COVID-19 testing without symptoms is ‘probably harmful,’ says Dr. Patterson

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Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson sits with Inuktitut translator, Naomi Tatty during the second press conference about COVID-19 on March 17, in Iqaluit. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

Nunavummuit who do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 are not being swabbed.

“It is of no use and probably harmful to swab people, who do not have symptoms of infection,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson.

Patterson explained, if an individual without any symptoms is swabbed the test result will “probably” be negative. Then days later, “when symptoms appear people tend to think that since they were tested, they don’t have to worry about COVID-19. And then will spend several days out of isolation spreading the infection,” he said.

People who have been swabbed should stay home until the results are known, Patterson emphasized, adding otherwise they are exposing others to infection.

“If it is COVID-19, you are putting other Nunavummiut’s lives at risk. And even if it is influenza, you are creating fear and panic and extra load on the health care system.”

Those who are sick and/or showing symptoms of coughing or cold, should not go to work, asserted Patterson.

The majority of people tested have returned from international travel within the past two weeks. A fewer number of tests have been done on people, who have remained within the territory or travelled domestically.

Testing has been performed in all three regions of Nunavut. Presently, most samples are being sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to be tested for COVID-19.

Depending on the community, the results of the swabs are coming back within four to six days. The “biggest” delay is due to the flight schedules, said Patterson.

If and when a result comes back positive, the public will be informed within 24 hours or less, assured Patterson.

As of today, there are no positive cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut.

There are swabs available for testing in all communities, said the chief health public officer.

There are seven oxygen ventilators that are immediately available in Nunavut. Anyone, who requires a ventilator, will be started on it and then be transferred south for the Intensive Care Unit, said Patterson.

Premier Joe Savikataaq reminds everyone to wash their hands and practice social distancing.

Since it is a “stressful” and “disruptive” time for everyone, “kindness and patience is important and appreciated now more than ever,” he said.

“Don’t believe everything on social media. There’s lots of rumours going around. But these news conferences will state the facts and what’s currently the conditions in Nunavut,” said Savikataaq.

Press conferences are scheduled daily this week in Iqaluit to bring updates of the COVID-19 situation in Nunavut.

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

1 COMMENT

  1. I realize that this article is from a few days ago, but this is the kind of negligence, mediocrity and complete lack of decisiveness that astounds me. We have a PERFECT opportunity here with isolated communities and a 0% chance of unknown community spread occurring since access to the said communities is 100% controllable. 39,000 people in 25 communities… and all movement in between communities is controllable.

    If EVERY single person from the pilot, stewardess to passenger boarding a flight North were screened (tested) before being permitted a boarding pass… our Northern communities would get the chance to avoid contamination of COVID-19. Nunavut is burdened with the lowest capacity and capability medical facilities in Canada, therefore all attempts need to be made to prevent and limit the spread and spared the devastation of this infection.

    That isolation is the EXACT condition China wished to achieve by imposing a complete Lock-Down… a chance to monitor 100% of the movement in a specified area… We have achieved that already with the North. There is just that single means of transport of getting people in and out or moving between communities, namely air transport. Anyone showing up via snowmobile from neighbouring towns should report at the Airport for screening as a precaution and be quarantined pending the outcome of testing. Canada’s North starts with the same advantage seen only in a few parts of the world to date… Antarctica (the sole continent with not a single know COVID-19 cases to date), some oceanic islands and Greenland and Iceland. No other jurisdictions on the plane are this blessed to start with such a huge advantage in controlling the spread of this infection!

    All the cases to date indicate that for a person to start showing symptoms, they have been shedding the virus for 2-10 days already. During that time, they have likely infected 2-5 people BEFORE testing positive for COVID-19!

    When the Chinese Red Cross showd up in Northern Italy (March 20/21, 2020) and said the Italian “Lock Down” was a joke.. That the Italians need to get serious and stop playing around… the North needs to take heed.

    Look to Iceland, they tested everyone, symptoms or not, systematically removing everyone testing positive for COVID-19 from the general population BEFORE they spread it further. There is a lesson there, preemptive forced social distancing works!

    California announced that they expect 56% of population to be infected in 8 weeks. Of those, 10% are expected to present severe symptoms, and of those 30% to require respirators. Applying that to Nunavut; 39,000 (population) x 56% (infected in 8 weeks) = 21,840 infected in 8 weeks
    21,840 x 10% (present severe symptoms) = 2,184
    2,184 x 30% (require respirators) = 655 Ventilators needed
    That’s the scenario after 10 weeks or community spread. Yet there are only 7 available in Nunavut!

    That means there would be only 1 (One) respirator for every 94 people showing up at their nursing station in need of it. If no measures are taken immediately, the protocol for who will get priority for the 7 respirators should be established NOW! Everyone else will know that they will have to fend for themselves when the time comes.

    Whom do you TRY to save; the young mother of 2, the Elder, the father working in the fishing boat, the young woman working in the fishing plant, or the retired hunter, the nurse, the constable, and if not one of these.. there are 87 more people lined up behind these first 5? The choice will then be to try and save the tradition (elderly) or the future (young ones)… That is a horrific decision to have to make if it comes to that. Yet even then, after deciding you will try to save the one and pass on the 93 others, there is no guarantee that the ventilator will be successful.. and we might lose all 94.

    That’s the nightmare scenario for week 9/10 after community spread begins. What about the week after that when ALL the respirators are being used? At what point do you take people off of respirators when those more likely to survive arrive at the nursing stations?

    I had an opportunity to move to Nunavut from Ontario in March 2020. This outbreak has put those plans on hold. Lost income for me and my family, delayed opportunities… but the confidence of knowing I’m not endangering the North with this plague is the silver lining. I look forward to getting up there shortly and safely.

    We only get the ONE chance to do this right… everything else is a failure.

    An overabundance of caution is the proper course of action. Let’s do this right.

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