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2 presumptive COVID-19 cases at Mary River Mine, says Nunavut's top doctor

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson announced 2 presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Individuals are asymptomatic, says Dr. Michael Patterson

A file photo of Mary River Mine. There are two presumptive COVID-19 cases at the mine, says Nunavut's top doctor. (Baffinland)

Nunavut's chief public health officer announced two new presumptive cases of COVID-19 at the territory's Mary River Mine on Wednesday — the second time a presumptive case has been announced at the mine this month.

The individuals are asymptomatic, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson in a news release. 

He said the two people, and their contacts, were immediately placed in self-isolation. He confirmed fewer than six people were currently in isolation, though the exact number is "too few to disclose."

"At this time, there is no evidence of transmission within the Mary River Mine site," said Patterson in the news release. 

He said the territory's public health team is ready to respond and give support, if needed. 

Patterson and Health Minister George Hickes provided an update about the presumptive cases at a news conference Wednesday.

Hickes said in the release that no Nunavut residents have worked at the mine since March, so the risk of COVID-19 spreading to the communities because of the two presumptive cases "remains very low."

"I applaud the mines for continuing to provide pay to their [Nunavummiut] employees for not going to work, as a health and safety measure," said Hickes.

Miss the press conference? Watch it here:

A statement from Baffinland Iron Mines — which runs Mary River — said an employee initially tested negative when they arrived at the mine site on July 7. They later tested presumptive positive.

"Test samples from each isolated employee were transported to Iqaluit for additional testing," the release Wednesday said. "These test results identified a second presumptive positive case among those isolated employees."

The company said two others are isolating, as a result. It said the transmission of the virus didn't occur on site, and is the "result of a localized southern cluster."

In a press conference Wednesday, Patterson confirmed there was a "link" between the false positive reported July 2 and these new cases, as the individuals had come into contact in the South before entering the territory. But they were not identified during contact tracing related to the the false positive.

Mine workers are not required to self-isolate before travelling to the mine sites. Patterson said preventing the workforce from coming into contact with communities "accomplishes the same goal."

Additional swabs were sent for testing to a lab in Hamilton, Ont., to confirm the results, said Baffinland. The results are expected to come back early next week, Patterson said. No health staff have been sent to the mine.

2nd time in a month

The Mary River Mine is located about 176 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet. This is the second time a presumptive case was announced at the mine this month.

A presumptive case of COVID-19 was reported there on July 2. The territory said on July 10 that the test came back negative after it sent the test to its accredited lab in Ontario.

The mine worker had tested positive twice on back-to-back days, but had not been showing symptoms; they were among several workers self-isolating since the case was first detected, the mine's safety director said at the time. Patterson said on Friday that the mine worker and their contacts were taken off self-isolation.

Baffinland Iron Mines said it was pleased with the negative test result on Friday. The company said its GuardRX mobile testing process at the site helped keep its site "COVID-19 free." 

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson announced two presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. He said the individuals are asymptomatic. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Patterson said Monday during a press conference that the mine's first presumptive case will remain presumptive.

"We can't fully classify it," Patterson said at the time. He said the mine was using test cartridges that weren't compatible with verified labs used by the Nunavut government. The government sent the mine a supply of compatible swabs, he said.

At the press conference Wednesday, Patterson reiterated that "no test in the world is 100 per cent reliable," but stood by the mine site's results.

Earlier, Patterson said the territory currently has a three-month supply of personal protective equipment in storage, at its current rate of usage.

Earlier in April, Nunavut's top doctor announced the territory's first case of COVID-19 in Pond Inlet, which was later determined to have been a false positive.

Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a confirmed case of COVID-19 so far.

As of Monday, there were 163 people in the territory being investigated by public health for COVID-19. In total, 1,553 have been investigated.

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