One month in, Iqaluit’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow
‘We have a very short summer and it seems that it’s getting shorter by the day,’ says Nunavut’s health minister
Iqaluit’s outbreak of COVID-19 continued to spread on Friday, exactly one month after the virus was detected in the Nunavut capital.
For the second day in a row, the Government of Nunavut reported 12 new cases in Iqaluit, bringing the seven-day average to an all-time high of 9.2 cases per day.
There were 78 active cases in Iqaluit, the only community in territory with confirmed cases of the disease, as of Friday.
Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says the majority of the spread continues to be from unsafe gatherings.
“Any kind of mixing between households indoors carries some risk of spreading COVID-19,” Patterson said during a news conference on Friday morning at the legislative assembly, adding that contact tracing teams have even seen spread at gatherings such as Mother’s Day celebrations.
“We’ve also seen unsafe gatherings outdoors where people are in close proximity and not wearing masks.”
As a result, case counts have gone up, as have the number of people in isolation.
There are 264 people in Iqaluit currently isolating. As that number grows, so does the risk that essential services, such as grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses that have remained open, will be impacted, Patterson said. Health staff are already being stretched by the demands of contact tracing, maintaining notifications and supporting people in isolation, he said.
Another challenge, Patterson said, is that many people in Iqaluit have refused surveillance testing because they feel it’s unnecessary or out of fear of being isolated.
“Isolation will only be necessary if you test positive for the virus,” he said.
Surveillance testing is also a way for health teams to detect people who may have the virus but aren’t showing symptoms, who may potentially be putting others at risk.
“This will not be successful without everyone’s cooperation,” Patterson said.
Health Minister Lorne Kusugak also reminded Iqaluit residents what was at stake.
“We have a very short summer and it seems that it’s getting shorter by the day,” he said.
“Please don’t take chances and think about all the others that are listening to these rules in hopes that they could have a very good summer, it’s still not too late.”
If new cases stopped appearing tomorrow it would still be 28 days until the outbreak could be declared over, Patterson said, though he also said there are ways to ease measures before then.
Given Iqaluit’s current vaccination rates and the prospect of soon vaccinating teenagers, Patterson said that their approach to easing measures may vary from what was done in the past, though he didn’t elaborate.
As of now, there are no plans to ease those measures, including creating bubbles for single people. In part, this is due to the frequency at which new households are becoming infected, Patterson said.
“The hesitation is because of the mixed message that it puts out when we ease measures in any way,” he said.
Any resident of Nunavut who thinks they may have been exposed to COVID-19, or Iqaluit residents who have attended a party in the last three weeks, are asked to call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. eastern time.
Individuals unable to contact the hotline can go to the cadet hall between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on weekday afternoons to be tested.
For updated information and resources on COVID-19, visit the Government of Nunavut’s website.
The government’s next COVID-19 updates will be held next Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. eastern time.