Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

In news that will likely be a relief to many parents, the swish and spit COVID-19 test is now available for children age 18 and younger in the territory.

“The nasopharyngeal swabbing is not a pleasant experience, especially for children. We all know that,” said Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, during the weekly COVID-19 update on Jan. 20.

Instead of a nose swab, which is the standard test for COVID-19, children can now be tested during an alternative method that relies on a saliva sample. The “mouth rinse and gargle test” involves swishing and gargling with a saline solution.

Eating, drinking, chewing gum, brushing teeth and vaping or smoking can not be done up to an hour before the test. The samples are still sent to a lab in British Columbia for validation.

The new method — which the government said they were working on in September — comes at a time when testing across the territory has begun to slow down as active cases return to zero.

Hanley mentioned that there is a “remarkably low” viral activity in the territory — not just of COVID-19, but also influenza. That means there are less sickness and symptoms in general and testing numbers are now down.

As a result the drive-thru testing centre in Whitehorse will be closing on Jan. 22. The COVID-19 Testing and Assessment Centre will remain open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hanley said the low levels of cold and influenza virus in the territory means that all respiratory symptoms — including a cough, fever or trouble breathing — should be taken seriously as potential signs of COVID-19 that require testing.

“It always feels great to arrive once more at zero but every time that we get there we have to remember, enjoy the moment, but it’s not time to relax,” Hanley said.

There was also one more CEMA charge for a person who failed to self-isolate.

“Self isolating is not a suggestion. It’s not something that you can choose to ignore if it’s inconvenient,” said Premier Sandy Silver. “What we need to do now is again, continue to do our part to keep fellow Yukoners safe.”

Vaccine rollout to communities

As of Jan. 21, 2,590 Yukoners had received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, including 91 per cent of residents in long-term care homes.

This week the mobile vaccine teams Balto and Togo headed to Beaver Creek, Watson Lake and Old Crow.

“‘Protect our elders’ was the theme that I saw posted on Facebook and that is so much of our focus in these first few weeks of vaccination,” Hanley said. He said the oldest person to receive the vaccine in Watson Lake was a 96-year-old Kaska Elder Minnie Caesar.

Hanley said Caesar and her family were unsure at first, due to information posted on social media, but spoke to healthcare workers and she decided to get the vaccine.

Liard First Nation Chief Stephen Charlie, Deputy Chief Harlan A.C. Shilling, Councillor Amanda Brown and Mayor Chris Irvin also received their vaccines.

“I am getting the vaccination because I want to do my part to ensure the health and safety of our members, our elders, and our community,” Charlie wrote in a Facebook post encouraging Liard First Nation members to sign up.

Hanley said although they are rare, all healthcare personnel giving the vaccines are trained to deal with allergic reactions. So far, there have been two cases of allergic reactions that were treated and had no long-term effect.

Hanley said the two adverse reactions have been reported to a national database.

Despite the interruption to Canada’s Pfizer vaccine supply, both Hanley and Silver said they are not concerned about the delivery of Moderna vaccines to the territory. Silver said they are in continued talks with the federal government to confirm more shipment dates.

Officials urge use of online booking system

Residents of Carcross, Tagish, Teslin and Dawson City are being encouraged to book appointments online for clinics next week.

Yukoners living in Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas can also book a vaccine appointment if they are 70 years and older or live in group settings. Whitehorse and area residents age 60 and older will be eligible starting February 1.

The government is planning for everyone 18 and over to begin booking their appointments starting February 10. Appointments can be booked at yukon.ca/this-is-our-shot or by calling 1-877-374-0425.

“You do not want to miss this opportunity,” said Silver.

Hanley said the online or telephone booking in advance is essential in order to prepare the right number of doses. While there are some opportunities for people who do not book to get the vaccine, the online system allows for efficient use of the precious medicine.

“Once it’s started to thaw it’s absolutely go-time,” he explained. “The vials cannot be frozen again for future use. Each vial contains enough vaccine for 10 doses and once the vials are open, they’re only good for six hours. So we need to ensure that we have 10 individuals ready to be immunized for each vial that we do open.”

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

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