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Supposed COVID-19 case in Nunavut deemed false positive; top doctor apologizes

Further test results on a person believed to have been Nunavut's first case of COVID-19 have come back negative, prompting an apology from the territory's top doctor.

Territory again has no confirmed cases of the illness

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, apologized on Monday for the false positive that last week indicated COVID-19 had arrived in the territory. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Further test results on a person believed to have been Nunavut's first case of COVID-19 have come back negative, prompting an apology from the territory's top doctor.

Nunavut said Thursday a person had tested positive in Pond Inlet, a community of just over 1,600 people on the northeastern coast of Baffin Island. But a second test showed it was a false positive, according to a government news release sent Monday. There are now no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory.

"Last week's result from Pond Inlet was re-tested and deemed a false positive," the news release says.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said this kind of double testing is part of the process, but also apologized.

"I'd like to apologize to Pond Inlet for the inconvenience we caused them — I caused them. And thank them for their hard work and co-operation," he said at a news conference on Monday.

After the territory announced what was believed to be its first case, 13 swabs were taken from people identified as having had contact with that person. There were initially 20 people identified via contact tracing, but health officials decided not to test all of them. 

Preliminary test results for those swabs were done in Iqaluit by the GeneXpert, a machine commonly used for tuberculosis testing. To confirm the results, a second set of swabs were then sent to a lab in Ontario.

Premier Joe Savikataaq told CBC's radio show Qulliq on Monday morning that all 13 swab results — collected through contact tracing in the community by a rapid response health team — came back over the weekend. They tested negative.

"As there were no other positive COVID-19 tests in Pond Inlet, we decided to ask for the original swab to be re-tested," said Patterson.

He said the initial false positive "came from a lab in the South."

WATCH | News conference on false positive:

Patterson said false positives depend a lot on the testing machine itself, and also how much COVID-19 is in the community being assessed.

"False positives are an issue that every jurisdiction has dealt with," said Patterson.

He said all labs experience false positives, so the result is not due to human error. 

"That's something that happens with all lab tests," he said.  

"We believe the individual in Pond Inlet does not and never did have COVID-19." 

He said the person involved has not been outside of Pond Inlet for some time, and contact tracing showed no one connected to that person had COVID-19. There is also is no increase in respiratory illnesses in the community. 

The rapid response team is now leaving the community.  

As of Monday, 266 people are under investigation for COVID-19 in Nunavut and 437 are cleared. 

Territory-wide public health restrictions remain in place, but additional safety restrictions related to the case in Pond Inlet are lifted.

Premier Joe Savikataaq said all swab tests done for contact tracing came back negative. (Beth Brown/CBC )

With files from Jackie McKay and Danielle d'Entremont

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