B117 variant arrives in Iqaluit, 9 new cases as Nunavut outbreak spreads

·6 min read
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, will provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in the territory Monday. (Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, will provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in the territory Monday. (Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson confirmed Monday that some of the territory's active cases are the B117 variant of COVID-19.

This variant may spread more easily then the original COVID-19 virus, but Patterson said current research says that the Moderna vaccine is effective against it.

There have been 21 swabs come back from variant testing and all of them have been the B117 variant. That information could mean that B117 is the only type of COVID-19 in the territory, as no other variants have been confirmed.

This variant was first detected in the United Kingdom, and is more likely to cause severe infection than the original strain of COVID-19.

Premier Joe Savikataaq announced nine new cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut on Monday. With nine recoveries, there are now a total of 47 cases in the territory.

Over the weekend, the number of cases in Iqaluit grew to 42 and two cases were reported in Rankin Inlet, after they travelled from Iqaluit on a Canadian North flight.

There are also three active cases in Kinngait. One person in Kinngait recovered over the weekend and in total since the beginning of the outbreak 13 people have recovered.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said the two cases in Rankin Inlet were not identified as contacts until after their flight had departed.

"There is no truth to the rumours that these people left Iqaluit waiting for their COVID[-19] test results," Kusugak said.

The two are now isolating in Rankin Inlet, he said.

Nunavut's Health Minister Lorne Kusugak put a stop to rumours that the two people on the flight to Rankin Inlet, who later tested positive for COVID-19, had known they'd been in contact with the virus before they left Iqaluit.
Nunavut's Health Minister Lorne Kusugak put a stop to rumours that the two people on the flight to Rankin Inlet, who later tested positive for COVID-19, had known they'd been in contact with the virus before they left Iqaluit. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Public health confirmed some positive cases in Rankin around 5 p.m. on Friday and began contact tracing around them. One of those people identified their contacts as two people who were currently on the flight to Rankin Inlet.

Health officials called Patterson at that point and with support of family members and health staff, found out where the two contacts were intending to stay and reached them there.

The contacts were tested at the Rankin Inlet health centre Friday night, so Patterson says by midnight Friday public health knew they were positive and they were in isolation.

An exposure notice for their flight was issued on Friday, but Patterson assured those worried about transmission to other communities that there has not yet been a confirmed case of transmission on domestic flights in Canada. However, he said anyone who leaves Iqaluit is still required to isolate for 14 days, per public health measures.

Karaoke night accounts for 20% of Iqaluit cases

A specific night at Iqaluit's Chartroom Lounge — April 14 — was identified as higher risk for exposure to the virus and on Saturday anyone who was at the bar that night was asked to immediately self-isolate and get tested.

"[The night] accounts for 20 per cent of current Iqaluit COVID-19 cases," Patterson said. A government notice went out last week identifying anyone who was at the Chartroom the nights of April 10 to 14 as at risk of exposure.

Patterson said this night fits the definition of a superspreader event and the rest of Nunavut's cases were transmitted through workplaces and private household get-togethers.

One of the main reasons for the large spread that night was because Wednesday is karaoke night at the Chartroom. There were also people moving between tables and tables at which more than six people were seated — despite the fact public health orders only allowed six people at a table at a time.

Hosting karaoke did not go against public health orders then, but it is against the rules starting Monday.

Patterson said the table-hopping was hearsay at this point and that he would not be making moves to fine the bar for breaching public health orders.

Back in December, the Chartroom was fined under the Public Health Act for breaching capacity restrictions on three separate occasions.

One night at the Chartroom Lounge is responsible for 20 per cent of Iqaluit's active cases of COVID-19 and being called a superspreader event by Nunavut's chief public health officer.
One night at the Chartroom Lounge is responsible for 20 per cent of Iqaluit's active cases of COVID-19 and being called a superspreader event by Nunavut's chief public health officer. (David Gunn/CBC News)

100 contacts identified

There are more than 100 high risk contacts identified via contact tracing and more than 800 people have contacted the COVID-19 hotline and are being investigated, Patterson said.

One case has yet to be linked to the rest via contact tracing, but Patterson said its too soon to say that there is community transmission. Community transmission exists when there are no obvious links between positive COVID-19 cases.

Before April 14, Iqaluit was testing 10 to 20 swabs a day. After COVID-19 was discovered that has jumped to more than 100 a day.

More than half of the cases in the territory have been linked to Canadian North. The airline said that the first case in Nunavut was a Canadian North employee.

Clarifications on restrictions

Public health is setting up screening testing for certain groups including the men's shelters, some correctional facilities, the Elders's centre and the boarding home. Testing is also available to cab drivers.

Patterson reminded Iqalummiut that they are not allowed to share cabs with people from different households and that masks are required in cabs.

Flights have been set up so that supply lines and critical travel are not interrupted and people can get to their home communities, but otherwise travel is not permitted.

"All interterritorial nonessential is restricted with [a] few exceptions. If you are not a medical traveller, essential worker or returning to the community you live in, you should not be travelling and could be fined under the [public health] orders if you do," Patterson said.

Most of those who are permitted to leave Iqaluit must isolate, and if they do not observe the 14-day isolation they may also be fined. Critical workers can shop once per week, if no one else can shop for them; otherwise they can only go to and from work and must wear a mask until their 14 days are complete.

While Patterson said he would consider allowing those who live alone to bubble with one other household at some point, he said right now it's too soon — people should be restricting contact as much as possible.

His reasoning was the same for why public playgrounds remain closed. Despite the fact that outdoor contact is less risky than indoor, some parks require staff to gather to maintain the sites and Patterson wants to avoid any unnecessary gathering.

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