North

6 new cases of COVID-19 in Iqaluit, over 200 in self-isolation

The B117 variant of COVID-19 appears to be the only type of the virus in Nunavut, according to Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson.

Nunavut has 50 active cases of COVID-19, all appear to be B117

The B117 variant of COVID-19 appears to be the only type of the virus in Nunavut, according to Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. (Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press)

The B117 variant of COVID-19 appears to be the only type of the virus now circulating in Nunavut, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said in a press conference Wednesday. 

Other jurisdictions have been able to control the spread of this variant with public health restrictions and vaccinations, he said. 

Six new cases were reported Wednesday. The territory has 50 active cases, with 46 in Iqaluit, two in Kinngait and two in Rankin Inlet.

There are more than 200 people in isolation in Iqaluit. Some additional contacts have been identified in communities without active cases and are isolating. 

Patterson says public health is still trying to catch up to the chain of transmission in the city. He said it's likely the virus was in Iqaluit for seven or eight days before it was detected. 

Contact tracing 4 days behind

Right now, he estimates they're four days behind catching up with contact tracing. Four days behind means that public health is finding people and asking them to isolate about four days after they've been exposed.

One case in the city still has not been linked to the other cases in the territory. 

Public health has contact-traced the person and gone over possible exposures up to two weeks back, but still has not been able to link them. Patterson says they are trying to find a source for their infection, but public health is also balancing out this hunt with tracing other cases. 

No cases have stemmed from this unlinked person, according to Patterson. 

Patterson called this case an "event of community transmission", but clarified that community transmission doesn't describe accurately what's happening in Nunavut now, as all other cases can be traced back to a specific source.

The majority of Iqaluit's COVID-19 cases are adults, but there are a few — too few to specify a number for privacy reasons — positive cases who are under 18.

Lockdown since April 15

Iqaluit has been in lockdown since April 15 and everyone was supposed to be limiting their contacts as much as possible. Businesses, schools and restaurants in the capital are all closed, Premier Joe Savikataaq said Wednesday, noting he'd seen confusion on social media to the effect that there were no restrictions in Iqaluit. 

If individuals feel that people are breaking the public health orders, for example, by having parties, Patterson directed them to call the local RCMP.

So far in Nunavut, the only fines that have been laid under the Public Health Act, have been the ones to the Chartroom Lounge last year for breaching capacity restrictions.

Will vaccination affect public health measures?

A large number of Nunavummiut are well protected because they have been vaccinated. As of Wednesday 15,528 people have received their first dose and 12,285 have received their second. 

But Patterson said now is not the time to modify public health measures.

"In the midst of an outbreak, it's not appropriate to be thinking about that kind of a change," Patterson said. 

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots are available in all Nunavut communities. The two doses of vaccine are being administered about a month apart in the territory. (Francine Compton/CBC)

Patterson remarked that this outbreak has increased interest in getting the vaccine, but the government is still working on encouraging people to get vaccinated with the goal of 100 per cent of adults eventually protected by the vaccine. 

He said in some cases the government is reaching out to individuals and asking them to make an appointment. 

The Northwest Territories recently changed their isolation rules for fully vaccinated people entering the territory. 

On day eight of isolation, vaccinated people — who haven't left Canada —  can opt for a test and if it's negative then they can leave isolation, but are still required to follow strict distancing rules. Patterson described the rules as similar to the rules for Nunavut's critical workers, where they must wear a mask indoors. 

"It's attractive for reducing the burden of isolation, they've done some very specific modelling for their own circumstances and population and I have not had a chance to look at it yet and see if it's applicable for Nunavut,"  Patterson said. 

Isolation: what you need to know

After a positive test, the time needed for isolation can vary depending on a person's situation, but the shortest isolation time would be 10 days. 

For those told they've been exposed to COVID-19, Patterson says a full 14 day isolation is required. 

"A negative test is reassuring, but it does not mean that isolation can end early. When isolating, you should not go to work or go shopping, and if someone in a house is isolating you should not be having any visitors inside the house," Patterson said. 

Miss the press conference? Watch it here: 

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak acknowledged the hard work of health care staff during the pandemic. He said he has been told that nurses on the COVID-19 hotline have been suffering verbal abuse from those calling in. 

"Show our staff patience, compassion and understanding. They deserve that at the very least. Your fears and frustrations are not an excuse to mistreat or harass them," Kusugak said. 

He said he knows the system is not perfect, but says everyone is working hard.

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