Omicron confirmed in Nunavut

Fast-spreading COVID-19 variant forces territory to change its approach to testing disease

Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson confirmed Thursday in the legislative assembly that the Omicron variant is now the “dominant strain” of COVID-19 in the territory. (Photo by Corey Larocque)

By Corey Larocque

Omicron is in Nunavut.

Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson made it official Thursday, three weeks after COVID-19 cases started rising again across the territory.

“Omicron is the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the territory,” Patterson said in the legislative assembly, during the Government of Nunavut’s first public update of 2022.

His office learned on Wednesday test results confirmed that the fast-spreading variant is behind the current surge. Until now, it had been uncertain because it takes up to 10 days for the test results — which were sent to a lab in the south — to come back.

There are 244 cases of COVID-19 in 12 Nunavut communities, an increase of 13 over Wednesday’s count, Premier P.J. Akeeagok said during the update. He added there have been 24 recoveries since the current outbreak began in December, including eight reported Thursday.

Iqaluit, Arviat and Rankin Inlet account for more than half of the cases, according to a list the GN published Thursday morning:

  • Arviat — 48
  • Baker Lake — 1
  • Cambridge Bay — 1
  • Chesterfield Inlet — 2
  • Igloolik — 17
  • Iqaluit — 72
  • Kinngait — 23
  • Pangnirtung — 19
  • Pond Inlet — 1
  • Qikiqtarjuaq — 5
  • Rankin Inlet — 45
  • Sanirajak — 10
  • Sanikiluaq — 0 confirmed cases (and 1 presumptive case)
  • Whale Cove — 0 confirmed cases (and 1 presumptive case)

“We have never had this many cases of COVID-19 in our territory,” Akeeagok said.

Nunavut started the year under lockdown conditions Patterson imposed in late December. Schools will not open until Jan. 17 at the earliest and government workers have been ordered to work from home.

The expanding caseload and the knowledge that it’s Omicron has forced the GN to change the way it manages COVID-19 cases. For example, the Health Department will no longer test every person who shows symptoms.

If someone shows symptoms and lives in the same house with a person who has tested positive for the respiratory illness, it will now be assumed that the other person also has it. Instead of tracking each individual who tests positive, the GN will gauge the outbreak based on how COVID-19 spreads from house to house.

“We have to flip our thinking a little bit,” Patterson said.

Cutting back on the number of COVID-19 tests will give front-line health-care workers a reprieve from testing and contact tracing, and allow them to do other work. The same workers who do COVID-19 tests also do tests for other patients with other illnesses, including heart attacks, diabetes or tuberculosis.

In addition to the growing caseload in Nunavut, there are six elders at Ottawa’s Embassy West living centre for seniors who have COVID-19. The government reported five on Wednesday. The GN is “closely monitoring” that situation and providing support to the elders and their families, Akeeagok said.

Because of how easily Omicron spreads, there’s a concern an upward spiralling case count could overwhelm the health-care system, particularly hospitals, if enough patients required an intensive care unit bed.

Six people have been hospitalized since COVID-19 was reported again in late December. They ranged in age from three months to 80, Patterson told reporters. At least three had been medevaced out of their communities, but Patterson would not say where they were from or which hospital they were sent to.

Patients have been hospitalized in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Winnipeg, he said.

Nunavut cannot forecast a number of cases that would overwhelm its ability to treat COVID-19 patients in hospital, partly because the territory’s capacity depends on bed availability in southern hospitals, he said.

Both Akeeagok and Patterson repeated their message that to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should stay home, avoid gatherings, wear a mask, get vaccinated and get a booster shot when it’s possible.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Landmark on

    This is, apparently, the fastest spreading virus in history.

    For those of you who don’t believe in evolution, you are witnessing it before your own eyes.

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    • Posted by Doug Brunet on

      As it may actually be the fastest spreading virus in history, one must consider whether it is evolution in micro-biology or evolution in transportation. A century ago, the Spanish flu managed to spread and kill 50 million people worldwide. Now, it is true that the medical arts have progressed immeasurably compared to a century ago. But, so too has transportation. Humanity’s advancements in immunology and epidemiology have been easily matched in this regard. The spread of covid-19 has as much or more to do with the speed of transportation as it may have with the evolution of a respiratory virus.

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      • Posted by Landmark on

        Absolutely, I didn’t mean to imply that the rapid global spread of this variant is a function of unprecedented transmissibility alone. Though I can see how it would appear that way.

        That said I don’t think it should be framed as an either / or between evolution in microbiology vs evolution in transportation, it is clearly both.

        That omicron is 3 to 5 times more transmissible than Delta, specifically ‘among the vaccinated’ (this is the key point) is an amazing example of its capacity to adapt and continue to thrive in an immunological environment that has also changed significantly from the early days of the virus. Neither the original strain, nor delta would be thriving right now given how widespread vaccinations have become, yet omicron is thriving. This is a sample of an evolutionary process that for larger organisms, including variations of the genus homo for example, might take hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Of course, it’s much easier for a microorganism to rapidly adapt and we are seeing it in real time.

