Nunavut mine says presumptive COVID-19 case contained, 9 people are isolating

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation says there are nine people in isolation at the Mary River Mine because of a presumptive case of COVID-19. 

One worker sees false positive from mine's mobile test unit

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation says workers are tested for COVID-19 when they arrive at the Mary River Mine, located 176 Kilometres outside of Pond Inlet, and again five days later. (Submitted by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation)

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation says there are nine people in isolation at the Mary River Mine because of a presumptive case of COVID-19. 

The case was announced Thursday by the government of Nunavut, after the mine notified the territory Wednesday evening that an out-of-territory worker had tested positive for COVID-19 two days in a row. 

There have been no other cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. 

Everyone in isolation is doing well.

"We don't have anybody that's displaying any symptoms and they will continue to be tested basically every twelve hours. And they will remain [in isolation] until a minimum of 14 days," said Tim Sewell, the senior director of health and safety at Mary River. 

The positive result from the mine's mobile testing machine came after the worker had been at the mine for five days, said Sewell. 

Worker is asymptomatic

Right now, all workers are tested as soon as they arrive at Mary River, and are required to isolate until that first result is processed on site, he said. 

Five days later, another test is done. Sewell said it was during this second round of testing when the worker tested positive. 

"We immediately initiate our pandemic response plan," he said. 

Mine staff are wearing masks and physical distancing where possible. 

The case will continue to be called presumptive until swabs can be tested at a verified lab in Ontario, Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said in a news conference July 2. He expects those results early next week. 

Swabs are being sent to Iqaluit now so they can be flown south, Sewell said. 

Another case of COVID-19 was reported in Pond Inlet on April 30, but was later found to be a false positive.

Mary River Mine is located 176 kilometres outside the community of Pond Inlet, where a case of COVID-19 was identified April 30. That case was later deemed a false positive. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Sewell says the worker who tested positive isn't showing symptoms. The mine's medical experts say the presumptive case is mild, and it's unlikely that the worker is contagious.

"The individual tested positive and was at the very low end of the scale in terms of infection," said Sewell. "Meaning, it was very difficult to pick up, but it still resulted in a positive test."

Out-of-territory workers flying into Mary River for work rotations don't have to isolate before coming to Nunavut, because mining is considered critical work by Nunavut public health officials. 

The workers have no contact with communities. The mine is 176 kilometres outside of Pond Inlet and all Nunavut workers were sent home in March. 

Keeping the mine as an "encapsulated workspace" is the best way to manage risks and avoid seeing COVID-19 spread anywhere else in the territory, he said. 

Another worker had a false positive at the mine

Baffinland says besides the worker whose case is presumptive, one of the nine people in isolation also tested positive. 

But this same person later tested negative twice in a row. That person's test results are not being considered as a possible case of COVID-19.

"We believe it was just a contaminated sample," he said. 

They are isolating as a precaution and tests from all of the workers in isolation are being verified in the South. 

Around 3,600 tests have been done at the Mary River Mine so far. Production will continue, but Sewell said the company "wouldn't hesitate to shut the operation down" if the situation changes and employees are put at risk. 

"I can't tell you what would trigger that," he said. "Right now our situation is completely under control."

Also on Friday, a new case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the northern Quebec community of Puvirnituq. The source of infection there is still unknown.