Test results for Nunavut's 1st presumptive COVID-19 case not back yet, says top doctor

·3 min read

Results for a presumptive case of COVID-19 announced at the Mary River Mine last week are not yet back from a lab in Ontario, Nunavut health officials said Monday during a news conference at the Legislative Assembly.

On Thursday, officials announced a presumptive case of COVID-19 at Mary River Mine. Swabs from an out-of-territory worker are being tested in Ontario.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said those results for the territory's first presumptive case are expected this week.

"Testing is important but it is absolutely not a replacement for 14 days of isolation," Patterson said Monday.

Even with credible testing, false negatives can happen, he added.

"There is a good chance that we're never going to know for sure."

Patterson said Nunavut's Health Department sent swabs to the mine to have tests redone, because the swabs the mine was using were not compatible with the swabs used at the territory's go-to accredited lab in Ontario.

"When swabs got to Iqaluit on Friday we could not test them," Patterson said.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. As of Monday, there are 157 people being investigated by public health for symptoms. In total, 1,467 have been investigated.

Co-worker's test 'indeterminate'

Last week, the Mary River Mine's senior safety director said the worker was not showing symptoms. At the time, the mine said several others were self-isolating.

According to the mine, one other worker was isolating because of a "contaminated test." Patterson called this an "indeterminate" test.

"There have been cases of indeterminate results in Nunavut," he said, but added until there is evidence of a risk to Nunavummiut, the public is not notified.

The worker who has the presumptive case tested positive twice in a row, around five days into his work rotation. He tested negative upon arrival at the mine.

"A negative result is not a reason to take someone off of isolation, or not a reason they won't develop COVID-19 in the next day or two," Patterson said.

Submitted by Baffinland Iron mines Corporation
Submitted by Baffinland Iron mines Corporation

He said tests are still primarily sent to the South for processing. Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet have access to a GeneXpert machine to test for COVID-19. It's usually used in Nunavut to test for tuberculosis but Patterson said there is a shortage of cartridges.

"We could use up the amount that we get in a month in three or four days," he said. "We reserve the GeneXpert for situations where a delay of a few days is a risk" — for example, if a case was suspected in a seniors' residence or in a situation with overcrowded housing.

Isolation hotels continue

Health Minister George Hickes said Monday that isolation in hotels outside of the territory will continue for residents returning to Nunavut. He said this is not a "punitive measure" and said residents have a "social responsibility" to support the government in its decision to require out-of-territory isolation.

"We need people's co-operation," Hickes said, adding that "a lot" of money and resources are going toward the isolation hubs for travellers in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife.

The government is working to support travellers who need mental health and addictions support, he said. Hickes did not know how many people had been asked to leave the hubs because of alcohol use.

A second hotel has been designated for self-isolation in Ottawa to allow for increased travel, said Patterson, because more people are going to Ottawa for medical reasons now that hospitals are opening up.

Nunavut has been the only jurisdiction in Canada without a confirmed case of COVID-19 so far. One case was reported in Pond Inlet on April 30, but that case was later determined to have been a false positive.

A public health emergency is extended until July 9. The number of people allowed to gather outdoors is increased to 50, and 10 guests are allowed to visit a private residence. Gatherings for government and religious purposes are allowed indoors with restrictions.

The press conference will air at 4 p.m. ET on the CBC radio show Tusaajaksat.