A Baffinland mine worker appears to be Nunavut’s first case of COVID-19

The mine worker tested positive on site, but another test is being sent to Ontario to confirm the infection.

By Meagan Deuling, Nunatsiaq News - July 3, 2020
A worker at Baffinland’s Mary River mine is presumed to have COVID-19. The person recently entered the territory, is in isolation, and did not come into contact with anyone outside the mine. (Baffinland via Nunatsiaq News)

A person who recently entered Nunavut to work at Baffinland’s Mary River mine is presumed to have COVID-19, the territory’s chief medical officer of health, Michael Patterson, announced Thursday in a news release.

An additional test was being sent to Ontario to confirm the positive results found at the mine site, Patterson said, and those results should be ready early next week. If confirmed, the case would be the first in the territory.

“The individual is in isolation away from co-workers and doing well,” Patterson said in the release. “There has been no contact between Mary River workers and any of the surrounding communities.”

Since March, only people from outside Nunavut have been working at the mine, which is 176 kilometers southwest of Pond Inlet. Nunavummiut employed at the mine have not been working during the COVID-19 pandemic to eliminate the possibility that the disease would be brought in by an outside worker and spread to a community in the territory.

Baffinland’s Mary River iron ore mine is on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Pond Inlet is the closest community to the mine site. (Nunatsiaq News file illustration)

The worker, who is described as being asymptomatic, recently arrived at the site, said Patterson. He would not disclose where the person came from or when exactly they arrived at the mine, saying it was to protect the person’s privacy.

Twelve people who have been in contact with the person who is presumed to have COVID-19 are also being isolated at the same location at the mine site. This location was set aside “some time in February” in anticipation of COVID-19, Patterson said.

The mine and the Government of Nunavut will act under the assumption that the worker is COVID-19-positive until they get test results back from a public health–accredited lab in Ontario.

The testing machines the mine uses are not as rigorously checked as those at public health labs in the south, Patterson said.

The mine’s policy is to test every person who returns to the mine from southern locations for work, several times. The person in question had two of these tests come back positive.

If the test result from Ontario comes back positive, it will be Nunavut’s first case of COVID-19.

There was a false positive at the end of April in Pond Inlet, the community closest to the Mary River mine.