COVID-19 concerns lead to closure of all schools and daycares in Nunavut

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Minister of Health George Hickes, on the left, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson, Premier Joe Savikataaq and Minister of Education David Joanaise discuss Nunavut’s COVID-19 responses on March 16 in Iqaluit. This was the first press conference held about COVID-19 in the Nunavut. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

All schools and daycares territory-wide are closing for three weeks, effective this Tuesday.

In a press conference at the Allavvik Building this afternoon, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said, despite there being no cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, this decision is an effort to preserve the health of Nunavummiut.

“This isn’t something we took lightly and we understand that this will have a significant impact on many Nunavummiut,” said Dr. Patterson, adding this is why a lot of thought has been put into this decision.

“In order to reduce the chance of transmission in communities, it was felt that this was the appropriate step,” he said.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is up to 14 days. Patterson explained, thus a three week period allows enough time to get a “more accurate” idea of the situation.

After three weeks, the decision will be reevaluated and followed by reassessments every two weeks.

Reopening of schools and daycares will be depend on several factors. This includes whether COVID-19 is present in the territory, whether it is transmitting in communities, and the situation of other jurisdictions from which people may be travelling.

This is not a spring break, emphasized Patterson. It is an opportunity to create and enhance social distancing and minimizing the spread of the virus if and when it arrives to the territory.

However, “relatively smaller groups” of children can play outdoor games and go out on land if it is warm outside, he said.

“There is a greatly reduced risk or no risk of transmission outdoors, especially when the sun is out and in the ultraviolet light,” explained Patterson.

For now, Nunavut Arctic College will remain open. Patterson believes due to smaller class sizes and maturity of students it will be easier to maintain social distancing and therefore limiting transmission.

The impacts of closing Nunavut Arctic College are “greater,” said Patterson, noting there are many students who are set to graduate this year and their skills are needed.

“So we’re trying to preserve their ability to finish their education and get a license and start working in Nunavut next year,” he explained.

Premier Joe Savikataaq assured that the government has plans in place to deal with the concerns of COVID-19.

“We know that more likely than not, that COVID-19 will come into Nunavut and we just want to be prepared for it,” he said.

However, at this time, he was not able to address what kind of childcare support will be given to parents, who are currently attending college.

“I’m not sure, we’ll have to work on that,” said Savikattaaq, referring to support needed for parents attending college.

David Joanaise, Minister of Education, was also unable to provide a definite answer to what will happen to students, who rely on the school lunch program.

Joanaise said, “At this time we haven’t dived into any details around food programming, but it’s something that’s on the table.”

Minister of Health George Hickes assured there has been “continuous” communication at the federal level, along with all jurisdictions across Canada.

Hickes also revealed that “non-essential surgeries” outside the territory have been deferred.

Presently, the Department of Health is waiting for results of about 30 COVID-19 tests.

To provide updates about Nunavut’s responses to COVID-19, another press conference is scheduled to be held tomorrow in Iqaluit.

Protective measures against COVID-19
-Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
-Engage in social distancing (avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing)
-Stay home, if you feel sick
-Arrange for a medical assessment with your healthcare centre if you are experiencing
symptoms (fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing)
-Be cautious when visiting elders and those with vulnerable immune systems
-Cough into your elbow