        It’s an amazing thing.

        It’s evolution, baby!

        Here is an insightful piece if anyone is interested:

        https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/12/31/1067702355/omicron-is-spreading-like-wildfire-scientists-are-trying-to-figure-out-why

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        • Posted by Doug Brunet on

          That was an excellent reply, Landmark. And it prompts me to clarify that in no way was I denying evolution, particularly in this case. Further to that, for the unaware, it must be understood that all viruses mutate. The nature of these simple lifeforms and what it does to spread through more complex lifeforms guarantees mutations. There are few or no exceptions. It was the novelty of this coronavirus that led us to what we’re dealing with in the global sense. I’m not the expert, but I’m blessed to have had close friends and relatives of friends who’ve explained the simplicity of how viruses aggressively infiltrate their hosts. So, in support of your original comment, evolution is inevitable.
          The onus falls on us to find the origins of particular types of viruses. And believe me, there are many who won’t like, or completely denounce, the findings. But that is a whooooooooole other discussion.

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    • Posted by Huh on

      Micro-evolution, yes; macro-evolution, no. It’s still a virus, it will always be a virus regardless of the number of mutations. Just as a dog has always come from a dog-like creature, not a turtle.

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      • Posted by Landmark on

        Interesting to see this false dichotomy between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution emerge here. It is often invoked by deniers of evolution, though the idea that evolution only occurs on small scales and not larger ones is bizarre and obviously not true.

        To say a dog always came from a dog like creature is interesting, if you accept that something that emerged from the ocean is dog like, or all the creatures that preceded that one are also dog like… or that, well you can see where this is going. Keep moving backward and the ancestors of dogs, and humans, look nothing like us, in fact they were bacteria (granted, not viruses). But that is a very long story that took place in small increments (observed up close you might even call the process micro-evolution, if you prefer) over deep time.

  2. Posted by Dominic irksuk on

    Arviat, used to have calm air. I used to go for medical winnipeg & back i never get cold or fever after return. But in back in 2019-20 i went thru-rankin & winnipeg. Going. For medical & going home. It was 50-c i had bad fever when i got home some kind of headache & vomiting. I did not know. I heard some 1 was having bad fever it was worst. Arviat had even 1 person got worst from going thru-rankin. There terminal is not very large too. When waiting we have to be in airport. After 7 hrs. We depart at last we stay long in airport. Arviat needs better flight to winnipeg, man.

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  3. Posted by S on

    Let’s hope that the various levels of government and the plutocracy which control them let this controlled over-reaction to the common-cold evaporate soon. It has been nearly two years of theatre. Enough already.

    And let’s hope the next time they try to pull the wool over our eyes that we are a bit more mature to recognize the non-science.

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    • Posted by Observer on

      Given the 30,500 deaths which have occurred in Canada over the last two years, making COVID the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease, and ahead of accidents, diabetes, Alzheimers, and influenza and pneumonia, it would seem to be a rather uncommon cold, wouldn’t you say?

      I’ve seen this type of smug self-satisfaction so often I wonder if the people saying it really believe the nonsense they spew or whether they say it to try and convince people they’re smarter than they really are.

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      • Posted by Smug Raspewtin on

        It wasn’t the common cold through 2020 and 2021 (arguably Omicron is indistinguishable from the cold for younger vaccinated people), although that doesn’t mean the response to date has been appropriate or rational. There is a lot of theatre – things that are “for show” rather than serving a clear purpose.
        The question of what we are prepared to sacrifice in order to delay (and once it became clear that the vaccines did not provide sterilizing immunity it was clear that all we are doing is delaying) the spread of the virus has not had the public discussion that it deserves. It’s also worth considering that your 30,500 number would look quite different through a Years of Life Lost from mortality (YLL) lens.
        Apparently education and economic prosperity aren’t as important as some of us thought. I don’t think the plutocrats are entirely to blame (although they have prospered while the rest of us languish), I suspect Boomer illusion of control and repressed mortality consciousness are a big part of it, but it’s also garden variety political cowardice.
        It is likely to become another common cold strain, and Omicron is a big, positive step in that direction. The question is whether the national and provincial/ territorial public health apparatuses will acknowledge that reality.

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        • Posted by Soothsayer on

          To me the story here is one of unreflective self-delusion and ideological capture.

          It is a paradox, but here is an individual whose opinion stubbornly defies facts while deeply believing they are in sole possession of them. In reality it is not hard to see that ‘S’ is totally delusional. In fact, it is easy to see. Yet in defiance of what can easily be demonstrated or proven with very little research, S remains completely committed to a picture of reality that is largely fantasy.

          it is a bizarre spectacle and should be a cautionary one too. The real question for all of us is how
          did it come to be? And how can you and I avoid this kind of pitfall?

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  4. Posted by Janey on

    Nice shirt and smile! Don’t let our doctor get away! He puts the smile in stay awhile….

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  5. Posted by Why? on

    Our premier and chief doctor continually recommend the booster shot. Why would we want a third dose of some that doesn’t work?

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