A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on Jan. 5, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Yukon government has revealed the timeline for when residents of the territory will be vaccinated. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on Jan. 5, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Yukon government has revealed the timeline for when residents of the territory will be vaccinated. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Access to COVID-19 vaccine for Whitehorse general public planned for early February

Nine new cases have been confirmed and 48 people have been asked to self-isolate

Amid an anticipated rise in COVID-19 cases following the holidays, the Yukon government has revealed the timeline for when residents of the territory will be vaccinated.

The two mobile teams that will provide vaccinations to the communities have been named Balto and Togo, after the lead dogs involved in the famous story of the 1925 Nome, Alaska, serum delivery.

The mobile teams will begin work on the week of Jan. 18, the same week that the Whitehorse vaccination clinic at the Yukon Convention Centre will open for priority groups. Last week vaccination began at long-term care homes for residents and staff.

Around 310 Yukoners were immunized at the end of Jan. 6 and 500 were expected to be vaccinated by the end of the week.

“The arrival of the vaccines a little bit more than a week ago, is very good news for our territory. But we cannot forget that we are still in the grips of a pandemic and that there is still a long road ahead of us,” said Premier Sandy Silver.

Immunizations at McDonald Lodge and high-risk health care staff in Dawson and Whitehorse General Hospital will take place the week of Jan. 11. Starting Jan. 18 the mobile teams will head to Watson Lake (including Upper Liard and Lower Post), Beaver Creek and Old Crow. The following week on Jan. 25 the teams will go to Dawson City, Carcross and Tagish, Teslin and Pelly Crossing. Beginning in February the teams will go to Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, Haines Junction, Carmacks, Faro, Mayo and Ross River.

The first shipment of the vaccine arrived Dec. 28, 2020. The federal government is expected to continue to supply Moderna doses going forward, with 7,200 more expected the week of Jan. 18 and more to follow in February.

Silver said the variables include how many people want to be vaccinated and said the territory is relying on the federal government for timely shipments.

“We’re working on more details as to finalizing the scheduling of the rest of those vaccines,” Silver said at a press conference on Jan. 7.

Starting on Feb. 10, with capacity based on vaccine availability, anyone 18 and older will be able to get vaccinated in Whitehorse. The goal is to have every person given two doses of the vaccine by April.

The territory went back to zero cases prior to the holidays, but the active case count has now risen to nine, with one more possible case awaiting confirmation.

“I will be surprised if we don’t see more, with individuals coming home for Christmas or other family members visiting. Combined with the continued surge of cases down south, we anticipated that we will see more cases,” Hanley said.

The recent cases involve two separate clusters. Three are in a family group, while the second cluster has six cases.

Hanley said “most of these cases and the contacts have acted responsibly” but all originated from Outside travel.

A third potential case came up positive with rapid testing but is being confirmed by the southern lab tests. Contact tracing identified many potential contacts at indoor and outdoor social gatherings that were held over the holidays and didn’t follow COVID-19 guidelines. Right now 48 individuals connected to the case are self-isolating and undergoing testing.

On Jan. 6 a letter was sent to parents with children in schools from the Department of Education notifying that some high school-aged students have been advised to self-isolate.

“No Yukon school is considered an exposure site for potential COVID-19 transmission, and all Yukon schools remain low-risk environments,” reads the letter. “If you are not contacted by Yukon Communicable Disease Control, it has been determined you and your child are currently not at risk. Please do not contact them directly.”

Hanley said the letter was sent out to address rumours and confirm that schools are safe places.

“There has been a lot of social media speculation around these cases around who was partying or not,” warned Hanley. “We will tell you what you need to know to stay safe while we safeguard the confidentiality of the case and their families.”

There have also been five new charges laid out under CEMA since the new year started. Three for a failure to self-isolate, one for breaking the entry declaration and one for not wearing a mask.

Silver refused to confirm whether those charges had any connection to the recent outbreaks.

“When Dr. Hanley talks about people gathering at parties over the holidays, I hope that you realize the results of your actions. It absolutely isn’t worth it,” he said.

Hanley said even as vaccination goes forward public health measures, including the safe six plus one, will likely need to remain in place for a while.

“I urge you to recall what I said previously that COVID-19 should always be assumed to be active here. Whether or not we have confirmed active cases, chances are it is lurking somewhere close,” Hanley said. “The risk for community transmission that feels like an avoidable tragedy when we are so close to vaccine coverage.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com