The Yukon government will soon be expanding at-home testing access for communities, licensed early learning centres and schools.
“They are an additional tool that can be used to support learning to continue in Yukon schools with the intent to reduce transmission of COVID-19,” said education minister Jeanie McLean during a COVID-19 update on Jan. 25.
Schools and early learning and child care programs in rural Yukon will receive 2,800 rapid tests as part of this initial distribution.
McLean said rapid-test access will also expand to Whitehorse schools and early learning and childcare programs in the days ahead. The department and early learning organizations will provide parents with further information.
An additional 10,875 rapid tests will be distributed to communities across the territory — an amount allowing for one test kit per person. Pickup details will be confirmed and added to Yukon.ca in the coming days.
Lab-based PCR testing is still available to all rural Yukoners at community health centres. Symptomatic Whitehorse residents can pick up tests at the Takhini Arena.
McLean noted that the self-administered rapid-antigen tests being distributed are not as reliable as the PCR lab testing. Even with a negative result, Yukoners should still be isolating.
“The most important thing you need to know is if you have symptoms, you should assume you have COVID-19 and follow the recommendations for isolation,” said McLean.
One person is hospitalized in the Yukon this week, and one other person has been medevaced out of the territory. Acting chief medical officer of health Catherine Elliott said the average daily case count is now 39 for the past week, and PCR testing has recorded 211 active cases.
Outbreaks are currently taking place at both Copper Ridge Place and Whistle Bend Place.
The government announced on Jan. 21 that a sixteenth Yukoner died from COVID-19.
McLean said they remain “solid on keeping schools open” but acknowledged that some parents are concerned about the shift away from communicating outbreaks to families.
The government informed families on Jan. 12 it would no longer be releasing exposure notices for schools. McLean said starting this week exposure notices will also end for early-learning and childcare programs in the territory.
Instead, schools and early learning will transition to a school surveillance model, which McLean said was the primary method of monitoring disease prior to COVID-19. Parents should still notify the school when a child is ill, but they do not need to be specific about the diagnosis.
Principals will be tracking absences and providing that info to Yukon Centre for Disease Control.
“I know this feels like a dramatic shift. However, if there is an increased risk to the health and safety of students or school staff, we will take the steps necessary to introduce additional health and safety measures,” said McLean.
When it comes to making the decision on whether or not to keep kids home, McLean said the “traffic light tool” had been updated. The instructions – which vary depending on vaccination status – can be found at yukon.ca/en/can-your-child-go-to-school.
Especially important to watch for are any “red symptoms” such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or loss of taste or smell.
“Thank you to the students and the parents dealing with a stressful and rapidly changing time with patience and resilience,” said McLean.
“I also want to say thank you to all of those frontline health workers and those providing mental health, wellness and addiction support in our communities, as well as First Nation governments that are supporting their citizens and all of us as well. Because of your hard work, we still have this satisfaction of seeing the smiling faces of children who were able to learn at school, either friends and stay connected to their teachers,” she said.
Contact Haley Ritchie at email@example.com