More nurses to support Nunavut COVID-19 response

The Government of Nunavut says more nurses from outside the territory will help respond to active outbreaks. The territory is also changing its contact tracing procedures and urging residents to get vaccinated.

Nunavut officials also announced 4 new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Resolute Bay

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok speaks to media in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly on Jan. 13, 2022. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The Government of Nunavut says more nurses from outside the territory will help respond to active COVID-19 outbreaks. 

"The federal government has assisted with resources, including two nurses for Rankin Inlet," said Nunavut Health Minister John Main. "The Red Cross has also provided assistance with six nurses to assist with the COVID-19 response in Igloolik, Baker Lake and Taloyoak — the communities currently with the most COVID-19 cases outside of Iqaluit."

This comes after the federal government arranged in January for three nurses and nine contact tracers to help respond to the wave of cases associated with the Omicron variant in the territory. 

According to Main, these nurses will be doing work specifically related to COVID-19, including testing, contact tracing and administering vaccines. 

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Main said the health department is also working to increase staffing for the COVID-19 hotline to reduce wait times and speed up access to testing. 

But he said the territory's response to COVID-19 continues to be "a situation of dealing with limited resources," both in terms of healthcare staff and in terms of safe and sufficient places for COVID-positive people to isolate. 

"We're limited in what we have on housing stock — and I know that our premier has pointed that out repeatedly on the federal level, in terms of the health impacts that our ongoing housing crisis has," said Main. "And we also have limited human resources in terms of health supports that we can provide.

"So that's the context in which we're trying to operate." 

Nunavut to scale back contact tracing

To make the best use of those limited resources — and in the face of more highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 — Nunavut is planning to change how contact tracing happens in the territory. 

"Universal contact tracing — trying to contact trace around every case — is pretty much impossible with Omicron," said Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Michael Patterson. "The national and international consensus is increasingly that, in most cases, it's not the best use of resources."

Instead, Patterson said the territory is planning a new approach where contact tracing will focus on congregate care facilities (such as long-term care homes), critical services and other high-risk settings, with "much less reliance on contact tracing in other settings."

However, contact tracing will still be used in situations like the ongoing outbreak at the Cambridge Bay Continuing Care Centre, where 13 staff and clients have now tested positive for the virus. 

"Fortunately, all the elders at the centre are fully vaccinated and have had their booster, which will reduce the risk of serious illness," said Main. 

Vaccine uptake 'a team effort': health minister

At Tuesday's press conference, Nunavut premier P.J. Akeeagok once again urged all eligible Nunavummiut to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. 

"We all know that the best way to protect ourselves, our elders, our children and our communities is through vaccination," he said. 

Since December 21, the government said approximately 2,370 first doses and 2,000 second doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered in the territory. The territory has also delivered approximately 12,500 booster shots to date. 

"The vaccines are safe," said Main. "The vaccines are effective. So please, if you are not vaccinated, please get the dose or doses that you need as this is a vital step to reducing harm from COVID-19 outbreaks."

Main also reaffirmed his support for vaccine mandates throughout the territory.

"I don't see any coherent argument against vaccine mandates … I support vaccine mandates," he said. "I'm very thankful to all the municipalities and the City of Iqaluit who have brought forward vaccine mandates, [and I] encourage more hamlets to go that route. 

"It's a team effort in terms of trying to get more Nunavummiut vaccinated."

COVID by the numbers

Prior to this morning's briefing, Nunavut officials announced four presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Resolute Bay — the first cases to reach the High Arctic community.

On Tuesday morning, Patterson announced 22 new reported cases of COVID-19 in the territory, in addition to the four presumptive cases in Resolute Bay. 

There are no changes to the public health measures in Resolute Bay at this time. 

This makes a total of 366 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut: 16 in Arviat, 18 in Baker Lake, 18 in Cambridge Bay, two in Chesterfield Inlet, 11 in Coral Harbour, one in Gjoa Haven, 38 in Igloolik, 130 in Iqaluit, 12 in Kinngait, six in Kugluktuk, four in Qikiqtarjuaq, five in Pangnirtung, six in Pond Inlet, 34 in Rankin Inlet, nine in Sanirajak, 15 in Sanikiluaq, 38 in Taloyoak and three in Whale Cove. 

There are now no confirmed cases in Kugaaruk, Naujaat or Kimmirut. 

According to the Government of Nunavut, of the 19 Nunavummiut they can confirm have been hospitalized with or for COVID-19, 10 were unvaccinated, two had one dose, six had two doses, and the vaccination status of one person is unknown.

With files from Luke Carroll