case of Covid-19 spread to an eventual 339 cases in Arviat (plus a few more in Rankin) isn’t something I would be bragging about.
      Yes Arviat made it through their outbreak (eventually), like there was another choice? Please give it a rest, you just look silly.

      • Posted by Saputi on

        So if Iqaluit is to follow Arviat’s example, we are doing a good job already then? By continuing to spread it for months with people refusing to stay at home, and attending house parties. If so then party on Wayne!!

    • Posted by Follow the Lead on

      If Iqaluit follows Arviat’s lead in terms of infection rate, they’ll end up with over 1,000 people contracting Covid. Let’s hope they do better, because Arviat didn’t do well.


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