Nunavut has limited hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients

Six beds available in Rankin Inlet and “20-some” in Iqaluit, says top doctor

Nunavut’s only hospital is Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nunavut went from having zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 84 in the course of two weeks. But, as of Friday, nobody has required hospitalization because of the disease.

Infected individuals have been described in the Government of Nunavut news releases as “isolating and doing well.”

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said during a Nov. 18 news conference that their symptoms range from none to fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and loss of taste.

“It can feel like a bad flu or a mild cold,” he said.

The decision to hospitalize a COVID-19 patient will depend on their need for medical support, Patterson said.

Most commonly, it would be because someone needs supplemental oxygen for breathing support or intravenous fluids because they are dehydrated. If people are very ill, they may need intravenous medication to maintain their blood pressure, Patterson said, or if someone is having a very hard time breathing, they would be put on a ventilator.

Patterson recently spoke to residents of Arviat and answered questions on a local radio program, because the community has been hit hardest by COVID-19, with 58 cases, as of Friday.

During the program, Patterson said Nunavut currently has 12 ventilators, but a patient sick enough to require one would be transported south for care.

As cases are rising in the south and hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in other parts of the country, Patterson said that Nunavut’s medical chief of staff, Dr. Francois de Wet, is in communication with his regular health-care partners in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

“If we need to send Nunavummiut south for medical needs and the hospitals that they typically go to are full … we will look to sites that we only send people to on occasion,” he said.

There are six beds at the Kivalliq Health Centre in Rankin Inlet and “20-some” beds at the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, Patterson said.

With no COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the Baffin region, and cases reported only in Kivalliq communities and Sanikiluaq, Patterson said if someone needed hospitalization, they would either be treated in Rankin Inlet or transferred south.

Patterson said Nunavut’s resources to conduct contact tracing for the current positive cases are stretched thin. It’s why a two-week lockdown was imposed on the territory starting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

“If there are more cases, our ability to manage it is going to depend a lot on the size of the outbreak, size of the community and how much work is needed to get it under control,” Patterson said.

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(29) Comments:

  1. Posted by Poor Planning on

    Ten months in and the plan entails a dozen ventilators, less than three dozen beds in the territory and a complete dependence on southern provinces admitting Nunavut patients. This is borderline negligence.
    It seems like the entire plan has been to rely on hubs, and it is really not acceptable that over an entire construction season not a single bed has apparently been added to Nunavut’s health infrastructure. Why? If this spreads to Iqaluit they will not be able to cope or ensure patients are treated or moved south as needed. This is a disaster.

    • Posted by In the know on

      Adding beds and ventilators will do you zero good without trained people to use them. It is not as simple as “adding beds”.
      We should never keep ventilated patients here. With no intensive care and other specialists for thousands of km. *That* would be negligent.
      If a person is that sick, they deserve to be treated in a big hospital with specialists.
      Nunavummiut deserve the same level of care as the rest of canada: that will happen by being transferred to a centre with ICU, and specialists.

      • Posted by A concerned voting citizen on

        While I respect the previous opinion, I have been wondering since March what real steps the government has been taking to prepare us for this (inevitable) eventuality. Apparently, very, very, little except housing citizens in southern hubs without testing for covid on entry or departure; and putting us on planes with people who have not quarantined. I remain profoundly disappointed that our local media and MLAs have not been posing the tough but necessary questions to Minister Hickes, the Premier and Dr. Patterson. We all deserve 21st century health care. And that goes well beyond throwing our hands up in the air and saying the only choice we have is to medevac our ill south hoping to find an ICU bed. The federal government is spending billions upon billions of dollars in light of covid. The feds owe us all a fairer shake and our local elected leaders should be going to bat for us with courage and vigour. There is much more that our government could have, and ought to have done. Are there any adults in the rooms of government authority in Nunavut?

        • Posted by StaySafe on

          Every health care bed require 7 supporting staff minimum in most jurisdictions. With Covid all health care staff are on call locally everywhere so there was never any capacity to increase beds or staffing in Nunavut
          Rapid, effective testing has only been available for about 2 months, and even then false positives are still a concern.
          The main issue has been people in isolation hubs breaching rules and “partying” against both Nunavut and local health advice, including consuming large quantity consumption of alcohol and cigarettes in social settings before and after isolation.

