Officials say community transmission is at play in fast spread of COVID-19 in Nunavut
TORONTO -- After remaining COVID-19 free for months, Canada’s north has been struck with COVID-19 and it’s spreading worryingly quickly in a region ill-equipped to handle an outbreak.
On Sunday, ten cases were reported in Nunavut, more than doubling the territory’s count in the span of 48 hours. The vast majority of these cases were linked to an outbreak in a specific community: the hamlet of Arviat, with a population of just over 2,600.
Arviat is on the west coast of Hudson Bay, near the southern end of the territory.
“Due to the number [of] cases of COVID-19 in Arviat, anyone from Arviat who left the community on or after November 2 is being asked to immediately isolate for 14 days wherever they are,” Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, said in a press release. “In addition, to protect Elders in Arviat, there will be no visitors allowed at the Elders’ centre for at least two weeks.”
A new case in Rankin Inlet, a community slightly north of Arviat, which was also reported Sunday has been linked to Arviat, according to the release.
Out of the territory’s 18 active cases, only three are not linked to Arviat.
All of the individuals who tested positive are in isolation, the release stated. It added that community transmission is currently believed to be occurring in Arviat, as there is no clear links at this point between the patients to show how they became infected.
In early November, Nunavut was still the only area in Canada to be left untouched by COVID-19. Then, on Nov. 6, Nunavut’s chief public health officer confirmed the territory’s first case. Around a week later, eight cases had been reported.
Sanikiluaq, the community where Nunavut’s first case was reported, has around 850 people. As of Saturday, 63 tests had been done in the community, all coming up negative according to a press release.
Twenty-two other tests done in Rankin Inlet found no additional cases.
In all three communities, officials are stressing that residents should be isolating as soon as they believe they’ve been exposed.
“Contact tracing in Rankin Inlet, Sanikiluaq and Arviat continues, with the end goal to trace and contain the virus,” the most recent release states.
Restrictions were tightened in Arviat and the rest of the Kivaliq region, as well as the capital city of Iqaluit earlier this week. Non-essential travel between communities, especially inter-community travel requiring a stop-over in Rankin Inlet, should be avoided, according to officials.
Officials have warned for months that if the virus reaches the north, it could be disastrous, as many regions do not have access to things such as ventilators, or even PPE. The remoteness of many communities can make transporting PPE and patients even more difficult.
Some communities also lack appropriate health centres.
In Sanikiluaq, although a new health centre was built recently, it’s not open yet, according to Kenneth Bell, mayor of Iqaluit.
“Their old health centre just doesn’t have the capacity,” Bell told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.