Nunavut’s presumptive case of COVID-19 to be confirmed early next week

Patient is asymptomatic and in isolation at the mine site

Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore mine is on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Pond Inlet is the closest community to the mine site. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says that test results should be ready by early next week to verify a presumptive case of COVID-19 at Baffinland’s Mary River mine.

In the meantime, the worker is described as being asymptomatic.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said that person recently arrived at the site. They’re in isolation at the mine, which is 176 kilometres from Pond Inlet on the northern tip of Baffin Island.

Patterson became aware of the presumptive case at around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1.

He would not disclose where the person came from or when exactly they arrived at the mine, saying it was to protect the person’s privacy.

Nunavummiut employed at the mine have not been working during the COVID-19 pandemic to eliminate the possibility that the disease would be brought in by an outside worker and spread to a community in the territory.

Twelve people who have been in contact with the person who is presumed to have COVID-19 are also being isolated at the same location at the mine site. This location was set aside “some time in February” in anticipation of COVID-19, Patterson said.

The mine and the Government of Nunavut will act under the assumption that the worker is COVID-19-positive until they get test results back from a public health–accredited lab in Ontario.

The testing machines the mine uses are not as rigorously checked as those at public health labs in the south, Patterson said.

The mine’s policy is to test every person who returns to the mine from southern locations for work, several times. The person in question had two of these tests come back positive.

A test swab is supposed to be collected on Thursday afternoon and then sent to a lab in Ontario. However, Patterson said it’s unclear whether the swabs being used at the mine are compatible with the lab the GN uses in Ontario.

“I know it sounds goofy,” Patterson said, “but we actually have to keep two different supplies of swabs, because one is usable by one of the labs [we use] in the west and not the other way around.”

Baffinland worked with the GN to create its COVID-19 protocols. Patterson’s office reviewed and commented on them, and he’s had several discussions with the mine over the past few months.

“Of the mines in the territory, Baffinland is the one I’ve had the most contact with,” Patterson said.

The mine has physician assistants and advanced care paramedics on site, whose role is usually to stabilize workers who are injured for a journey to a hospital in the south, or in Iqaluit. Patterson said these individuals have been trained to do contact tracing at the mine.

The GN does not have any medical staff on site currently. Patterson said they would be sent to help if there was transmission in communities near the mine site, or if the staff at the mine were having trouble with contact tracing or managing public health measures.

“They don’t appear to be having those difficulties,” Patterson said.

If the test result from Ontario comes back positive, it will be Nunavut’s first case of COVID-19.

There was a false positive at the end of April in Pond Inlet, the community closest to the Mary River mine.

Patterson emphasized that the risk of transmission to communities in Nunavut is low, as there is no contact between mine workers and people outside the mine. He also said that risk of transmission between the person who may have COVID-19 and other mine workers is low.

The presumptive case does not affect travel between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, nor will it change the fact that isolation is not required for medical travel between Nunavut and Churchill, Manitoba.

The GN will continue to slowly reopen services in the territory and loosen restrictions on gatherings. Patterson did say, however, that this presumptive case should be a warning to Nunavummiut that COVID-19 is still a real threat, and that people should continue to constantly wash their hands and maintain safe distances from each other.

Baffinland was not available for comment before deadline for this story.

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by And… on

    I am not sure why facebook is flooded with people sharing this and commenting like this is a big deal… there are no Nunavummiut at the mine so there is no risk.

    There is more of a risk of people who have the 14 day quarantine who are asymptomatic bringing the virus in as you are not testing them.

  2. Posted by Mine worker on

    Its hear it from the local armchair experts, I TOLD YOU SO

  3. Posted by Consistency on

    So the Mine has tests that can be done that fast? but the GN doesn’t? Unless the test is not accurate at all (as in it misses Covid carriers) then why not have everyone coming to Nunavut do the test while in the 14 day quarantine … could this 14 days be decreased if the person had say 3 negative tests 2 days apart for each?
    if the test is expensive those that are flying on there own could chose it or the 14 day quarantine.

    I know there must be more to it than this because i would hope the GN would look into these options.

  4. Posted by Covfefe-19 on

    I’ve heard about critical workers like these flying up on planes with many returning Nunaviumiut. I hope they can trace those people quickly.

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