Nunavut ramps up testing of COVID-19

Nunavut is going to start testing more people for COVID-19. Over 290 people are tested so far, but until yesterday, tests were mostly related to people who had travelled, or been in contact with a person who had travelled.

Anyone with symptoms can get a test, more swabs are on hand

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer speaks at a daily press conference on COVID-19. The territory is changing criteria for who can be tested for COVID-19, so it can test more people. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Nunavut will be testing more people for COVID-19, after chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson issued a new directive for health centres to test anyone who presented symptoms.

Those symptoms are fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Over 290 people have been tested so far, but until yesterday, tests were mostly related to people who had travelled, or been in contact with a person who had travelled.

The change allows nurses in community health centres to swab without a patient having a history of travel, and without approval from a physician or a nurse practitioner. 

Because no cases have been found yet, Nunavut still has the option to contain the illness, Patterson said. 

"We continue to be more aggressive in testing in the hopes that when we do find it we can maintain containment to limit spread from that individual or individuals," he said. 

It is taking between four and eight days for test results to come back, depending on flights. 

More swabs for each region 

Swabs are now available in every community. This week, the territory received a shipment of 3,000 more swabs. Each regional hub will see 1,000 of those, to distribute to communities. Those swabs have already arrived in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet. 

The swabs are issued by the federal government through the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile. 

"We can certainly collect swabs in every community, but what we can't do is swab everyone in any one community," he said. "We have received a few requests for that. It's not a good use of resources even if we had enough swabs for that."

A second shipment of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers arrived in Iqaluit this week as well. The territory's Health Department said it is working to send it out to health centres quickly. 

Last weekend, Suncor Energy sent 12,000 N95 masks to Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.

Patterson says restrictions for COVID-19 will stay in place for at least four more weeks. Nunavut's public health emergency was extended yesterday. The department says if it sees a severe case, the patient will be flown south for care. 

It also confirmed that the territory still has only seven ventilators, available in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. 

A ventilator is only used in Nunavut when a patient is in intensive care, and there is no full-time intensive care unit in the territory. That means any patient who is put on a ventilator would be medevaced. 

The territory has a request in for more ventilators.