Chief medical officer of health Dr. Sudit Ranade, seen speaking at a Aug. 23 press conference at the Yukon legislature’s media room, is expecting this year’s respiratory illness season will be similar to last year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Sudit Ranade, seen speaking at a Aug. 23 press conference at the Yukon legislature’s media room, is expecting this year’s respiratory illness season will be similar to last year. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Return to COVID-19 mandates would require game-changing circumstances, Yukon’s top doctor says

Dr. Sudit Ranade has confirmed there is currently a COVID-19 outbreak at Copper Ridge Place

The Yukon’s chief medical officer of health is expecting a respiratory season much like last year with more than just COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) co-circulating among people.

In a Sept. 1 interview, Dr. Sudit Ranade said that through the summer, activity of most viruses was low, although there was a “little blip” with COVID-19.

“We’re expecting that trend to change now as it gets cooler as people started socializing and doing more things indoors,” he said, as other parts of the country are seeing rises in respiratory-related cases.

Ranade said he looks at what’s the level of burden when it comes to health centre visits and hospitalizations (because people end up in hospital every year), what are causing these conditions in people and are these reportable illnesses.

There is currently an outbreak at the Copper Ridge Place long-term care facility in Whitehorse, where Ranade said “families and all those folks” have been notified and interventions are in place. Two other recent outbreaks at long-term care homes in Whitehorse and Dawson City have been officially called over by the territory’s top doctor.

READ MORE: Outbreaks at 2 long-term care homes declared by Yukon’s top doctor

While respiratory virus activity has gone up in recent weeks in the Yukon, the number of people ending up in hospital due to respiratory-related illness is down from previous years, according to the latest biweekly surveillance report.

Overall, the report on COVID-19, influenza and RSV for the week ending Aug. 26 indicates the intensity is described as medium, with the rationale being that activity levels are typical for the season. The geographical spread is regional, with some sporadic activity in different regions of the territory. The trend is increasing, with COVID-19 per cent test positivity and wastewater on the rise as well as respiratory-related visits to health centres.

Per the report, COVID-19 test positivity has increased and was the highest in Whitehorse. The test positivity rate refers to the percentage of the total tests undergone that came up with a positive result.

The COVID-19 wastewater viral load in Haines Junction is also going up, although the current viral load is generally lower than what was seen at peak times during winter and spring, according to a graph in the report. Wastewater surveillance is an early-warning tool to help determine if COVID-19 is going up or down in the community because people who are infected with COVID-19 can shed the virus in their poop, even if they don’t show symptoms, per the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations’ website.

Visits to community health centres for respiratory-related symptoms are similar in comparison to previous years and are increasing, although about half of the Yukon’s rural health centres have temporarily closed or reduced services at some point since early May.

The rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases is stable and similar to previous years. Hospitalization rates are stable and have gone down compared to previous years.

For the three illnesses combined, case rates and hospitalizations in rural Yukon and the Whitehorse area are stable and lower than previous years.

“Right now, that’s good,” Ranade said. He noted that if hospitalizations stay low on average, then that means there’s still fairly good protection from the vaccine against severe outcomes of disease, adding there’s evidence of that so far. He said it’s known that vaccines are protective, but what’s unknown is how long that protection lasts.

Ranade is recommending fall COVID-19 vaccines for those who are eligible because most people haven’t gotten the shot since last fall or for over a year.

As for vaccination rates, 29 per cent of Yukoners have received the influenza vaccine, per the report. Nine per cent of the Yukon population is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, with uptake plateauing for dose four and five. For the age 70 and up category, which typically accounts for a more vulnerable portion of the population, the COVID-19 vaccination rate is 22 per cent.

As for a return of mask mandates, Ranade noted health-care facilities tend to contain more sick or frail people and there are some situations where he does advise masking such as for certain procedures, for people showing symptoms or in outbreak settings.

“As a general kind of everybody universally masks all the time, regardless of your symptoms, I think we would have to see what’s happening in the health-care system to determine if that was needed,” he said. Two game-changers are if COVID-19 variants against which the vaccines don’t offer protection start circulating and what happens if the health-care system looks like it’s going to be overwhelmed.

Ranade doesn’t expect broader restrictions and lockdowns.

“I still don’t see us moving to that other space because of all the harms that we know are associated with that,” he said.

Contact Dana Hatherly at