IQALUIT — It has been just over two weeks since Nunavut declared its first case of COVID-19, but it’s still unknown how 84 people were infected so quickly in the territory.
Nunavut is home to about 39,000 people. Its 25 fly-in-only communities are spread over three time zones.
Arviat, on the western shore of Hudson Bay where about 2,800 people live, had 58 cases as of Friday. Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, says it’s the only place where there’s evidence of transmission from household to household within the community.
There are also 13 cases in nearby Rankin Inlet, 11 in Whale Cove and two in Sanikiluaq. But those cases are all within the same households.
John Main, who represents Arviat-North and Whale Cove in Nunavut’s legislative assembly, says it’s “hard to see” how housing issues wouldn’t have contributed in some way to COVID-19’s rapid spread.
“It’s no secret that we’re in a housing crisis. We’ve had issues around housing for many, many years … Things like multiple generations of families living in one unit, people sleeping in areas that are not meant to be bedrooms,” Main says.
But Main says it’s not just housing that makes Nunavut more vulnerable to COVID-19. Food insecurity, a high unemployment rate and low educational attainment levels are all contributing factors, he says.
“We know that there’s all these things that are working against us, these things we have to battle alongside COVID now.”
Nunavut Housing Corp. figures show 56 per cent of Nunavut Inuit live in overcrowded homes. A recent report on Nunavut’s infrastructure gap from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. also notes 41 per cent of homes need major repairs.
Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and health policy expert based in Winnipeg, says with a long incubation period, usually four to six days, it’s easy for an asymptomatic person to spread the virus without knowing they’re infected.
“All it takes is one case to get in” she says. “When you’ve got many people close together within a building, that’s exactly the risk factors for spread.”
Last week, Nunavut ordered a territory-wide two-week lockdown to control the spread. Carr says looking at other countries, it usually takes 18 or 19 days to see the effects of a lockdown.
“It will be interesting to see if it’s different for Nunavut,” she says.
The territory’s only hospital, Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, is more than 1,200 kilometres from Arviat. It has 25 beds, but no intensive care unit. Rankin Inlet has a health centre with six beds.
Patterson says if someone needs to be hospitalized because of COVID-19, they would be brought to Rankin Inlet or transferred to the South.
“If anybody is in a situation where they need ongoing fluid, oxygen, or life support, they obviously can’t stay in a health centre and will need to go to a southern hospital,” Patterson says.
Typically, Nunavummiut who need medical care not available in the territory are flown to Edmonton, Winnipeg or Ottawa. But with cases rising in Southern Canada and hospitals in Manitoba reaching full capacity, Patterson says his team is looking at other options.
Last week, Patterson said the territory’s capacity to respond to its COVID-19 outbreak is “stretched” and the federal government is ready to step in if necessary.
Main says although cases in Arviat continue to rise, he’s confident Nunavummiut will “get through this,” as they’ve done before.
“Elders have been sharing their life lessons putting things in context, the younger generations need to keep this in mind” Main says.
“Hardship is not a new thing and it’s not something that will beat us.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press
N.B. could have COVID-19 vaccine by January. Now comes deciding who gets it first – CBC.ca
All things considered, it’s a good problem to have: eight months into managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health officials in New Brunswick now must start sorting out who to vaccinate first.
It won’t be easy, given that the number of New Brunswickers old enough to be considered high-risk far exceeds the number of doses coming in the first wave of vaccines early next year.
The province could receive enough doses for 60,000 people early in January.
But the number of people over the age of 60 — the point at which the risk of serious COVID-19 impacts increases dramatically — is more than 200,000.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said choosing who will be at the front of the line will be a complicated calculation.
“That’s the point of prioritizing,” she said. “We know there’s not going to be enough, and this is going to be the most complex immunization program ever delivered in this country and around the world.”
Federal distribution plan based on population
The federal government has agreed to distribute the first batch of vaccines, due in the first three months of 2021, using a formula roughly based on population.
With enough doses for three million people, that would translate into about 60,000 New Brunswickers vaccinated by April.
Russell said she and her counterparts federally and in other provinces have agreed on a general plan that will be hammered into place in time for expected regulatory approval of the first vaccines next month.
Distribution could begin as early as January.
“I think long-term care nursing home facilities would be priority one, certainly, as a very vulnerable section of our population,” said Premier Blaine Higgs.
The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes said there are 4,800 beds in its member homes.
“I think you would move quickly into the health-care workers and protecting them, and then the likely next step would be seniors,” Higgs said.
