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'Reopen your doors': Nunavut premier issues plea to daycares to support essential workers

Education Minister Pamela Gross is working with daycares to discuss what support the Government of Nunavut can provide to help get daycare staff back in their facilities, and keep essential services running as Nunavut battles Omicron.

Critical services nearing breaking point as staff face exhaustion, Premier P.J. Akeeagok says

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson provided an update on the COVID-19 situation in the territory at 11 a.m. ET Thursday morning. (CBC)

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok says critical workers in the territory can't keep working at their current pace to keep essential services running.

During a news conference Thursday, Akeeagok issued a special plea for daycares to reopen.

"We need you more than ever before. I am asking that you reopen your doors to help our critical services [stay] operational," Akeeagok said.

"Our health care workers, store employees, water and waste management workers must go above and beyond to help our territory during this severe wave of COVID-19. Many of these critical services are now close to the breaking point. Staff are exhausted, balancing work as well as child care, which is unsustainable for many."

Akeeagok said Education Minister Pamela Gross is working with daycares to discuss what support the Government of Nunavut can provide to help get daycare staff back in their facilities.

  • Missed the live update? Watch it here: 
  • Akeeagok was joined at Thursday's news conference by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson and Human Resources Minister Adam Arreak Lightstone.

    Lightstone said staff in his department have been working "around the clock" for the past few weeks to address the government's staffing needs.

    He asked public servants, including those deemed essential, to only go to their workplace if required. Only employees who are critically essential should be working from the office.

    The territory remains under a lockdown until Jan. 17, but Lightstone said there is no guarantee government offices will reopen at that point — that depends on the situation. A new update will be provided if continued closures happen.

    Changes to testing

    Nunavut will no longer offer lab-confirmed testing in communities where COVID-19 is known to be present, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said in a news release Thursday morning.

    That's to help free up scarce health resources. It means COVID-19 case counts in Nunavut "will no longer reflect the total number of infections in our communities," Patterson stated.

    During the news conference, Patterson added that laboratory staff need the capacity to do other diagnostics that are just as important as COVID-19 testing, including testing for tuberculosis and testing blood for serious health conditions.

    Laboratory PCR tests will now only be used to confirm COVID-19 in communities where it has not already been detected or in other congregated facilities, such as elders' homes. Otherwise, rapid tests will be used. 

    The move toward rapid testing is meant to help protect other essential health care services, Health Minister John Main said in the same news release. 

    "We fully expect that COVID-19 will be in all our communities over the next month as  travellers return to Nunavut," he stated. 

    People with COVID-19 are asked not to call or go to their health centre unless they have severe symptoms or it's an emergency. 

    Everyone in a household with COVID-19 will be assumed to test positive, and will be allowed to leave isolation "once everyone in the home has been asymptomatic for two to three days."

    If you have symptoms — runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever or difficulty breathing — call the COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET. 

    Current COVID-19 situation

    Patterson said during the news conference that he's aware of six Nunavummiut in hospital right now with COVID-19. He said people have been admitted to the hospital in Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and in Winnipeg.

    Akeeagok said there are now 244 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory.

    They include:

    • Arviat: 48
    • Baker Lake: 1
    • Cambridge Bay: 1
    • Chesterfield Inlet: 2
    • Igloolik: 17
    • Iqaluit: 72
    • Kinngait: 23
    • Pangnirtung: 19
    • Pond Inlet: 1
    • Qikiqtarjuaq: 5
    • Rankin Inlet: 45
    • Sanirajak: 10

    There is also one presumptive case that's still being confirmed in Whale Cove, as well as one in Sanikiluaq.

    Patterson issued a reminder for people to isolate properly. He said health officials have received reports that some people have been using take-home tests and, if they get a negative result, leaving isolation early.

    "This increases the possibility that you will spread COVID-19 to other people," he said.

    Nunavut elders test positive in Ottawa

    There are now six Nunavut elders at the Embassy West seniors living facility in Ottawa who have tested positive for COVID-19.

    The facility first reported COVID-19 cases among its staff on Dec. 30.

    Akeeagok said it's the first outbreak among the resident population at that facility since the pandemic began.

    He also noted that renovations at the elder care facility in Iqaluit are close to being finished, and the government is anticipating that facility will reopen later this month.

    On Wednesday, Nunavut Health Minister John Main said Nunavut's health department is sending a staff member who speaks Inuktut to Ottawa to help make sure the elders receive "the best possible care and support."

    There are about 40 Nunavut elders living at the Embassy West facility, which provides care for seniors with complex needs such as dementia.

    Last week, Main said that while Embassy West had some interpreters available, his department was seeking to add more interpreter support.

    "Many elders down there do not have family or essential caregivers in the Ottawa area and as such, we are arranging travel for essential caregivers who are able and willing to assist their loved ones during this time," he told CBC News. 

    Last fall, families of some residents called on the Nunavut government to send the elders back to Nunavut.

    They said they were concerned about the elders' safety because of the lack of Inuktitut-speaking staff at the facility.

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