IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut will no longer offer lab-confirmed testing for communities with COVID-19 to free up health-care resources.
Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said that means Nunavut's case counts will no longer reflect the total number of infections.
Laboratory PCR tests will only be used to confirm COVID-19 in communities without previous cases and for people and staff in high-risk settings, including long-term care and front-line health workers.
Patterson said rapid testing will be used in the territory and shipments of the kits are to arrive in Nunavut in the coming days.
"This necessary change will reduce the risk that our health system will be overwhelmed, which will put Nunavummiut with other health conditions at risk," he said.
Patterson added that once there is COVID-19 in a household with multiple residents, all members of that household who have symptoms will be assumed to have COVID-19.
Once all household members are asymptomatic for two to three days, they will be cleared from isolation, he said.
There are 244 cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut spread over 12 communities, the territory's largest outbreak to date. Patterson said the ages of those infected range from three months old to 80 years old.
Six Nunavut elders living at the Embassy West Senior Living Facility in Ottawa have also tested positive, Patterson said.
There are another six Nunavut residents in hospital with COVID-19 — some in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet while others are in Winnipeg.
Health Minister John Main said he expects COVID-19 to be in all of Nunavut's 25 communities by the end of the month.
"With that in mind, and recognizing there is a staffing shortage, we must manage our resources to balance COVID-19 response with Nunavummiut's access to other essential health-care services," Main said.
Premier P.J. Akeeagok said he has asked the federal government for help to increase health-care resources and distribute personal protective equipment across the territory.
Akeeagok said more housing is ultimately needed to make sure Nunavummiut can isolate safely.
"We know that overcrowding is contributing to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our communities," he said.
"We have never had this many cases of COVID-19 in our territory. Many of us know a few families who are grappling with this strain of isolation."
Akeeagok urged daycares in the territory to reopen so that essential workers can stay on the job.
"We need you more than ever before. I am asking that you reopen your doors to help our critical services (stay) operational," he said.
He said health-care workers, grocery store employees and waste management staff in communities are struggling to keep working and also take care of their children.
"Many of these critical services are now close to the breaking point. Staff are exhausted, balancing work as well as childcare, which is unsustainable for many."
Nunavut is under a territory-wide lockdown until Jan. 17, with all schools and offices closed and travel suspended.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan, 6, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook & Canadian Press News Fellowship
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press