Omicron confirmed in Nunavut
Fast-spreading COVID-19 variant forces territory to change its approach to testing disease
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.