          • Posted by Jj smith on

            Sounds like running in circles, sneezing in my shirt neck, with people chacing me

    • Posted by okay on

      My guess the government and the health bureaucrats will congratulate themselves on a job well done.

      • Posted by Concerned on

        What have the GN done in Nunavut done to prepare for this pandemic other than report that the 2 week shutdown will allow for a much needed break? The rest of the country has been dealing with this for 8 months and have been working on this every single day. Some of the southern jurisdictions also had the extra responsibility for caring for Nunavut residents either at a hospital, hub etc, because Nunavut was not able to do so. The Federal Government keeps throwing money but what is being done other than making the airlines and southern hubs rich?

  2. Posted by Cindy Leishman on

    I think sending everyone without a Nunavut medical card, back to their home province is a good idea.

    • Posted by Nunavut Xenophobia at Its Finest on

      You’re discussing a just few miners, even if such legal authority existed.

      Maybe Ontario should send Nunavummiut without OHIP cards back? It would free up capacity and be less burdensome. See how this sort of game works?

  3. Posted by Name withheld on

    I am an insider and call tell you with 100% honestly that I heard with my own ears that some of those sitting in those daily reports did not take the threat seriously and said they thought covid was overrated.
    Maybe they feel different now but that is the god honest truth.

  4. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    The only rational plan has always been to keep Covid-19 from getting to Nunavut, and when it does arrive to send a strike team to any community to treat, track, and trace it before it can spread uncontrollably.
    Thinking that you can put into place not only the ICU equipment but the trained ICU personnel for multiple 24/7 patient coverage for weeks at a time in a pandemic is silly. Major southern cities are having a problem doing this so don’t expect it at Rankin Inlet.
    The GN is doing everything that it can to control these outbreaks. That Covid-19 has spread from Arviat to Whale Cove to Rankin Inlet does not bode well.
    Nunavummiut need to do their part. Stay home. Stay safe.
    Remember that this is a pandemic like we haven’t seen in a hundred years. The only reason we don’t have dead bodies lying in the streets is modern communications, and modern medicine. And modern medicine will get us through this but we need to follow the rules for the next 3 to 6 months like our lives depend on it – because they do.
    Stay safe. Stay home.

    • Posted by Deja Vu on

      Yes Old Trapper we need to do our part and we did !!!!
      We did our part back in March when Covid First hit Canada, and in April May June July Aug Sept Oct, and now the flu season is upon us and the scientist predicted we would get hit with a second wave, and we are.
      So the second wave is here now, and you want us to do our part again for Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar April.
      What are we going to do when we don’t have enough of the vaccine at the start of 2021 are we all to go into hiding again. May Jun Jul Aug until the next flu season hits
      Our Federal Government has failed us. They were busy buying two syringes for every Canadian rather than buying into Vaccines
      Trudeau, needs to fire Dr. Theresa Tam if he wants any chance of gaining our trust again ” WASH YOUR HANDS OF TAM”

      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that there will be enough vaccine allocated to the entire population of Nunavut in the first or second round. The first round will primarily be the front line, doctors, nurses, medical staff, police, firefighters, and likely many of the “essential” public contact people such as grocery cashiers.
        My guess is that seniors at care home will also be in the first group or at the head of the second group, and then everyone in Nunavut, NWT, Yukon, and First Nations. It just makes sense to get the hardest to reach, and those with the fewest medical options to be the highest priority.
        I agree with your assessment of Trudeau and Tam. While he did reasonably good on the economic side he did not think it through and realize that you have to pretty much eliminate Covid at the first shutdown. The necessary measures may be too strict, even anti-democratic, and certainly unpopular, but it would have saved so many lives (and $ incidentally).
        As for Tam she lost me when she originally said that the public should not wear masks. I ignored her and got some strange looks at the post office and Costco here in March. Guess I was a trend setter, now everyone wears a mask.
        Stay safe. Stay home.

        • Posted by Tired of Vaccines on

          Please count me out on Covid19 vaccination. Been there, done that and am tired of various vaccines. Has anyone done a study to show how many people are actually interested in being vaccinated against Covid19.

