Cory McFarlane of Winnipeg checks out a giant Inukshuk in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. It's been just over two weeks since Nunavut declared its first case of COVID-19, but it's still unknown what exactly contributed to the rapid spread of the virus that's infected 84 people in the territory of about 39,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

‘Hardship is not a new thing’: Nunavut fights COVID-19 as cases continue to rise

‘Hardship is not a new thing’: Nunavut fights COVID-19 as cases continue to rise

IQALUIT — It has been just over two weeks since Nunavut declared its first case of COVID-19, but it’s still unknown how 84 people were infected so quickly in the territory.

Nunavut is home to about 39,000 people. Its 25 fly-in-only communities are spread over three time zones.

Arviat, on the western shore of Hudson Bay where about 2,800 people live, had 58 cases as of Friday. Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, says it’s the only place where there’s evidence of transmission from household to household within the community.

There are also 13 cases in nearby Rankin Inlet, 11 in Whale Cove and two in Sanikiluaq. But those cases are all within the same households.

John Main, who represents Arviat-North and Whale Cove in Nunavut’s legislative assembly, says it’s “hard to see” how housing issues wouldn’t have contributed in some way to COVID-19’s rapid spread.

“It’s no secret that we’re in a housing crisis. We’ve had issues around housing for many, many years … Things like multiple generations of families living in one unit, people sleeping in areas that are not meant to be bedrooms,” Main says.

But Main says it’s not just housing that makes Nunavut more vulnerable to COVID-19. Food insecurity, a high unemployment rate and low educational attainment levels are all contributing factors, he says.

“We know that there’s all these things that are working against us, these things we have to battle alongside COVID now.”

Nunavut Housing Corp. figures show 56 per cent of Nunavut Inuit live in overcrowded homes. A recent report on Nunavut’s infrastructure gap from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. also notes 41 per cent of homes need major repairs.

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and health policy expert based in Winnipeg, says with a long incubation period, usually four to six days, it’s easy for an asymptomatic person to spread the virus without knowing they’re infected.

“All it takes is one case to get in” she says. “When you’ve got many people close together within a building, that’s exactly the risk factors for spread.”

Last week, Nunavut ordered a territory-wide two-week lockdown to control the spread. Carr says looking at other countries, it usually takes 18 or 19 days to see the effects of a lockdown.

“It will be interesting to see if it’s different for Nunavut,” she says.

The territory’s only hospital, Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, is more than 1,200 kilometres from Arviat. It has 25 beds, but no intensive care unit. Rankin Inlet has a health centre with six beds.

Patterson says if someone needs to be hospitalized because of COVID-19, they would be brought to Rankin Inlet or transferred to the South.

“If anybody is in a situation where they need ongoing fluid, oxygen, or life support, they obviously can’t stay in a health centre and will need to go to a southern hospital,” Patterson says.

Typically, Nunavummiut who need medical care not available in the territory are flown to Edmonton, Winnipeg or Ottawa. But with cases rising in Southern Canada and hospitals in Manitoba reaching full capacity, Patterson says his team is looking at other options.

Last week, Patterson said the territory’s capacity to respond to its COVID-19 outbreak is “stretched” and the federal government is ready to step in if necessary.

Main says although cases in Arviat continue to rise, he’s confident Nunavummiut will “get through this,” as they’ve done before.

“Elders have been sharing their life lessons putting things in context, the younger generations need to keep this in mind” Main says.

“Hardship is not a new thing and it’s not something that will beat us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.

___

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

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Man killed in two-vehicle collision near Penhold, says Blackfalds RCMP

A 46-year-old man is dead following a two-vehicle collision on Highway 42… Continue reading

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Canada's top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track for new COVID-19 infections as case counts continue mounting in much of the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
COVID-19 cases in Canada remain on troubling course, Tam says, amid rising numbers

Canada’s top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track… Continue reading

hay
Hay’s Daze: Giraffe knows filling wishes can sometimes be a tall order

Last weekend, I had a lovely breakfast. “So what?” you may say.… Continue reading

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says tonight's public video gaming session with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about reaching young people where they hang. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP leader stoked over ‘epic crossover’ in video gaming sesh with AOC

Singh and AOC discussed importance of universal pharmacare, political civility, a living wage

A south view of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf breaking apart is seen from Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut, in an Aug. 20, 2011, handout photo. The remote area in the northern reach of the Nunavut Territory, has seen ice cover shrink from over 4 metres thick in the 1950s to complete loss, according to scientists, during recent years of record warming. Scientists are urging the federal government to permanently protect a vast stretch of Canada's remotest High Arctic called the Last Ice Area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CEN/Laval University, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Scientists urge permanent protection of Last Ice Area in Canada’s High Arctic

Tuvaijuittuq has the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $55 million Lotto Max jackpot

No winning ticket was sold for the $55 million jackpot in Friday… Continue reading

Most Read