Halfway through lockdown, Nunavut top doctor expects cases will keep rising

The Nunavut government gave an update Wednesday morning, reporting 153 active cases. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says residents who have tested positive for the virus are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.

New active cases increased by 11 on Wednesday, leaving territory with 153 active cases

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says residents who have tested positive for the virus are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. As of Wednesday, there are 153 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. He expects cases to continue to rise over the coming weeks. (CBC)

Nunavut reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the active cases to 153. 

The new numbers were announced as Nunavut officials gave an update Wednesday morning on the COVID-19 situation in the territory.

Eight new cases are in Arviat, bringing the community's cases to 115. Three new cases have been confirmed in Whale Cove for a total of 19. 

On Tuesday, nine new cases were reported in Arviat and one new case was reported in Rankin Inlet, where the community has a total of 19 cases.

"All individuals with active COVID-19 are in isolation and they are well, with mild to moderate symptoms," the territory said in a release Wednesday. "Contact tracing in all impacted communities is ongoing and public health staff are monitoring everyone in isolation."

Top doc says testing early not always reliable

After exposure to the virus, there are a few days of incubation, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson during the news conference Wednesday.

That means early testing might not always be reliable, he said adding testing people more than once will deplete resources. He urged residents to follow isolation protocols.

He said he expects cases to continue to rise over the coming weeks. 

"During these first days after exposure to the virus the majority of tests will be false negatives," Patterson said.

"Testing does not replace isolation."

He said the two combined are the only way to curb transmission right now. 

Missed the government update? Watch it here:

He says washing hands, cleaning high touch surfaces and wearing masks indoors helps a lot. 

As of Wednesday, Rankin Inlet has seen 164 negative test results. In Arviat, there are 386 negative tests so far, and in Whale Cove, 58 negative results. 

There's still no evidence of community transmission in Rankin Inlet or Whale Cove, the territory says.

Community transmission happens when people who are not on a known contact list get sick.

Contact tracing teams in Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet are not seeing this happen, he said. 

Masks a struggle during territory-wide lock-down

There are no known cases remaining in Sanikiluaq, where two cases were previously reported, but the community is being monitored.

Of 11 new active cases reported in Nunavut Wednesday, eight are confirmed in Arviat, pictured here, and three are in Whale Cove. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

The territory has completed week one of a two-week lock down. 

Masks are currently mandatory in the Kivalliq region. But while masks are being encouraged indoors elsewhere in Nunavut, and many businesses require them, Patterson says some residents are struggling to access masks. This becomes a barrier for getting food, he said. 

"Right now it doesn't seem appropriate to make masks mandatory across the territory," Patterson said. 

Overcrowding in homes is a concern for transmission of the virus, but it is possible to keep safe when you live with a large number of people, Patterson said. 

 "We do see some houses that are overcrowded but there is very little transmission between individuals," he said. That's when safety measures like cleaning and mask wearing are followed. 

Isolation for infected, travelling residents

For residents who test positive while travelling in the South, they have to be free of symptoms for 24 hours before returning to the territory, Patterson said. 

Where people stay while recovering out of territory depends on their circumstances and what part of their travel they test positive, he said. They could stay in a personal residence, in their own hotel or in an isolation hub. 

There is one person currently in a hub who is waiting to go home. 

No one has isolated in a medical boarding home, Patterson said. 

"We're in this for the long run and we need everyone doing their part," Premier Joe Savikataaq said during the live briefing. "I know this virus can be disheartening and draining."

He thanked essential and front line workers as well as parents working from home while taking care of their children. 

As of Wednesday, 4,712 people have been followed in Nunavut since the pandemic began, for potential contact or symptoms of COVID-19. Currently, 813 people are being followed. Two people are reported as recovered. 

On Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Micheal Patterson said health teams are "working around the clock" to trace, test, isolate and contain the spread and that it would take some time to see if the current public health measures are working.

How exactly COVID-19 entered Nunavut is still unknown, Patterson said.

Anyone in Nunavut who may have had contact with COVID-19 is asked to call the COVID hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., or to notify their community health centre, and isolate at home for 14 days, the Health Department said. 

The department is asking residents not to visit their community health centres in person.

The press conference will air again later in the day on CBC Radio.