Nursing home workers would account for 4,800 doses
First responders would also be near the top of the list, Higgs said.
“And then you just kind of work through the age demographics.”
Vaccinating unionized nursing home workers around the province would require more than 4,800 doses.
That’s how many members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees work in more than 50 nursing homes, according to union spokesperson Simon Ouellette.
Vulnerable people should be prioritized, but so should the people who work with them.– Simon Ouellette, CUPE spokesperson
Five long-term care or nursing homes have been hit by outbreaks in New Brunswick.
Some nursing home workers, including maintenance and cleaning staff, must move from room to room, creating the risk of becoming a super-spreader, Ouellette said.
“Vulnerable people should be prioritized, but so should the people who work with them.”
There are also 1,875 doctors in the province, according to Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society. The New Brunswick Nurses Union estimates 6,400 nurses are in the workforce now.
Those doctors include emergency department and critical care physicians who are potentially exposed to COVID-19 frequently.
“Those most exposed to those being ill are going to need it first,” Steeves said.
People with chronic conditions on high-priority list
And there are 950 ambulance paramedics who are “seeing folks that they don’t have a really good understanding of when they initially respond about what may or may not be wrong with them,” said Chris Hood, executive director of the Paramedic Association of New Brunswick.
“The association feels strongly that to protect the members, who are obviously in short supply, and to protect the public that they serve, they should be one of the first groups to be done,” he said.
Russell said New Brunswickers with chronic conditions are also “somewhere on that list” of high-priority patients.
According to the New Brunswick Health Council, 11.6 per cent of adults in the province have been diagnosed with asthma and 11.4 per cent have been diagnosed with diabetes, two conditions that COVID-19 can quickly make life-threatening.
Russell said Indigenous people will also be a high priority because COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on them.
But it’s possible the federal government, which has responsibility for Indigenous issues, will hang on to a small percentage of vaccine doses and do that itself, along with immunizing some military members and federal inmates.
She said the goal is to have 75 per cent of the province vaccinated, enough to create herd immunity in the population. She doesn’t see that happening until next fall or later.
Cardy wants schoolchildren to follow high-priority groups
Higgs said Thursday that the fact some people will want to wait to ensure the vaccines are safe could make the process easier.
“There’s a number of people that want to be vaccinated early, and there are probably others that want to kind of wait a bit,” he told CBC’s Power and Politics. “So it may not be a rush to the front of the line immediately.”
Last week Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy said he would support immunizing schoolchildren soon after the high-priority groups are done.
“We’re seeing, unfortunately, in the last few months, a significant increase in the number of young people who are becoming not just infected with COVID-19 but are then passing it on,” he said.
“Younger people get less sick, but they can be just as efficient a disease vector as anyone of any age, so I’d certainly argue that. I think that would make sense.”
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Ontario parents can soon apply for 2nd COVID-19 payout, should come before holidays – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Ontario parents will soon be able to apply for their next COVID-19 cheque from the provincial government and should receive the funds before the holidays.
On Friday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the application portal to receive the second payout will open “within the next week.”
“It’s part of a broader effort to get money in the pockets of parents ahead of the holidays,” he said. “We know it’s tough. We are going to be there for parents and for the kids.”
The second payment was initially announced when the province tabled its budget earlier this month.
Parents of children aged 12 or younger will again be able to receive a one-time payment of $200 per child, and $250 for children 21 years of age or younger with special education needs.
This is the second payout from the province to Ontario families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first payout came in the spring.
The payments are meant as “a measure of relief” for those affected by outbreaks of the disease in schools and for those choosing to learn at home.
The government will spend $380 million on the second payout to parents, on top of the $378 million from the first round.
Last week, the province announced that Ontario schools will not have an extended winter break.
On Friday, Lecce said the government is doing everything possible to keep students, staff and parents safe amid the second wave of the disease.
“The chief medical officer of health made a determination that at this time (an extended winter break) is not required,” Lecce said. “His belief is that our schools remain fundamentally safe, with 99.9 per cent of kids in the province COVID-19 free.”
“If the circumstances change – as you know, I acted to close schools, the first in the country, and I obviously will act to add new layers of prevention, or take additional recommendations from public health.”
Premier Doug Ford and Lecce announced on Thursday that students at participating schools in Ontario COVID-19 hot spots will be able to get tested for the disease regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms.
As of Friday, 4,470 lab-confirmed positive cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in Ontario schools. There are 671 schools across the province that have reported an infection and six of those schools currently remain closed.
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