Skip to content

Sights set on BioFire devices for Covid-19 testing in Nunavut

“We're figuring out if we can set up a system, where with the two BioFires we can do all of our testing in territory,” said chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson, during Monday’s press conference. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

Dr. Michael Patterson has his sights set on setting up two new BioFire testing devices in Nunavut for Covid-19, which may alter the need to self-isolate once cases in some southern jurisdictions decrease.

Unlike the GeneXpert machine, the BioFire device does not only test for Covid-19. It also tests for a number of different pathogens including pertussis and RSV, which the Department of Health deals with on a regular basis.

The BioFire devices can be incorporated as part of the overall health-care system and allow for testing that is compatible with southern labs, said Patterson.

“We're figuring out if we can set up a system where with the two BioFires we can do all of our testing in territory,” said Patterson, during Monday’s press conference.

There is one BioFire machine already set up in Iqaluit. Another one is being set up in Rankin Inlet.

“It sounds like ... the manufacturers of BioFire will be able to deliver enough cartridges to meet our needs for even our routine testing. But, I don't know exactly when we'll be able to start using them.”

Once in territory testing capacity is met and the number of Covid-19 cases have declined in southern jurisdiction frequented by Nunavummiut, the possibility of altering isolation requirements, at “least partly,” may become available, said Patterson.

Presently both Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet each have one GeneXpert testing machine for Covid-19. However, “we can't use it for our day-to-day use,” since there is still a worldwide shortage for cartridges that are needed to use the machine, said Patterson.

“We get 20 to 30 cartridges a week, and in an outbreak, we could use up the amount that we get in a month ... in three or four days,” he said. The GeneXpert testing is reserved for situations such as Elder’s homes, congregate housing and shelters, where a delay of even a few days is too high, he explained.

Presumptive case test results expected this week
Confirmation for the presumptive case of Covid-19 detected at Mary River Mine are expected to be available later this week.

Test swab samples from Mary River Mine were sent to Iqaluit late last week. However, the swabs used by the mining company were not compatible with the testing machines used in the southern labs. Samples had to be recollected using the appropriate swabs. The swabs were flown by a charter plane from Iqaluit to the mine. The recollected swabs were flown south to Ontario for confirmatory testing either Friday or Sunday, according to Patterson.

“Even under ideal conditions and with validated equipment, testing is not always a reliable method of identifying cases of Covid-19 and halting transmission. There is strong evidence that false negatives can occur throughout the incubation period,” he said.

Patterson noted it is “certainly possible” the presumptive case may be a false positive, but it is hard to be certain. “It could be just a very mild asymptomatic infection that could never have transmitted.”

On July 2, the chief public health officer said there were 12 people who had come into contact with the miner tested positive for Covid-19. However Patterson admitted he had provided incorrect information.

“There's one individual who's had the two presumptive positive results and seven individuals who have had contact with that person,” he said.

No miner at the Mary River Mine is exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms. “Everyone’s well,” Patterson said. All eight miners are in isolation at the mine site. Presently, there is no evidence of Covid-19 transmission at the mine site, he said.

There is still one presumptive case of Covid-19 in Nunavut. 157 are currently under investigation for Covid-19 in the territory.