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Covid-19 testing at mine site ‘not appropriate’ for widespread use, says Nunavut’s top doc

Although Agnico Eagle is installing rapid testing for Covid-19 at its Kivalliq gold mines, the method wouldn’t be practical on a broader scale for Nunavummiut, says Nunavut’s chief public health officer.

Using rapid testing to try to determine who has Covid-19 before they exhibit any symptoms should not take the place of 14 days of isolation, says chief public health officer Michael Patterson.
photo courtesy of the GN

Some of the chemicals used in the testing devices are imported internationally and can be difficult to obtain due to high demand, according to Dr. Michael Patterson.

In addition, there’s only one lab in Nunavut’s hospitals that can accommodate this kind of equipment, said Patterson.

“If the flights go down to once a week in some of the remote communities, that could mean that if we’re trying to get the swabs from say Naujaat to Iqaluit or from somewhere in Kitikmeot to Iqaluit, it could be two weeks before we can get the lab results analyzed,” he explained. “(The rapid testing) could be of use to the community that it’s placed in, but could be detrimental to the other communities of Nunavut.”

It currently takes four to eight days for the Department of Health to get its test results back from Winnipeg.

Patterson expressed great respect for the experts that Agnico Eagle has hired to oversee the mine site laboratory, but he noted that the rapid testing method in question has an error rate of approximately 30 per cent when attempting to determine whether an individual without symptoms might develop the coronavirus.

“There’s still a lot of research going on to figure this out,” he said.

If Agnico Eagle’s researchers can prove that their “presumptive” testing is accurate enough, they then might be able to get Health Canada’s approval, said Patterson, who added that he’s not opposed to the mining company’s ambitions.

“I have no intention of slowing it down,” he said. “But I think we have to be very clear about the limitations of a test and the limitations about some of the strategies that have been proposed. Using it to take the place of 14 days of isolation is dangerous. And we’re not going to do that. If it gets approval and it’s up and running, then we can look at using it as a stop-gap for Rankin or other communities in the Kivalliq region until we can get these other devices in place. But it depends on depends on a number of things.”

-with files from Rajnesh Sharma