Origin of Iqaluit’s COVID-19 case remains unclear

Lockdown will remain ‘as long as we need to figure out if there’s community transmission,’ says Patterson

Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson speaks at a news conference Thursday morning following the announcement of Iqaluit’s first case of COVID-19. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq is urging Iqaluit residents to remain calm, following the first case of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut’s capital.

“I know a lot of people are very worried and anxious right now, that is normal … this was always something we knew could happen and we are prepared,” Savikataaq said at a Thursday news conference.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said his team doesn’t yet know how the virus got into the territory, but the individual who tested positive is an essential worker who was exempt from the territory’s isolation requirement for people entering the territory.

Canadian North confirmed it is one of the airline’s employees who tested positive.

The worker had been in the territory for 16 days and started showing symptoms about two days ago, meaning the virus could have been caught in Iqaluit, Patterson said.

Contact tracing is ongoing and, as of midnight on Wednesday, over 10 Iqaluit residents have been identified as potential contacts with the person who tested positive.

So far, Patterson said, the positive case has not been linked to any public events, but the government became aware of it Wednesday night, adding more information will come in the next couple days.

Patterson said details on where the individual has gone in the community would not be released at this time.

Essential workers coming into Iqaluit without isolating in the hubs are supposed to stay home as much as possible and wear masks when out in the community. Patterson said if someone breaks these rules — on purpose or by accident — it won’t be made public to avoid the blame game.

“It makes it so exempted workers or people who have symptoms don’t want to participate in contact tracing, don’t want to isolate and don’t want to be blamed.”

“In order for contact tracing to be successful, individuals need to have confidence that we’ll maintain their confidentiality.”

Tracing and controlling the virus in Iqaluit will be different from other Nunavut communities because of its bigger population and a greater potential for the virus to spread, Patterson said.

But he said there are reasons to be optimistic because Iqaluit, as Nunavut’s capital, enjoys access to more resources, and there are more options for spaces to isolate if needed.

“The situation is very different from when COVID arrived in November because we’ve got the vaccine and the highest-risk individuals are already fully vaccinated.”

The goal is now to stop transmission as soon as possible, Patterson said.

Only those who have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 or are showing symptoms can get tested in Iqaluit at this point, Patterson said.

The positive COVID-19 sample has been sent for testing to determine whether the strain in Iqaluit is a variant. Patterson said this will take at least a week, but the results will be made public when they are confirmed.

Patterson said it is “extremely unlikely” the case is a false positive since the sample was tested multiple times and on multiple instruments.

Vaccine clinics in Iqaluit and all other communities are going on as planned and Patterson said appointments made to get the vaccine are staying as-is.

He said those who have received one dose have their risk of a severe infection reduced by at least 80 per cent and those with both doses risk of severe infection is reduced by about 94 per cent.

Moderna released a report on Tuesday that says both doses of the vaccine are more than 90 per cent effective at preventing cases of COVID-19 altogether.

More than 3,400 Iqalummiut have the Moderna vaccine and over 2,000 of those people have received both doses.

Patterson said he could not confirm whether the person who tested positive for the virus has received the vaccine.

Across Nunavut, 13,937 people have received the first dose and 10,128 have received the second.

Iqaluit entered Stage 4 — the strictest level of public health measures — on Thursday. Schools are closed for the rest of the week, non-essential businesses are closed and Qikiqtani General Hospital is only providing emergency services. Other Baffin regions and Rankin Inlet entered Stage 2 on Thursday as a precaution.

Patterson said he can’t say how long the lockdown in Iqaluit will last.

“We’ll stay in as long as we need to figure out if there’s community transmission.”

Masks are now mandatory in Iqaluit. Patterson said the mask mandate will be enforced if needed, starting with warnings and possibly escalating to fines if the orders aren’t being followed.

Emergency medical travel has not been affected, Patterson said.

The Government of Nunavut will announce daily case counts and updates starting Friday.

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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by 1..2..3..swab…done…results on

    It would probably take just as long as my Name* to get the swab done. About 5-10 seconds can save a whole community/territory/grandma/grandpa/dad/mom/aunt/uncle/siblings, etc. hopefully you got the picture.
    Why don’t they test all ppl coming up North?
    Your spending is up in the billions for these hubs. People aren’t paying for a penny, the least they can do is get swabbed and they’re done with it. That’s the only way they’ll know where the source is coming from. Geez. I’d want to get tested so I won’t feel bad for taking it up here and possibly spread it around. Think of all the people who can contract this virus and die.
    Believe me, I’d feel guilty for the rest of my life if I brought it up and someone dies. I’m not blaming anyone though.

    • Posted by Baffin on

      Agree 💯 percent
      All essential workers should be tested at Day 5 and Day 10
      As in Atlantic Canada.
      All people going up north as essential should have both vaccines.
      The Inuit own this Land
      Don’t add to the problem by not being tested and being vaccinated x2
      If the essential workers are safe
      Then the Inuit might have a chance!

      • Posted by Misinformation Has No Place on

        The Inuit own parts of this land – there fixed that for you.

        Don’t spread misinformation, there is enough of it out there as it is.

    • Posted by The Old Trapper on

      Blame the federal government for not putting the resources behind getting an accurate instant (15 minute) portable test. No single province really would have the resources to do this on their own.
      I’ve said it before, we need to start a Royal Commission at the federal, provincial/territorial, and even at the municipal levels to review what was done right, and what was done wrong.
      As soon as there was a hint of 1) airborne transmission, 2) asymptomatic carriers, and this was actually speculated early on in the pandemic, the governments (federal, provincial/territorial, municipal) should have taken rapid and strict measures.
      It is not like there was no precedent for this happening. Yes the Spanish flu was over 100 years ago but this is almost a repeat of what happened (for most countries). Live and (don’t) learn.
      Stay safe Iqaluit.

      • Posted by Observer on

        Given that the fastest tests currently available in the world take 30 minutes and can only detect high viral loads (so they aren’t nearly as accurate as other tests), blaming the federal government for not doing something that has thus far proven impossible seems a tad unreasonable.

        • Posted by The Old Trapper on

          The federal government should be involved in procuring testing kits and distributing them the same as they do for vaccines.
          The feds failed in many areas. Testing was just one of them. Porous borders is another. Not coordinating a nationwide response is another.
          I live in Ontario now. You don’t think Premier Ford has failed in his handling of the pandemic? Look at the numbers. I track daily infections and deaths in every province every day, (along with a few other countries).
          New Zealand – 2,591 infections + 26 deaths
          Vietnam – 2,780 infections + 35 deaths
          Australia – 29,505 infections + 910 deaths
          Canada – 1,117.990 infections + 23,550 deaths
          Numbers don’t lie, politicians do.

  2. Posted by Privileged on

    Although Premier and top doctor may give a free pass, no one is immune.

  3. Posted by Ted on

    “ Origin of Iqaluit’s COVID-19 case remains unclear”
    Will I think we all know it came from a essential airline worker as most of the employees are sick and cargo right now is being limited.
    Something has to be done with these essential workers if they don’t have to isolate then maybe start testing them, with the variant that is much more infectious something has to be done more. I am really hoping what we have here in Iqaluit is not the variant. Stay home, masks, wash hands often and stay safe,

    • Posted by Isolate on

      The source is obvious?

      I doesn’t seem so. Just because the airline seems hardest hit doesn’t mean anything.

      These staff live together, travel back and forth to and from work together, and spend hours in cargo and baggage compartments together. Of course no one has to explain how physically hard that job can be so is it any wonder one case turns into many in a scenario such as this?

      I don’t think the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” mantra applies here.

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