IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut's chief public health officer says house parties and visits between households are to blame for a rise in COVID-19 cases in Iqaluit, but vaccination rates have also climbed in the capital.
Dr. Michael Patterson says he knows of at least three house parties in Iqaluit where COVID-19 was transmitted.
As a result, anyone who attended a party in the last three weeks in the city is being asked to call a COVID-19 hotline and get tested.
"Visiting and social gatherings are the main causes of spread in Iqaluit right now. These activities put people at risk and will extend the outbreak if they continue," Patterson said Thursday.
Although indoor and outdoor gatherings are banned in Iqaluit, Patterson said public health officials will not report people to law enforcement who have been to a house party and call the hotline.
He said no one has been fined as a result of the house parties.
Iqaluit has been under a strict lockdown since April 15. Travel is restricted and all schools and non-essential businesses have been closed.
Meanwhile, 80 per cent of Iqaluit's adult population has received at least one dose of the Moderna vaccine, the only vaccine currently offered in Nunavut.
As of Wednesday, half of Nunavut's total adult population were fully vaccinated.
Anyone who travels to Iqaluit from elsewhere, including for medical care, must isolate for 14 days when they arrive home to prevent spreading COVID-19 to other communities, Patterson said.
There were also 10 active cases of COVID-19 at Iqaluit's Baffin Correctional Centre and all inmates were isolating on site.
Patterson said the new cases were likely contracted before COVID-19 was discovered in the jail. A mass COVID-19 screening was to take place Thursday or Friday to see if there has been transmission within the facility.
Baffinland's Mary River mine near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, stopped production Wednesday because of a COVID-19 outbreak. There were 23 active cases at the mine, and staff will be transferred to Southern Canada to complete their isolation periods.
On Wednesday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people ages 12 and up. Although the Northwest Territories started offering the Pfizer vaccine to 12 to 17 year-olds on Thursday, Patterson said Nunavut isn't there yet because of cold storage requirements.
"The difficulties in getting that out into remote communities — it's a big challenge for everyone," Patterson said.
"We're looking at all options including if there's an opportunity to use Pfizer in the near future for at least some children in Nunavut."
As of Thursday, 30 of Iqaluit's COVID-19 cases have been children.
There were 86 active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut and three people have been hospitalized in Ottawa since the first case was declared in Iqaluit on April 14.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press