B117 Variant Hits Iqaluit, 9 New Cases Recorded as Nunavut Outbreak Spreads

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Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson confirmed Monday that some of the region’s active cases are the B117 variant of COVID-19.

This variant might spread more easily than the original COVID-19 virus, but Patterson said current research states that the Moderna vaccine is effective against it.

21 swabs have come back from variant testing and all of them have been the B117 variant. This info could imply that the variant is the only type of COVID-19 in the region, as no other variants have been found.

The B117 was first discovered in the U.K and is more likely to cause severe infection than the original coronavirus.

Premier Joe Savikataaq announced 9 new cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut on Monday, as well as 9 recoveries, there are now 47 cases in total in the region.

Over the weekend, the number of cases in Iqaluit rose to 42 and two cases were reported in Rankin Inlet, after they traveled from Iqaluit on a Canadian North flight.

There are additionally three cases in Kinngait. One person in Kinngait recovered over the weekend and in total since the start of the outbreak 13 persons have recovered.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said the two cases in Rankin Inlet were not identified as contacts till after their flight had departed.

“There is no truth to the rumors that these people left Iqaluit waiting for their COVID[-19] test results,” Kusugak said.

The pair is now isolating in Rankin Inlet, he said.

Public health confirmed some positive cases in Rankin at about 5 p.m. on Friday and started contact tracing around them. One of those persons identified their contacts as two people who were apparently on a flight to Rankin Inlet.

Health officers called Patterson at that point and with the support of family members and health staff, found out where the two contacts were planning to stay and reached them there.

The contacts were tested at the Rankin Inlet health center Friday night, so Patterson says by midnight Friday public health knew they were positive and they were in isolation.

An exposure notice for their flight was issued on Friday, Patterson assured those worried about transmission to other communities that there hasn’t yet been a confirmed case of transmission on domestic flights. However, Patterson said any individual who leaves Iqaluit is still required to isolate for two weeks, according to public health measures.

Karaoke night accounts for 20% of Iqaluit cases

A certain night at Iqaluit’s Chartoom Lounge, April 14, was identified as a higher risk for exposure to the virus and on Saturday any person who was at the bar that night was to self-isolate immediately and get tested.

“[The night] accounts for 20 percent of current Iqaluit COVID-19 cases,” Patterson said.

The government issued a notice last week identifying any individual who was at the Chartroom the nights of April 10 – 14 as at risk of exposure.

Patterson said this night fits the description of a super spreader event and the rest of Nunavut’s cases were transmitted through workplaces and private household get-togethers.

Among the reasons for the large spread, that night was due to the fact that Wednesday is karaoke night at the Chartroom. In addition, there were people moving between tables and tables at which over six persons were seated, in spite of public health orders only allowed six people at a table at a time.

Hosting karaoke did not go against public health orders then, however, it is against the rules beginning Monday.

Patterson said the table-hoping was unofficial information at this point and that he would not be making moves to fine the bar for breaching public health orders.

Last December, the Chartroom was fined under the the Public Health Act for violating capacity restrictions on three different occasions.

100 contacts identified

There are over 100 high risk contacts identified through contact tracing and 800+ people have contacted the COVID-19 hotline and are being investigated, Patterson said.

One case has yet to be linked to the rest via contact tracing, but Patterson said it is too early to say that there is community transmission. Community transmission happens when there no obvious links between positive COVID-19 cases.

Before April 14, Iqaluit was testing 10 to 20 swabs per day. After COVID-19 was identified, that number has spiked to over 100 a day. Over half of the cases in the region have been connected to Canadian North. The airline company said that the first case in Nunavut was a Canadian North worker.

Clarifications on restrictions

Public health is establishing screening testing for a number of groups including the men’s shelters, some correctional facilities, the Elders’ center, and the boarding home. Testing is additionally available to cab drivers.

Patterson reminded Iqalummiut that they are not permitted to share cabs with persons from different households and that masks are required in cabs.

Flights have been set up so that supply lines and essential travel aren’t interrupted and persons can get to their home communities, but otherwise travel isn’t allowed.

“All interterritorial nonessential is restricted with [a] few exceptions. If you are not a medical traveler, essential worker or returning to the community you live in, you should not be traveling and could be fined under the [public health] orders if you do,” Patterson said.

Many of the people allowed to leave Iqaluit must isolate, and if they do not observe the 14-day isolation they may as well be fined. Essential workers can shop once per week, if no one else can do it for them – otherwise they can only go to and from their workplace and must wear a mask till their 14 days are over.

Whereas Patterson said he would consider permitting those who live alone to bubble with one other household at some point, he said now is too early, and people should be restricting contact as much as possible.

His idea was the same as why public playgrounds are still closed. In spite of the fact that outdoor contact is less risky than indoor, some parks require staff to come together to maintain the places and Patterson wants to avoid unnecessary gatherings.

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