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Nunavut starts rapid COVID-19 testing in Winnipeg isolation hubs

Nunavut is beginning rapid-testing in its southern isolation hubs in Winnipeg this week with the help of an aid agreement between the federal government and the Red Cross.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, made the announcement Monday during the government’s COVID-19 press conference. 

Nunavummiut are currently required to isolate in a hotel in one of four cities outside of Nunavut for 14 days before returning to the territory. 

The Panbio rapid testing device will be used in the hotels by the Red Cross. Patterson said it can deliver results in as little as 15 minutes. It is an antigen test, which looks for virus proteins to identify the virus. 

Guests will be tested when they enter the hotel on Day 1, again on Day 5 and before they leave the hotel on Day 12.

Staff will go to guests’ rooms to collect swabs for testing, according to Patterson.

If someone were to test positive on the Panbio machine, a second swab would be taken and that swab would be sent to a lab for confirmatory testing. The rapid tests are less accurate than laboratory tests, which is why confirmatory testing will be needed.

Anyone who tests positive with the rapid testing machine will be required to isolate in their hotel room, if a second laboratory test confirms the positive result, the patient will remain in their room for at least 10 days after taking the test. Those who are immunocompromised might need to be in isolation longer, Patterson said, and if anyone still has symptoms it’ll be longer than 10 days too.

Testing will not shorten isolation for the moment, but the government is looking at research to see if it makes sense in the future, Patterson said. Currently, testing will be voluntary, those who do not wish to participate will follow the standard 14-day isolation. 

“I strongly encourage people to participate though, as this will help reduce the risk of bringing COVID-19 to the territory, and provide additional protection for our families and communities,” Patterson said.  

Missed the update? Watch it here:

Patterson called 14-day isolation an effective tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and that testing will increase the effectiveness. But he added, even combined, it was not a sure-fire way of ensuring the virus does not enter Nunavut. 

He asked everyone participating in the hubs to follow the isolation rules, including wearing masks and keeping physically distant. 

Three new cases in Arviat

The territory reported three new cases in Arviat on Monday, bringing the total active cases in that community to 49, according to a news release. The government said contact tracing is ongoing.

Ten more cases of COVID-19 in Arviat over the weekend. According to figures posted to the territory’s COVID-19 website Sunday, the community has a total of 46 active cases.

Arviat added two cases on Sunday and eight on Saturday, Nunavut premier Joe Savikataaq wrote on Twitter.

There have been a total of 219 confirmed cases of the virus with 168 recovered as of Monday. There are a total of 51 active cases in Nunavut.

Less than five people have been medevaced from the Kivalliq region to southern hospitals for treatment for COVID-19. 

The government said it will not be releasing more information about those patients for privacy reasons. 

So far, room has been found for Nunavut patients in Winnipeg hospitals, but the government of Nunavut is continuing to monitor hospital capacity in the cities where Nunavummiut are sent for treatment.

Travel restrictions

An Ottawa hotel suite used for Nunavut residents to isolate before returning to the territory. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Arviat is the only community where restrictions remain for leaving the community, residents must ask for permission from the office of the chief public health officer before travelling. 

Asked about Christmas travel, Patterson said the southern hubs still have space in January, but that travel for non-essential reasons is still discouraged across the territory. 

Nunavut still allows residents of the Northwest Territories to enter Nunavut without isolating, but the reverse was changed with the outbreak in the Kivalliq, and for the moment Nunavummiut have to isolate when travelling to the N.W.T. 

Anyone who thinks they have been exposed to COVID-19 is asked to call the COVID-hotline at 1-888-975-8601 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, or notify their community health centre right away and immediately isolate at home for 14 days. People are asked to not go to the health centre in person.

The government update will air again on radio during CBC Nunavut’s Tusaajaksat afternoon show. 


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