Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, speaks at a news conference in Iqaluit on November 6, 2020. He says the territory's capacity to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 is stretched and that's why the government has shut down business, schools and non-essential services for two weeks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter

Capacity ‘stretched’ as Nunavut deals with rising COVID-19 cases: top doctor

Capacity ‘stretched’ as Nunavut deals with rising COVID-19 cases: top doctor

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut’s chief public health officer says capacity to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 is “stretched,” which is why the government has shut down the territory for two weeks to try to get cases of COVID-19 under control.

The territory reported its first case Nov. 6 and the total has jumped to 70 in less than two weeks.

Dr. Michael Patterson says the Health Department has “some reserve capacity”— but not much.

“Knowing that we’re close to our limit in terms of capacity right now, that’s the rationale for bringing these orders in place,” Patterson said at a news conference Wednesday.

Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut’s health minister, said the federal government has assured him it will step in with “as much help as they can” if needed.

“We don’t want to have to go there, but if there was a need … for the military to come and give us support, that they would be able to go to that extent,” Kusugak said.

Arviat, a community of about 2,800 people, has 54 of Nunavut’s active cases, eight are in Whale Cove and six are in Rankin Inlet — all along the northwestern coast of Hudson Bay. Two other infections are in Sanikiluaq, the southernmost community in Nunavut.

Patterson said all the infected individuals are isolating at home and doing well.

He said it’s “too soon to tell” if earlier public health orders in Arviat have stopped community transmission, nor can he point to any event in particular that contributed to the spread.

The situation is not as bad elsewhere, he added.

“In other communities, things are more stable. We’re at, or certainly closer to, having it stabilized and contained.”

Patterson said it’s still not known how exactly the novel coronavirus made it to Nunavut, which had been free of COVID-19 for the first eight months of the pandemic. An investigation continues.

Premier Joe Savikataaq urged Nunavummiut to follow public health orders that came into effect Wednesday.

“Don’t visit outside your household. Don’t gather or socialize. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary,” Savikataaq said.

“This is it, folks. It’s time to take a stand and fight against COVID-19. We need you all to make sacrifices now to protect our communities.”

All schools and non-essential businesses are closed, as are libraries, fitness centres, government offices and personal services.

Health centres are closed except for emergencies and the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit is not accepting walk-ins.

Gatherings are restricted to five people and are not allowed in homes.

Masks are mandatory in communities with active cases of COVID-19 and are “strongly recommended” in all other places.

In Iqaluit, streets were quiet and parking lots mostly empty on the first day of the shutdown.

Some residents wearing face masks and with their parkas braced against gusting wind carried groceries home or waited in line outside the Canada Post office.

Two weeks ago, face masks were rarely seen in the capital. Now, no one can enter a grocery store without one.

Northmart, one of two food stores in the city, had shorter wait times Wednesday compared with long lineups the night before.

Nunavut went into a similar shutdown in March, but restrictions were lifted over the summer because the territory hadn’t had any cases.

There is some in-territory testing in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. Patterson said the machine in Rankin Inlet can handle four tests an hour, while the one in Iqaluit can do eight.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press