Nunavut reports the territory’s first two COVID-19 deaths

After months of avoiding any infection, and then longer without a COVID-19 death, Nunavut reported two on Saturday.

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Two Nunavut residents died in Winnipeg hospitals on Dec. 18, the Government of Nunavut said Dec. 20. (Nunatsiaq News file image)

COVID-19 has claimed its first two victims from Nunavut. Friends and family identified them as Luki Sammurtok from Arviat and Dan Autut from Rankin Inlet.

After months of avoiding a death, Nunavut reported two on Saturday.

“Today we are saddened to inform Nunavummiut of Nunavut’s first COVID-19-releated deaths,” a Government of Nunavut statement issued by Premier Joe Savikataaq, Health Minister Lorne Kusugak and Dr. Michael Patterson, the chief public health officer for Nunavut said.

Both men died Saturday. An Arviat resident had been medevaced to a southern facility after developing complications due to COVID-19. A Rankin Inlet resident who contracted COVID-19 while in southern Canada, developed complications and died in hospital late Saturday, according to the government statement.

The GN did not provide their names or ages and said it would not release additional information.

However, family and friends of Arviat resident Luki Sammurtok posted on Facebook that he died on Saturday. Sammurtok had been hospitalized since Dec. 3 in Winnipeg, where he had been in the intensive care unit on a ventilator.

He died Saturday afternoon, said an announcement on the Arviat Facebook News page from Rev. Bradley Williams, the pastor at the Arviat Alliance Church.

His wife, Diane Sammurtok, posted on Facebook Saturday how she had seen her husband suffer from COVID-19.

COVID-19 is “not a joke,” she said, urging everyone to follow the public health rules.

Sammurtok, a community health representative, also thanked all the various health workers and other who had helped her husband.

Her comment received hundreds of comments from grieving friends and family members.

On Sunday, Dan Autut’s son posted on Facebook that his father died “due to complications with his health along with contracting [COVID-19].”

Cedric Autut thanked family and friends for their prayers and thoughts for the family, including his mother Betty.

“Please stay safe and practise safe distancing. Thank you all for your support and love in advance,” Cedric wrote.

Savikataaq, Kusugak and Patterson said that they would be sending “thoughts and condolences to the family, communities of Arviat and Rankin Inlet and all Nunavummiut during this difficult time.”

Nunavut reported its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 6 in Sanikiluaq, followed by more cases in Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove and Arviat, which has been the hardest-hit community in the territory.

The government imposed a two-week lockdown across the entire territory from mid-November to early December in a bid to stop the spread of the disease. Restrictions were eased Dec. 2 everywhere except in Arviat.

Nunavummiut continue to receive care in Winnipeg, Patterson said last week, but the number continued to not exceed five, the threshold the health department has used for disclosing patient information.

Arviat, with a population of about 3,000, has seen 217 confirmed cases since early November.

As of Dec. 18, Arviat had 34 active cases of COVID-19.

The new coronavirus is thought to have entered Arviat and the Kivalliq region with a resident who had received medical care in Winnipeg, gone through two weeks of isolation there and then returned home.

There are no active cases of COVID-19 in Rankin Inlet as of Sunday, although the community of about 2,800 did have 19 positive cases over the past weeks.

To limit the spread of COVID-19 into the region, the GN has established voluntary rapid COVID-19 testing at its isolation hubs in Winnipeg.

Patterson said on Friday, during the GN’s last COVID-19 update with the media until 2021, that similar testing will be introduced during this coming week at the isolation hubs in Ottawa and Edmonton.

On Saturday Canada surpassed 500,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Across Canada, 14,154 people have died from COVID-19.