Sanikiluaq was “joyful” to hear about COVID-19 recoveries, mayor says
Lockdown continues in the community, which is also recovering from a windstorm and staff shortages
Sanikiluaq was the first community in Nunavut to have a positive case of COVID-19, and the first to then have recovered cases.
When residents heard the two cases were said to be recovered, they wanted to have a parade, said mayor Johnnie Cookie over the phone.
“It was very joyful when we heard,” he said, but he had to step in and say no to the parade because public health orders are still in place that restrict gatherings.
The first case was announced on Nov. 5, and the second on Nov. 9.
“The town was silent because Dr. Patterson asked people not to go anywhere or to have social gatherings,” Cookie said.
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, enforced these rules as an attempt to contain the two positive cases.
Public health officials were flown into Nunavut’s southern-most community of about 800 people, which is on the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay.
While he didn’t see the health officials himself, Cookie said he was in close contact with the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Health.
Health staff were tracking down the people who had been in contact with those infected, testing them and making sure those who had been in contact were isolating.
As of Nov. 20, 119 swabs from Sanikiluaq had tested negative.
This was a scary time, Cookie said, because he knew from the news that anyone could get COVID-19. He was scared for his community, and for himself.
Amidst the fear, Cookie was dealing with turmoil that had nothing to do with the virus.
In early September, a windstorm swept through Sanikiluaq, blowing the roof off the hamlet building.
“Everything seemed to have evolved since our hamlet office roof blew off,” Cookie said.
Cookie was busy moving his workspace into trailers that were left empty after contractors, who were building a new health centre, left town.
“Everything seemed to happen at the same time,” he said. “Everything was hectic for a while.”
Along with relocating and setting up a temporary office space, the hamlet’s senior administrative officer, Alison Drummond, also recently resigned, Cookie said.
“Seems that her time was over,” Cookie said. “She’d been here for three years.”
Her departure meant that it was hard for Cookie and his remaining staff of two to see who needed help during the lockdown, he said.
There is some funding available, Cookie said, like the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s emergency grocery vouchers that people can apply for.
Cookie was in the process of moving to a different temporary space again, on Tuesday, Nov. 24, when he spoke with Nunatsiaq News.
“Now we’ve moved here. It’s good to have more space, we were so cramped.”
Once he’s settled in the new space and has phone lines connected and computers hooked up to the internet, Cookie said he’ll start looking for more funding to help for people in his community who need help with food.
Nunavut followed a “world-wide standard” when it declared the two cases of COVID-19 recovered, Patterson said at a news conference Monday.
From the time someone starts showing symptoms, or that a swab is collected, 10 days later they’re no longer infectious, Patterson said.
Monitoring is continuing in the community. Once everybody who is known to have been in contact with the people who tested positive is in isolation, and their test results are negative, then health staff will no longer need to be contact tracing, Patterson said.
The outbreak itself will be declared over 28 days after the last person was infectious, he said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the community will be in lockdown for 28 days, though.
“We have ways to alter the restrictions as appropriate before then,” Patterson said.
As restrictions eventually start to lift, life will continue to move on in Sanikiluaq. The hamlet is receiving applicants for its administrator position. Cookie hopes to have someone on the job early in the new year.
The GN will eventually help to build a permanent home for the hamlet offices, Cookie said, or they will relocate to the old health centre.
That depends on the new health centre opening, which was supposed to happen in January. It may be on hold now because of COVID-19, Cookie said.
But he said moving into the new temporary space, looking for a new SAO, and having two recovered cases of COVID-19 feels like a fresh start.
“I’m always hopeful,” Cookie said, “I always try to do my best as mayor for my people.”