Tally of probable COVID-19 cases rises at Nunavut’s Hope Bay mine
“We’re responding to our first outbreak that at least started partly in Nunavut”
As more workers at TMAC Resources Inc.’s Hope Bay gold mine appear to have been infected with COVID-19, Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, is now calling the cluster of cases an outbreak.
On Friday, Oct. 2, there were 10 potential COVID-19 cases at Hope Bay, which is located about 125 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay: two confirmed positive cases declared on Sept. 21, seven presumptive cases reported on Sept. 28 and another presumptive case reported on Oct 2.
“We’re responding to our first outbreak that at least started partly in Nunavut,” Patterson said on Friday, Oct. 2, during a Government of Nunavut news conference on COVID-19.
The latest presumptive test result came after five more swabs were sent from the mine to Rankin Inlet for testing.
Of those five swabs, one tested as a presumptive positive and has been sent on for confirmatory testing, three others yielded negative results, and the result from the remaining swab is pending, Patterson said.
It was “really unlikely” that, with two confirmed positives at the mine site, any presumptive positive results would turn out to be false positives, he said.
Meanwhile, all non-critical workers who have tested positive or are at high risk of being infected with COVID-19 have been isolated, he said.
“Critical staff contacts who have to keep working for the safety of the other workers are working until they can be replaced,” Patterson said. “Those staff are keeping strict measures to keep isolated from those around them.”
They are wearing masks, he said, and if they develop symptoms, they will be isolated.
Nunavut’s rapid response team for COVID-19 will be on the site until next week, he said.
The mine outbreak is “concerning,” Patterson said.
But he said the risk to Nunavummiut remains low because no Nunavut-based workers are on site and there is no contact between the mine and any Nunavut communities.
How the new coronavirus spread at the mine is still uncertain, but, with this outbreak, transmission and acquisition of COVID-19 has occurred in Nunavut, Patterson said.
This means that Nunavut, which has no far declared no positive cases of COVID-19, may count these new cases as taking place in the territory.
The COVID-19 cases are disturbing, Jason Neal, the CEO and president of TMAC, told Nunatsiaq News earlier this week.
Neal said he felt “really awful” for all the affected workers and their families.
TMAC will follow any GN directives “100 per cent,” he said.