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Dawson City reacts to COVID-19 pandemic

Dawson City anxious and optomistic regarding pandemic.
Residents of Dawson City are anxious about COVID-19 and the impact it will have on the town, according to the mayor. (Yukon News file photo)

Residents of Dawson City are anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic but optimistic about the measures being taken to prevent it from spreading, according to the mayor.

Mayor Wayne Potoroka spoke with the News earlier this week.

“Some people are anxious, there is no doubt about it,” Potoroka said.

He explained that the anxiety is more broad than just concerns over the virus. He said people are worried what this will do to the community and how it will affect local businesses and tourism.

Dawsonites in general are complying with the recommendations and orders put in place by Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, according to Potoroka. Many are practicing safe social distancing and frequently washing hands.

He added that there is a lot of optimism despite the anxiety.

As for the town’s response to the pandemic, it has put several notices on its website. The town is following Hanley’s recommendations.

If social distancing can’t be attained in the workspace, staff are encouraged to work from home.

The community’s recreation facilities have been shut down for some time, the mayor said. This was done to limit the possibility of exposure and spread. The town is putting out public notices about the importance of self-isolation, social distancing and good hygiene.

The town’s public counters were shut down. This was required to ensure the safety of the front-end staff.

“You can still do business with the town but we’re asking them to call in first,” Potoroka said.

There is no modifications to the meeting schedule for council. What is changing is the way it meets. At last week’s council meeting, the majority attended electronically.

“It was myself and the CAO a good healthy four metres apart, with everyone else on the phone,” Potoroka said.

He indicated that this will be how council will meet moving forward.

With the news of the first two cases in the Yukon, in Whitehorse, Potoroka said he has not seen much of a difference in how people are acting. He said people in his circle are taking it seriously.

He said he was expecting there to be cases in the territory eventually. He said he hopes this will be a wake-up call to the people not taking it seriously and that it convinces them to start complying with recommendations.

“This is important,” Potoroka said. “It is not some crazy news story. It is here and we need to do our jobs to prevent the spreading of this virus.”

The mayor has questions about newly-introduced restrictions on visiting Yukon communities, such as the definitions of both essential and non-essential travel. He said he also wants to know what measures would be put in place to enforce the restriction and has a meeting set up with Hanley and other government officials.

“It’s good that restrictions are tightening, but we want to make sure they are as tight as they need to be,” Potoroka said.

He figures the tourism season will take a huge hit this year, with the measures to discourage people to visit the territory at this time.

That said, he feels the restriction put in place now should reduce the risk.

“We should all prepare for the long haul,” Potoroka said.

He added that the measures to close bars will hurt. He said he liked that restaurants can remain open by transitioning to take-out only.

Potoroka said he is impressed with how the business community stepped up. He said he feels businesses have shown they are a “rock-solid foundation” for Dawson. He said businesses do not just look at their bottom lines and this proves it. He added some businesses reacted before the government made orders and recommendations.

He pointed out hotel owners have offered to take people in to help with self-isolating. Grocery stores have taken preventative measures to ensure no one is hoarding food or supplies.

He said the stores are stocked fine. There was a point where toilet paper was hard to find, but that has passed.

“There is no concern about supply at the moment,” Potoroka said.

Overall, he said he wants to remind everyone that as long as people to continue take efforts, the crisis will pass.

“I think it’s helping,” Potoroka said.

Contact Gord Fortin at