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Nunavut schools head for remote learning as classes are set to resume Monday

Schools in Nunavut will move to remote learning next week, but there's no guarantee they will reopen for in-person classes on Jan. 24. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson is expected to make a decision later this week about reopening schools.

At least the first week of classes will be done virtually; return to in-person classes isn't certain

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, Health Minister John Main and Education Minister Pamela Gross provided a COVID-19 update Tuesday morning. (CBC News)

As schools in Nunavut prepare to resume classes next week, Education Minister Pamela Gross says at least the first week of classes will be held remotely.

During a news conference Tuesday, Gross said the plan right now is for students to learn online for a week and then return to schools in-person on Jan. 24. However, that's ultimately up to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, who is expected to make a decision later this week about schools reopening.

"Whether it's provided through our online platform ... or through take-home learning packages, remote instruction beginning on Jan. 17 will be assessed and will count toward the final grades," Gross said.

"It's important to remember the situation of COVID could change at any time, based on the direction of [Patterson]."

Nunavut is also cancelling January diploma exams for Grade 12 students. Gross said her department will make decisions around the April and June diplomas at a later time.

Ulaajuk Elementary School in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in April 2019. Students in Nunavut will be learning remotely next week, while schools are tentatively expected to reopen Jan. 24. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Gross said students who were supposed to write January diplomas will have their school mark count for the entirety of their overall mark.

Gross also said the government has about 5,000 digital devices that it's distributing to schools to help with online learning.

The devices are meant to support high school students and teachers, but Gross said schools can give them to any students who need them.

COVID-19 at Arviat elders home

Gross, Patterson, Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Health Minister John Main all appeared Tuesday morning for a live COVID-19 update.

Main announced an outbreak at the Andy Aulatjut elders care centre in Arviat, where six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Missed the update? Watch it here:

He said the virus hasn't spread to elders at the facility yet, and no elders are considered to be high-risk contacts.

"We have a number of casual staff who cover shifts at the elders home in Arviat, and staffing levels remain stable," he said.

He added the facility is an assisted living facility, meaning many of the clients there are relatively independent and don't require as much support from staff as at other types of facilities.

Main said his department is also still keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 outbreak at the Embassy West seniors living facility in Ottawa, where roughly 40 Nunavut elders currently reside. The outbreak that spread to the elder population there has now infected eight Nunavut elders, but Main said one is now considered to be recovered.

Premier still pushing for federal supports

Akeeagok said the federal government has supplied Nunavut with N95 masks and take-home rapid test kits, but the territory still needs help in the form of nurses and other health care staff. The territory also needs urgent housing capacity so people who have COVID-19 can isolate safely.

He said he reiterated those needs during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and premiers across the country on Monday.

Main said the major barrier for increasing health care capacity is a lack of human resources.

"We are in bad need of assistance on the human resources front to respond to COVID-19. That is our key bottleneck right now, in terms of doing more," he said.

Updated case counts

On Tuesday morning, the territory announced more people in Nunavut are now recovering from COVID-19 than testing positive for it. That news comes less than a week after the territory stopped testing people in communities where the virus is known to be present.

Patterson said during the news conference that the drop in cases is in part due to the drop in testing, but also because the territory cleared a backlog in reporting recoveries in Nunavut.

"We were able to audit those numbers over the weekend and confirm that there were a number of people who had been cleared from isolation at the community level," Patterson said.

Patterson also announced in a news release Tuesday morning five new cases of COVID-19. Twenty-six more Nunavummiut have recovered.

One of the new cases is a presumptive case in Taloyoak. This means it is believed to be COVID-19 but health officials are waiting for that to be confirmed.

Nunavut currently has 192 active cases of COVID-19, not including the presumptive case. Those numbers will not include people who got the virus but were not tested. 

The case count per community is:

  • 21 in Arviat
  • 16 in Cambridge Bay
  • 4 in Chesterfield Inlet
  • 8 in Coral Harbour
  • 2 in Igloolik
  • 55 in Iqaluit
  • 22 in Kinngait
  • 8 in Pangnirtung
  • 1 in Pond Inlet
  • 4 in Qikiqtarjuaq
  • 35 in Rankin Inlet
  • 1 in Sanikiluaq
  • 8 in Sanirajak
  • 7 in Whale Cove

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