          • Posted by The Old Trapper on

            The latest numbers I heard were that 69% of Canadians would take a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today. That’s up from 63% just a month ago. I do imagine that this number will go up as people are actually vaccinated and ideally I think 80 – 90% of Canadians will end up being vaccinated.
            I think the positive trend is due to the high efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which are in the 90 – 95% range. This is truly great news as usually it takes years to reach this level of efficacy.
            These vaccines have been developed very fast but a lot of the reason is that science has come a long ways in just the last 10 years when it comes to vaccines. And they are being tested on tens of thousands of people with no adverse results.
            “Tired of Vaccines” I do hope that you reconsider taking the vaccine when it becomes available. How can you be “tired” of getting vaccines? I mean I had to wait 30 minutes for my flu vaccine because the pharmacist was on lunch, but that’s better than being sick for a week, or dying of complications.

            I know that there is a large “anti-vax” movement but if you research it the movement started when a rogue scientist falsified research which showed adverse effects to a vaccine. This was a lie and he did it because he was working on a competing vaccine. The research was eventually withdrawn however a lot of damage was done.
            Look at the history of vaccines. They have eradicated smallpox and polio is almost eradicated. Personally I get the flu vaccine every year and haven’t had a case of the flu since I started getting vaccinated.
            From what I’ve heard Bill Gates is not putting any microchips in Canadian vaccines, and Nunavut may never get 5G so you should be safe on that front as well. (jk)

            • Posted by Tired of Vaccines on

              I last got the flu vaccine in 2003 and haven’t had a case of the flu. I am still alive and strong. Some of these vaccines we do not need.

              • Posted by The Old Trapper on

                The generic “influenza” vaccine is actually a number of flu vaccines designed to combat the latest variants (strains) of influenza circulating worldwide. It changes each year and it is hard to predict which variants are going to be circulating in a country months ahead of time when the vaccines are created. That’s why you will find that some years the flu vaccine is more effective than other years.
                Interesting that this year reported cases of influenza are way down around the world. It’s because people are social distancing and wearing masks. Maybe it’s something that we should think of doing every winter.
                Just a quick note on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, these are new vaccines created using mRNA (Messenger RNA) which is a new technique. It uses the genetic code for the “spike” protein of the coronavirus (the red parts that you see in the pictures). This is the part of the virus that attaches to your cells, the virus then infects the cells and replicates.
                By using just the spike protein the vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies which prohibit the spike protein from latching onto the human cells. It is therefore considered very safe as there is no actual virus (dead or alive) in the vaccine, only the genetic code of the spike protein itself.
                The more people that vaccine the better for everyone.

    • Posted by A voting concerned citizen on

      Again, it is clear the GN has not done everything it could do to stop covid from arriving in Nunavut. Why are we not testing for covid when a person enters an isolation hub? Why are we not testing for covid when a person prepares to leave the hub for home? Why are we sending isolated people in the same plane with people who have not been required to isolate? Let the departments or companies who claim people are essential charter their own aircraft then require these “essential” workers to self isolate when not working. Why do we continue in 2020 to accept that Nunavummiut are not worthy of 21st century health care? Inuit were forced off the land into government chosen settlements; the federal government has the moral obligation to provide whatever $ assistance is needed to protect Nunavummiut. Please, stop repeating the decades old colonialist mantra that it’s just too expensive to do anything differently. The GN has been negligent, and so have our medical experts.

      • Posted by The Old Trapper on

        I agree, everyone entering or exiting a hub should be tested. A great failing of the federal government is that they haven’t used the time from the first lockdown to properly ramp up our testing.
        There are tests that only take a few hours. Why are they not everywhere in the country?
        As far as the overall health care goes, you cannot expect the same level of care throughout each community in Nunavut that you have in a major Canadian city. And to be fair, most of rural Canada does not have the same standard of health care as a major Canadian city. It is just cost prohibitive.
        As for forcing Inuit off the land, I think that it is more complicated than you make it. Was it right, probably not at the time and certainly not judging from 2020 standards.
        Correct me if I’m wrong though, what’s stopping you from living out on the land today?

        • Posted by Keith on

          The tests that have the shortest turnarounds also have the highest number of false negatives. One common type of fast test, for instance, will only reliably detect SARS-CoV-2 if you’re absolutely loaded with it. In many ways those fast tests are no better than screenings by taking temperature or asking if someone has a cough.

      • Posted by StaySafe on

        There are not enough tests with low false positives to test all travellers in and out of Nunavut. There is not enough lab capacity in Canada to handle all emergency admitting from Covid on top of all other services. The system is new and still evolving with rationing even down south. The only known way tp prevent Covid is social isolation and effective hygiene. Tests are after the fact.

