Western Nunavut eyes COVID-19's impact on southern health care

As western Nunavut grapples with its first case of COVID-19, residents are keeping an eye on the N.W.T. and Alberta, where Nunavummiut are used to traveling for specialized health care.

About 25 people are now isolating in Kugluktuk after hamlet sees 1st COVID-19 case

Kugluktuk residents line up in front of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association office, which is offering gift certificates to vaccinated residents of this community of about 1,500. The hamlet reported its first case of COVID-19 on Sept. 21. (Submitted by Ross Taptuna)

So far, the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases affecting hospitals in the Northwest Territories and Alberta have not affected medical travellers from western Nunavut.

"It's the same as it would have been two months ago or six months ago," said Robyn Clarke, the executive director of Kitikmeot health services for the western Nunavut region's five communities.

People are still traveling south for medical appointments, she said, "and they're either isolating in isolation hubs on their way home or they're coming home and isolating at home."

The Government of Nunavut has agreements with the N.W.T. and Alberta to supply specialize health care services to the roughly 7,000 residents of western Nunavut.

Only a few non-urgent appointments from the residents have been postponed, Clarke said.

"However, we anticipate there may be some interruption," she said.

Still, Nunavut continues to be concerned for its southern partners and what they are dealing with, she said, even though no one from the territory has had to be transferred yet to hospitals outside Yellowknife and Edmonton.

About 25 now isolating in Kugluktuk

A single case of COVID-19 was declared in Nunavut's westernmost community of Kugluktuk on Sept. 21.

That was the first positive case in western Nunavut since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of Tuesday, Nunavut had COVID-19 cases in Kugluktuk, Kinngait and Iqaluit, and enhanced restrictions in Arviat, which have since been lifted after about 80 people tested negative for the virus. (CBC Graphics)

To stave off a larger outbreak in Kugluktuk, Nunavut's health department has ramped up its vaccination and testing program in the community.

As well, about 25 individuals are now in isolation in Kugluktuk. These include contacts of the known case and those have any symptoms.

Clarke said Nunavut continues to encourage everybody to become vaccinated and is testing anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms.

That will enable health officials to know more quickly if there are any new COVID-19 cases in communities, she said.

"We are always on heightened alert. I think are pretty well prepared and luckily we have been able to hold it off for 18 months from our region," Clarke said. "That's helped us and the territory get into a better position where we have a better opportunity to react when we do have a positive case."

Gift certificates for vaccines

To that end, an appointment-only vaccination clinic for anyone 12 and older is taking place Saturday at Kugluktuk's Jimmy Hikok Ilihakvik Elementary School.

Efforts to encourage people in the community of about 1,500 to become vaccinated have been backed up by the regional Kitikmeot Inuit Association. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and KIA are handing out gift certificates as incentives to those who have been vaccinated, including a $25 voucher for people who've had one dose, and a $50 voucher for those who've had both.

That prompted many to line up this week at the KIA office in Kugluktuk.

Government of Nunavut statistics show that, as of Sept. 21, 67 per cent of people in Kugluktuk 12 and over have received their first dose and 57 per cent have received second doses.

That's close to the regional tally, in which 61 per cent of people over 12 have had both doses and 73 per cent have had one.


Jane George is a reporter with CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous community newspaper awards.