Two COVID-19 cases confirmed at western Nunavut gold mine
“No evidence of transmission” at TMAC’s Hope Bay mine, says chief public health officer
(Updated Sept. 21, 7:50 a.m.)
Two mine workers at the TMAC Resources Inc.’s Hope Bay gold mine have tested positive for COVID-19, the Government of Nunavut said late on Saturday, Sept. 19.
“Both miners are asymptomatic and were immediately isolated and swabbed for the virus,” said Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, in a news release.
Both infected miners were exposed in their home jurisdictions, Patterson said.
Although the exposure took place before they travelled, “this was not identified until they arrived at the mine site,” he said.
They were swabbed and isolated at the mine site Sept. 16.
On Sept. 19, the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg confirmed these test results from the GeneXpert testing device in Rankin Inlet, he said.
Patterson said there is “no evidence of transmission within the Hope Bay site.”
The Nunavut Health Department’s public health team is ready to provide “support and respond if, and when, necessary,” he said.
The Hope Bay mine is located about 125 kilometres south of the western Nunavut hub of Cambridge Bay.
The mine is “isolated” and no Nunavut residents currently work there, said Nunavut’s health minister, George Hickes, in the release.
All Nunavut-based workers at TMAC were sent home from the mine site in March to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 confirmed in any Nunavut communities.
“The risk of COVID-19 spreading in our communities because of these cases remains very low. We are closely monitoring the situation and we will keep Nunavummiut informed if anything changes,” Hickes said.
In late July, TMAC boosted its pandemic prevention efforts by instituting pre-flight rapid COVID-19 testing at Edmonton for all inbound southern workers, Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president for corporate social responsibility, told Nunatsiaq News last month.
“Our continued challenge in bringing back Nunavut workers is the absolute need to prevent COVID-19 from entering Nunavut,” Buchan said.
“Although our new testing program and other measures have proven highly effective, these steps cannot guarantee that COVID-19 could not be introduced to our mine site, and then onto Nunavut communities through Nunavut workers.”
TMAC said on Monday, Sept. 21, that the two positive cases of COVID-19 had not impacted the mine’s operations.
“There is no travel embargo on Hope Bay going forward while the two workers remain quarantined and there are no further symptoms on site,” TMAC said in a release.
These workers had “very limited interaction with other staff at Hope Bay prior to their isolation due to COVID-19 safety measures at site,” its release said.
“Both workers remain asymptomatic and there are no symptoms among the remaining workforce at site.”
The news of the TMAC COVID-19 cases comes two days after Nunavut extended its public health emergency until Oct. 1 and Baffinland Mines Corp. reported a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 at its Mary River mine site.
This is not at all surprising. People are receiving visitors from outside while in Quarantine or simply walking right past the guards and leaving quarantine. I witnessed it myself in Ottawa and I have heard similar stories about Yellowknife. I witnessed one gentleman returning from lunch with some friends downtown Ottawa. It’s not the guard’s fault, it’s hard for them to know who is a regular guest at the hotel and who is on quarantine. While the rest of Nunavummiut suffer through quarantine and following the rules, it only takes one person putting their needs above other’s to ruin it for all of us. As far as I am concerned, COVID has likely made it to the territory through people like this, we are just lucky enough that no one has been severely sick enough for it to be caught. If we are going to continue to spend so much of taxpayers’ money, those on quarantine should be required to wear a colorful bracelet or some other identifying item that they cannot be removed until they leave quarantine (similar to what they do at theme parks) and we should test people and shorten the length of the quarantine period.