COVID-19 confirmed at Iqaluit's jails, boarding home as cases rise

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut health officials say inmates at two of Iqaluit's correctional facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.

Three inmates from the Makigiarvik Correctional Centre and one from the Baffin Correctional Centre have been infected.

Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said Friday that all four inmates were in isolation at the Baffin prison and were separated from other inmates.

It wasn't yet known how COVID-19 entered the facilities, he said.

A fire at the Baffin Correctional Centre in March resulted in several dozen inmates being transferred to other facilities outside the territory.

Justice Minister George Hickes said there is currently enough space in the jail to isolate inmates who test positive.

"If there's a large outbreak in our facilities, we do have off-site measures that can be utilized. For security purposes, I don't want to go into details on that," Hickes said.

A staff member at Iqaluit's medical boarding home has also tested positive, which resulted in the cancellation of all flights for patients returning home until they are tested.

The boarding home takes in people from all over the territory who fly to Iqaluit to have access to Nunavut's only hospital.

Patterson said everyone working and residing at the boarding home and jails was being tested.

Patterson also provided other COVID-19 updates. He said that, as of Monday, about 75 per cent of the territory's current COVID-19 cases were symptomatic and most of the ill were in their 20s to 40s.

One person from Iqaluitwas medevaced to a hospital in southern Canada after developing complications from COVID-19.

Patterson also said there now is evidence of community transmission in Iqaluit, meaning public health officials are no longer able to trace the spread of the virus.

"Right now we have a number of incidents of community transmission where we don't yet know the exact link.

Masks are mandatory in public spaces in the capital, but Premier Joe Savikataaq said some people still aren't following the rules.

"I am shocked by how many people around Iqaluit aren't wearing masks. Come on guys, wear a mask. It works," Savikataaq said.

Iqaluit has been under a strict lockdown since April 15 after the city's first case was reported. All schools, non-essential businesses and workplaces are closed and travel in and out is restricted.

There were 61 active cases of COVID-19 in Iqaluit, four in Kinngait and two in Rankin Inlet on Friday.

All are believed to be the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, Patterson said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

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

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press