The spike of new cases of COVID-19 in Arviat is related to gatherings in homes, according to information collected by the government of Nunavut.
Nunavut's chief public health officer said in a press conference Monday morning that multiple households are affected, some of those households had COVID-19 in the early stages of the outbreak late last year, and some did not.
Dr. Michael Patterson said there's two possible ways that COVID-19 reappeared in Arviat, one is that it was never really gone from the community, the other is that there was a new introduction of the virus, but contact tracing has not yet turned up evidence of a new introduction.
Two new COVID-19 cases were reported in Arviat Monday morning. In a news release, the government of Nunavut said all individuals are asymptomatic, doing well and are isolating, bringing the total number of active cases to 17.
Patterson says Arviat has a young population, which means it's not surprising that the individuals are asymptomatic, as complications from the virus are more likely in older individuals.
Missed the press conference? Watch it here:
Cases surged in the Nunavut community over the weekend. On Friday, Nunavut reported its first new case since Dec. 28, with another one on Saturday. Then on Sunday, the territory reported 13 new cases of COVID-19.
Patterson stressed the need to follow the public health measures put in place in the community over the weekend, including getting advanced permission from the office of the chief public health officer for all travel to and from the community.
Visitors to homes in Arviat are restricted to emergencies only and capped at five people in addition to the people who live there.
One of the big lessons from the earlier stages of this outbreak is transmission is much more likely to happen when people are visiting each other's homes, instead of workplaces or other settings, Patterson said. Therefore, the government plans to adjust its strategy this time to keep household bubbles as small as possible.
Anyone who has travelled from Arviat since Jan. 19 is asked to self-monitor for symptoms and asked to contact the health centre of the community they are currently in to assist the government in its contact tracing efforts.
To help reduce transmission to other communities, Patterson said medical travel to Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet from Arviat has been suspended for the time-being. Appointments that can happen virtually will be done so, and patients requiring in-person care will be sent to Winnipeg.
Arviatmiut in isolation in the South have been offered the opportunity to stay in the hotel hub for now, should they choose to.
Those vaccinated must also follow public health restrictions
Patterson said these restrictions must be followed by those who have received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine as well, because the shot has not yet had time to take effect.
It takes a person about two weeks to develop protection from serious complications from COVID-19. One dose of the Moderna vaccine is about 80 per cent effective, two doses brings that level of protection to 94 per cent.
Some of the new cases in Arviat did get the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, but Patterson stressed this does not mean the vaccine is ineffective.
It's not a vaccine failure. Keep in mind it takes at least two weeks to start providing some protection to people, so it's too early for that to have kicked in. - Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer
"It's not a vaccine failure. Keep in mind it takes at least two weeks to start providing some protection to people, so it's too early for that to have kicked in. That will be some time next week," Patterson said.
For those who did get the first shot and now have COVID-19, Patterson still recommends getting the second shot.
"The next clinic is almost three weeks away, so those who currently have COVID[-19] should be recovered enough to get the vaccine at that time," Patterson said.
Vaccine doeses still avialable in Arviat
The Nunavut government also said that COVID-19 vaccine doses are still available in Arviat and residents should contact the health centre to make an appointment to get vaccinated.
A spokesperson for the government of Nunavut said 69 per cent of eligible adults in Arviat have recieved their first dose.
Vaccine clinics were designed from the beginning to minimize the risk of spread of COVID-19, Patterson said.
"Like everything else, we can never make the risk zero, but we think we can manage the risk well enough that the benefits of getting the second dose into everyone on time, will be much greater than the risks of a little bit of further spreading," Patterson said.
Nunavut's Rapid Response Team is supporting the community health team remotely, the territory said Monday, and more support should arrive in the community in the next 24 hours.
Arviat has eight nurses working at the health centre, a number which has fluctuated some since the beginning of the outbreak.
The community has had a total of 236 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, accounting for about 80 per cent of the 280 total confirmed cases territory-wide.
New vaccine clinics announced
Sanikiluaq, Naujaat and Kinngait and are the next communities slated for vaccine clinics.
Sanikiluaq's clinic is scheduled for Feb. 8 and 9 at Paatsaali High School. Naujaat's clinic will be held at Tusarvik School on Feb. 15 and 16, and Kinngait's clinic will be at the community hall from Feb. 22 to 24.
All clinics are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
To date, 4,458 Nunavummiut have been vaccinated.
Anyone who thinks they've been exposed to COVID-19 should call the COVID-hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, or notify their community health centre. People should also immediately isolate at home for 14 days. Do not go to the health centre in person.