Twenty-four isolation clients from Nunavut have been identified as “low-risk” contacts in connection with a positive Covid-19 case at an Ottawa isolation hub, announced Dr. Michael Patterson at an Aug. 27 press conference.
On Aug. 26 Patterson’s health office was informed by the Ottawa Public Health that a guard had been tested positive at Residence Inn, an isolation hub for Nunavummiut.
After being notified, the Department of Health began working with Ottawa Public Health to carry out contact tracing.
Individuals who came into contact with the guard on August 18 and 19 may have been at risk of exposure to Covid-19, said Patterson.
The risk of exposure is considered low, “meaning that their contact with the positive individual was brief,” he added.
“We know from public health evidence that when you’ve been in contact with somebody for more than 10 minutes or other high-risk activity that’s when the greatest percentage of people acquire the infection,” he said. “Outside of those even if you pass in the hallway for a second, it’s very low-risk and that’s when we resort to that self-monitoring.”
Most of the individuals, 22 of the 24, have been found through contract tracing and been contacted by the Department of Health. The identified contacts are scattered across six or seven communities in the Baffin region. They all have been advised to self-monitor.
Self-monitoring is recommended when there’s a low-risk or a slight possibility of transmission of Covid-19, said Patterson.
The contacts are permitted to “go about their lives but are being asked to avoid gatherings and high-risk facilities such as Elders’ homes,” said the chief public health officer. “They can still attend most work but should continue social distancing and handwashing.”
The self-monitoring is not being enforced. The health department prefers to educate people rather than use enforcement, which will serve as the “last resort,” said the doctor.
Public health nurses are calling and directly communicating with the contacts to monitor their health conditions, assured Patterson.
The top doctor explained the highest risk of transmission for Covid-19 occurs when an infected individual, in the early stages of their infection, remains within six feet of others without wearing a mask for at least 10 minutes.
He added that certain activities such as coughing, hugging, kissing and sharing glasses, utensils or cigarettes, can increase the risk of spreading the disease even more.
Although the Department of Health is confident that all contacts have been identified, for extra precaution, they are asking any Nunavummiut who stayed at the Residence Inn after August 19 and who travelled back to Nunavut to self-monitor for symptoms of Covid-19.
Anyone exhibiting Covid-19 related symptoms such as cough, fever or difficulty breathing should call the Covid-hotline 1-888-975-8601, or notify their community health centre and immediately isolate at home for 14 days.
Flight delay and staff protocols
The August 27 flight for Nunavummiut staying at the Residence Inn was rescheduled for August 30. The delay in travel “gives us time to see if there’s any other reason to be concerned for the people who are in the hotel right now,” said Patterson.
Staff at the isolation hubs are not tested for Covid-19 unless they exhibit symptoms. “Testing people without symptoms and without a known exposure is not very productive and causes more false positives and … more problems than it solves,” said Patterson.
Instead, efforts are being focused to on reinforcing the need for personal protective equipment and screening for symptoms.
Contract staff including security personnel at isolation hubs are required to wear masks during their shifts, stated Patterson. He added the guard who tested positive had been properly wearing a mask at all times while on duty.
Schools and isolation hubs remain open
Patterson said schools will remain open since there is no proven transmission of Covid-19 in the territory.
The contacts, who may have been exposed to Covid-19 at Residence Inn, are “low-risk,” reiterated Patterson.
“If we shut down schools and workplaces for every incident like this moving forward, then we are going to do serious harm to our children. And those harms, especially for children, outweigh the benefit from being so protective,” said the chief public health officer.
Also, isolation hubs will continue to remain open until there is “reliable” testing in the territory with a “reasonable” turnaround time, said Patterson.
Presently, the GeneXpert machines are operational in both Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet. The Biofire device in Iqaluit is expected to be running during the first week of September.
There are still no confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19 in Nunavut. 314 individuals are presently being followed for Covid-19.