Positive COVID-19 test confirmed in worker at N.W.T. mine, three more workers awaiting tests
Mine worker is a Yellowknife resident, chief public health officer asks for 'calm'
A confirmed positive case of COVID-19 was reported Friday at the Gahcho Kué Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories. The case was identified in a mine worker, and three more workers are in isolation at the mine awaiting tests.
The worker, a Yellowknife resident, had been in isolation since Wednesday waiting for a second round of testing and no additional exposures occurred, according to a statement Friday from the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
The positive case was confirmed after all the workers who were thought to have been exposed to a presumptive case in a different individual were retested.
Public health is completing a "thorough investigation to determine potential contacts that may have occurred within the past 14 days," the territory's news release says. The Gahcho Kué mine is also conducting a review of its current sampling processes.
No announcement of a presumed positive case of COVID-19 preceded Friday's announcement of the positive case. This is because the latest tests were sent to Stanton Territorial Hospital where equipment is now validated to confirm positive results.
Contact tracing is underway but it is too soon to confirm the source of the transmission, who or where the index or initial contact case is, and whether this points to community spread.
"It is too early to know what the nature of this transmission is," said Mike Westwick, manager of COVID Communications for the Department of Health and Social Services. "What the public needs to know is that we are working hard to get all the information required to characterize the risk to our communities, and we will report back as soon as we have additional information.
"The focus is now on contact tracing, isolating and testing because these are the most crucial steps we can take to keep our communities safe."
In an emailed statement to CBC, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola asked for calm.
"While it is natural to feel anxious right now, we all must remember that it was inevitable our territory would get more cases," Kandola said.
"We are not, and were never, immune to the effects of this pandemic. We need to normalize that fact. Because to respond effectively, all must stay calm, stay aware of symptoms, and take precautions – no matter where we are or what the local COVID-19 situation is."
Kandola reiterated the importance of physical distancing, mask-wearing, the avoidance of large crowds and frequent sanitizing with soap and water, or sanitizer, to keep safe.
Earlier this week, a presumptive case of COVID-19 was reported at the mine but the territory said on Wednesday it was a false alarm. At the time, the territory said that person was in isolation in a designated isolation area onsite along with 18 potential contacts out of an abundance of caution.
The other employees have been confirmed negative in follow-up testing and will stay in isolation until further directed by the chief public health officer, according to a statement from the De Beers Group, the owner of Gahcho Kué. It added that three other employees were placed into isolation at the mine, located about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, as a result of contact tracing and are set to be tested.
The risk of further transmission within the mine is considered to be very low, the company says, due to mandatory mask use and other measures.
Since May, the company says it has done 2,400 tests at the mine "without incident."
"The circumstances around this matter are of deep concern and we are reviewing testing protocols to identify how this case was not detected earlier," the company's statement read. It says it will continue to work with health authorities with the territory and the mine.
With files from Walter Strong