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Students will return to full-time learning and maskless classrooms

Handwashing, avoidance of crowding and masks in communal spaces will continue
An empty classroom at Vanier Secondary School in Whitehorse on Aug. 12. In addition to the usual teaching challenges, educators will also be instructing on infection control. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

It has been seven months since the first vaccines were administered in the Yukon, and life is one step closer to normal this week with the end of mandatory masking in public spaces.

“The availability of the vaccine has completely changed the landscape of COVID-19,” said Education Minister Jeanie McLean at a weekly update on Aug. 4.

McLean reminded Yukoners that although masks are not required, businesses can still request their use.

“We encourage everyone to respect these requests,” she said.

Students will be returning to classes in a number of weeks, and McLean said the government plans for full-time in-class instruction. Masks will not be required in classrooms but students over five and school staff are recommended to wear a mask in indoor spaces outside the classroom such as hallways.

“We are confident we can safely return students into classrooms,” McLean said.

“If wearing a mask makes you feel more safe or more protected, then by all means continue wearing a mask.”

Handwashing and hand sanitizing will continue to be important, and the “traffic light” tool to assess symptoms before going to school will be updated. Physical distancing will also not be required, but “it will be important” to avoid crowding.

“Just like outside of schools, we encourage people to be mindful of each other’s space,” she said.

School busing will be at normal occupancy, with required mask usage for drivers and students. Bus routes are now available at with seat assignments already sent to parents.

Last month Pfizer vaccinations were opened to all youth born in 2009, regardless of whether they have turned 12 years old yet or not.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said we are entering “a significant next phase of our COVID-19 journey.”

Hanley acknowledged that case counts are rising in certain areas of southern Canada and the United States due to the Delta variant, but reassured Yukoners that decisions to loosen restrictions are being made carefully.

He noted that cases in the U.K. are stable due to a high rate of vaccination, while cases are soaring in Florida, which has a comparatively low vaccine rate.

“The fall and winter season ahead of us will be challenging to navigate,” warned Hanley. “The pandemic has many twists and turns to throw at us yet … We will be able to meet and overcome these hurdles as we always have.”

The Yukon now has 61 active cases of COVID-19. Overall, 481 people have recovered since the June wave and eight Yukoners in total have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hanley said 59 people have been hospitalized and 14 people have been medivaced out of the territory for care. Of the positive cases 85 per cent are those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Hanley said the territory is now beyond the “spike” of the outbreak, and there is no longer widespread community transmission. He expects to continue seeing more cases and a “very slow tapering” over the next few weeks.

Masks are no longer required and changes for capacity were brought in for businesses on Aug. 4.

Hanley noted that masks will still be reccomended in clinical settings such as doctor’s offices, dentists, massage therapists and chiropractors. He said table-size restrictions in restaurants have been removed, allowing for more than six patrons at a table. No dancing or mingling is allowed.

A “low-risk public notice” for a Whitehorse-Vancouver flight on July 23 was issued earlier in the week. Air Canada flight 8890 departed Whitehorse at 10 a.m. on July 23 and arrived in the city at 12:26 p.m.

Those travelling in the flight may have been exposed to COVID-19, according to the release. Anyone who travelled on the flight is being asked to self-monitor for symptoms, particularly people who are not vaccinated.

Contact Haley Ritchie at