        • Posted by The Old Trapper on

          False positives are not a big problem in a pandemic, the worst that happens is that you isolate when you don’t have to.
          A false negative is the real problem.
          The federal government needed (and still needs) to do a better job with rapid tests. The GN has done well to set-up testing at Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, with I think a 24 – 48 hour turnaround, but a 2 hour turn on site would be much more useful

  5. Posted by okay on

    “The only rational plan has always been to keep Covid-19 from getting to Nunavut.” That statement is irrational thinking. The preferable plan was planning for covid to be present in the communities however working to keep it out.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Nunavut has only 4 points of air access, and zero land access. The GN policy does make sense. Keep Covid-19 out, and if it does come in hit it with everything you have before there is community spread.
      Keeping Covid-19 out worked for 10 months, which is amazing. In my opinion what screwed up was the high incidence of community spread in southern Canada. It really was only a matter of time that someone at a hub was asymptomatic, and probably spread it to someone else during the 14 day quarantine who was also asymptomatic. Without adequate testing that'[s all it takes. And we all know that the “quarantine” was often a joke.
      Better testing would have caught this, but it’s really a failure of the southern provincial governments. The GN idea was good. Not strict enough but it also depends on people following the rules. Obviously some selfish people did not.
      I’ve said this before but look at how China conquered Covid-19. Of course they were authoritarian, and frankly I suspect that their numbers were 10 times higher than actually reported, but harsh measures are needed to fight a highly contagious virus.
      New Zealand was also very successful. They were very quick to react, and also very strict. And failure to follow the rules had immediate consequences.
      Look at Canada, while our land border to the U.S. may be “closed” to non-essential travel our air border is still wide open for Canadians or relatives. The only caveat is that you are supposed to have a 14 day quarantine, which is mostly unsupervised, and often not monitored. Most of the cases in the Atlantic bubble are travel related.
      If Canada had invested more in rapid tests then it would be okay to go easier on the quarantine, but we didn’t and it’s gotten us into the current trouble.
      Stay safe. Stay home.

  6. Posted by westerner on

    Inspite of it all, ALL Inuit should be resilient in their current lives and HELP.
    Understand that the disease can have the most Negative impact to anyone in every community, especially every isolated community that rely on aircraft for everything
    It may be their own ignorance in the isolation hubs down south, If Inuit start dying off in these isolated communities then the realization will be realized , Inuit are the most social people in the world but for now – they should do their part and treat this pandemic like it was a blizzard outside only if you know its a blizzard outside then YOU won’t go outside – simple as that, Inuit are well off in these communities with high speed internet and Satelite Tv 99% of the time, now with the federal government dolling out the benefits , It was a big mistake on their part, they should have better used the money for the much needed infrastructure that every isolated community needs and am sure they “would have” added extra medical resources when they knew that the Coronavirus was going to become a pandemic . The MAIN Arteries to this pandemic to hit a fly in – fly out only isolated community would be the aircraft that everyone so eagerly shares , they not only share the plane but also the AIR that they breathe while in flight , the airlines are so greedy that they are not sterilizing their own planes and equipment , ALWAYS A TURN AND BURN for the airline of the north, YOU would not go into a plane flying hundreds of miles without enough fuel and hope you make it. What we all can do is follow the rules and try our best to keep safe, there is NO hiding from this disease if your in a populated and isolated community . Again —-INUIT ARE THE MOST SOCIAL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD , So lets do our part and stay home and pray that it may pass someday in the near future

  7. Posted by Name withheld on

    Just read the update, no changes in Rankin Inlet, Arviat total 80 and Whale Cove 14 😳 this is a scary number for a small community!! From looking at the post they are getting upset about having to isolate at home and they are going for rides!!! They seem to think they are immune to this Virus as they are clearly not listening to the COPH. Do they not know how seriously this is? And what it can do to your lungs and organs?
    Iqaluit and Rankin will never be able to handle 100 patients and yet we hear some aren’t taking this serious only cause they are bored of isolating while others are trying to listen and get upset of those that aren’t !!!

    • Posted by Edna on

      Jealousy held in fear makes tattle tales. Id be gone as well. Its an enforcement / tattle scheeme

    • Posted by Raven on

      Iqaluit can handle anything.

  8. Posted by KishaGrande on

    Stay safe, everyone. Thinking of you down here in the south.

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