COVID-19 cases grow in Iqaluit's vulnerable populations

Case counts in the city's jails and shelters are rising, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said Monday. However, most of the COVID-19 transmission in Nunavut's capital is still a result of parties and people visiting each other indoors.

Iqaluit Elders' Home emptied after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says just over 50 per cent of Iqaluit adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Jackie McKay/CBC News)

Case counts in Iqaluit's city's jails and shelters are rising, Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said at a news conference on Monday.

However, most of the COVID-19 transmission in the city is still a result of parties and people visiting each other indoors, Patterson said. Last week three parties had been identified as causing virus transmission in Iqaluit; he said another party happened this weekend. 

No charges have been laid against people breaking isolation rules, but Patterson said the RCMP are investigating a few complaints. In one case, Patterson said he understood there was enough evidence to proceed with charges. 

Findings from contact tracing, like the parties, can't be turned over to law enforcement, Patterson said. The active investigations that could result in charges come from complaints that are not related to the parties, but to individuals with COVID-19 who broke isolation. 

Five individuals who are fully vaccinated have tested positive for COVID-19. All or most are asymptomatic, Patterson said. 

"The fact that only five have occurred indicates that the vaccine is effective and is consistent with all the data coming out about how effective it is at eliminating infection," he said.

Just over 50 per cent of Iqaluit adults have been fully vaccinated, Patterson said. 

WATCH | Dr. Michael Patterson gives update at news conference Monday:

Continuing a trend from the weekend as of Monday, the number of people recovering from COVID-19 was outpacing new cases, and all 70 of the territory's cases were concentrated in Iqaluit. 

There are now six cases of COVID-19 among the residents of the Uquutaq Society's men's shelter and 12 positive cases isolating at the Baffin Correctional Centre. 

After a mass screening last week, Patterson said the government will know in a week or so whether there is transmission in the jails. At this point, all inmates have been isolated for a while already. 

There are now two alternative isolation sites in the city: the Frobisher Inn and the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre. 

Thirteen people are isolating at the Aqsarniit Hotel and 10 at the Frobisher Inn. Anyone with "higher needs," such as addictions management, is at the Frobisher, where the government is providing the needed support. 

Patterson took a moment to discourage certain habits that can spread COVID-19, such as sharing cigarettes. 

Being outside gathering in groups — without masks and without physical distancing — can put the entire group at risk, he said. 

Staff member at Iqaluit Elders' Home tests positive 

A staff member tested positive for COVID-19 at the Iqaluit Elders' Home over the weekend, prompting it to be emptied. 

The Iqaluit Elders' Home has been closed and elders moved out of the facility after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. (Patrick Nagle/CBC )

Four elders were flown to Embassy West care home in Ottawa, one returned home to be with family and another went to another elders' home in the territory. All six elders were tested on Friday before they were moved out. That screening test, which happens weekly at the home, was how the case was initially detected. 

With most of the staff in isolating, Patterson determined there wasn't enough staff left to provide safe care for the next two weeks. 

"When we lose not only nurses but other staff to something like this, in most communities in Nunavut there's not a large pool to draw from on short notice," he said. 

While essential workers were some of the first in the territory to be offered the option to be vaccinated, not all decided to get the vaccine, which is how the virus entered the facility, Patterson said. Later in the news conference, he said he didn't know the vaccination status of the person who tested positive. 

"It's a personal decision for everyone and … it's not appropriate to start outing people in that way," he said. 

Kinngait restrictions to ease

On Saturday, the last active cases in Kinngait recovered. With that change, Patterson said it is safe to ease restrictions in the community effective Wednesday.

The travel ban in and out of the community will be lifted, though anyone returning from Iqaluit must still isolate for 14 days if they return to the community. 

Masks are still mandatory, but indoor gatherings of five people plus a household will be allowed. Outdoor gatherings can grow to 50 people with physical distancing. Arenas and other indoor public places are allowed to be open at 50 per cent capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. 

The community's schools will move into stage three, which is a blend of in-school and remote learning. Elementary school students will be in class three days a week and middle and high school students will attend in-person two days a week, with staggered schedules and no group activities. Daycares can reopen.

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