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Here's why Nunavut will name a small community with a COVID-19 case

The territory's chief public health officer says when, or if, someone is diagnosed in Nunavut, he wants to make sure it doesn't cause widespread panic in all 25 communities. 

Chief public health officer says identifying community will lessen widespread panic

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, says the decision to name a community if or when a COVID-19 case is there is necessary, but 'different from our usual practice.' (CBC)

Nunavut's chief public health officer says officials in the territory will be identifying a specific community if someone there is diagnosed with COVID-19.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Nunavut, but Dr. Michael Patterson says when or if someone is diagnosed, he and his team of staff in the public health office want to make sure the announcement of a case doesn't cause widespread panic. 

"If we announce it and just that it's somewhere in the territory, there will be 25 communities of people who are very concerned and feeling the urge or the need to get tested or at least assessed at the health centres," Patterson said. He said the territory is not in a position to do that type of emergency response and surge of staffing in its health centres at once.

"By identifying the community where it is without any of the other specifics, we have the ability to shift staff into that community to do the work that needs to be done without overloading the other communities."

'Not something we take lightly'

Though it's in line with what's happening in Nunavik, which as of April 5 has five confirmed cases, Patterson called Nunavut's decision "an unusual step … that is different from our usual practice." 

It's also different from the protocol established by officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon. 

In Yukon, community leaders will know, while the public will not, while the Northwest Territories is keeping the name confidential unless it's in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik or Fort Smith. (The location of the N.W.T.'s first case outside one of those regions was confirmed by its MLA.)

Given the concern and the fear around COVID-19, we thought we had to be transparent.- Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer

But Patterson says it's necessary to name any of the communities in Nunavut when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We don't identify community numbers for things like tuberculosis or syphilis," he said. "But given the concern and the fear around COVID-19, we thought we had to be transparent both in the communication of the situation and in our response."

When asked if he thinks identifying a community will cause panic, Patterson said yes, but that it will be manageable. 

"I think it will cause concern in that community, but we can deal with one community that's got significant concerns, but we can't deal with 25 communities that have significant concerns." 

How will everyone find out?

Patterson says the first people to hear about a specific community case will be health staff in the community along with its mayor.

He says then all departments in the Nunavut government will be notified, along with the federal government. 

The territorial government will then hold a press conference to make the announcement to the public. 

Written by Alyssa Mosher, based on an interview by Juanita Taylor

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