Another presumptive positive case has been added to the seven presumptive cases awaiting confirmation at Nunavut's Hope Bay mine, bringing the total to eight possible cases.
Nunavut's chief public health officer said at a news conference on Friday that there is little risk to residents. The territory's mines have been isolated from the public and no Nunavummiut are working at the mine. If those cases are confirmed as positive they may count as Nunavut's first because transmission of the virus occurred in the territory.
Whether they count as Nunavut's cases will be determined by discussions with the public health teams in the employees' home jurisdictions, but Dr. Michael Patterson says it does appear cases originated in the territory.
The presumptive cases were announced on Monday and swabs were sent to a southern lab for confirmation.
TMAC Resources Inc.'s Hope Bay mine is about 125 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.
The company contacted the chief public health officer on Saturday to say an employee at its mine was showing symptoms.
After contact tracing, samples were sent to Rankin Inlet for testing and seven samples came back positive; those were sent to a southern lab for confirmatory testing.
Nunavut's rapid response team was sent to the mine and have since identified five more people to be tested, which happened Thursday night.
One came back positive, three negative, and the final one's results were unclear. The positive test is the eighth presumptive positive case. All have been sent to a southern lab for more testing.
Another eight swabs will be delivered to Rankin Inlet Saturday for testing.
The rapid response team is expected to be on site until the middle of next week. When they return to their home communities they will be expected to isolate in their homes.
Mandatory masks rules updated
Nunavut has changed the wording of its requirement that essential workers wear masks for the first two weeks in the territory.
While the public health order previously required essential workers to wear masks at work and when physical distancing could not be maintained, now they will be required to wear masks at all times outside their dwellings.
Nunavut's chief public health officer says this change is in response to the rise of cases in Southern Canada.
Essential workers are able to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine in a southern hotel before coming up to Nunavut, because their services are deemed critical.
'Really concerning for us': mine
Jason Neal, president and CEO of TMAC Resources, said he didn't have a theory for how COVID-19 may have spread at the Hope Bay mine. He said the workers in quarantine were mostly asymptomatic and that he knew of just one with a fever.
"It's obviously really concerning for us. We take it extremely seriously. We're continuing to look for opportunities to improve our procedures," said Neal, adding that the mine is isolated from the rest of Nunavut.
Neal said they're taking advice from the Nunavut government, and this crew's shift is being extended to accommodate a 14-day quarantine period. The next shift will bring in an almost entirely new crew.
"Is it possible that a new crew that comes in has an infection? Yeah, that's obviously possible, and so we will be remaining very diligent," he said. "But this infection that we have now, the procedures will be designed such that it doesn't perpetuate beyond this group."
On Monday, Hickes said the risk to Nunavummiut was "very low."
Halloween is a go
Halloween will be allowed to go ahead with door-to-door trick-or-treating in Nunavut, as long as the risk for COVID-19 stays the same as it is now, Patterson said.
Patterson said Nunavut is prepared to allow "some degree" of indoor trick-or-treating as well, so kids in communities, like Arviat, are not at risk of polar bear attacks.
The government of Nunavut will be releasing guidelines about how to participate in the holiday safely.
If there is any increased risk of virus transmission in a community, Patterson said they will make adjustments so kids can still celebrate Halloween.
COVID-19 at northern mines
Northern mines have reported a number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Two COVID-19 cases were confirmed at the Hope Bay mine on Sept. 19. The Nunavut government said the recent presumptive positives don't appear to be connected to the previous two confirmed cases.
Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories confirmed two cases over the summer.