In-territory diagnostics ready in Nunavut with GeneXpert in Rankin Inlet

Nunavut is now able to analyze more COVID-19 tests within the territory — and more quickly — now that a GeneXpert machine is approved and ready for use in Rankin Inlet.

Some medical travellers to Yellowknife will no longer need to quarantine before returning home

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. The territory is preparing to start slowly reopening on June 1, now that COVID-19 diagnostics are available in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. (Alex Brockman/CBC )

Nunavut is now able to analyze more COVID-19 tests within the territory — and more quickly — now that a GeneXpert machine is approved and ready for use in Rankin Inlet.

This means restrictions can be lightened within Nunavut, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, but the territory says it won't unveil those plans until next week.   

"This allows us to meet the need for in-territory diagnostic capacity," he said during a news conference on Thursday.  

"We are now in a better position to consider reducing some restrictions inside the territory." 

The GeneXpert can analyze a nasal swab in under 45 minutes. The ability to conduct rapid testing was a main priority for the government in its COVID-19 response plan.

There is already a GeneXpert machine in use in Iqaluit, where it is usually used for tuberculosis testing. 

Having two machines able to do rapid testing in both regional hubs means that swabs from communities can be flown to either Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit to be processed. 

Before, test results were taking around a week to come back. The government has said it will continue to have tests double-checked in southern labs.  

In the Kitikmeot region, swabs are sent to Alberta for testing. The health centre in Cambridge Bay isn't able to operate a GeneXpert machine. But if a test from a Kitikmeot community is positive, then swabs taken by a rapid response team during contact tracing in the community could be flown by charter to Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit, Patterson said.

Some medical travelling patients won't need to quarantine

To reduce restrictions further, the government is waiting for southern cities with connections to Nunavut, like Ottawa, to be more contained. 

"At this point we need to see that there is pretty much no community transmission in the jurisdictions that Nunavummiut commonly travel to and from," Patterson said. 

Medical travellers from Nunavut receiving care in Yellowknife are no longer required to quarantine for two-weeks before they can return home, Patterson said.

However, any patients who began their care in Edmonton and moved to the hospital in Yellowknife will still need to finish their quarantine in that city.

Patterson said as of earlier this week, there were 44 patients in quarantine at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife.

Reopening details pushed back 

The government is still finalizing it's plan for gradually reopening services. It was expected to release that plan this week, but now says it will be made public next week. An easing of restrictions is expected to start on June 1, according to health officials. 

"This needs to be done correctly to ensure our plan will work for Nunavummiut" said Premier Joe Savikataaq, while thanking residents for their patience.  

"COVID-19 fatigue is real," Savikataaq added. "Being tired or bored doesn't mean that this pandemic is over or that we should take it easy." 

As of Wednesday, there were 223 Nunavut residents being tested for symptoms of COVID-19.