Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announce the first COVID-19 related death in a press conference announcement Friday morning. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announce the first COVID-19 related death in a press conference announcement Friday morning. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

UPDATED: Yukon announces first COVID-19-related death

The person was an older Watson Lake resident with underlying health conditions, officials said

One person has died from COVID-19 in the territory.

At a press conference on Oct. 30, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the death was one of the five cases from the Watson Lake cluster.

No details, including age, gender or name are being released but the individual was older and had underlying medical issues.

“I want, first of all, to express my condolences to the individuals’ partner and family. Of course, the family will need time and space to grieve and we need to give them as much time and space as they need,” he said.

“This is a very sad day for Yukon, one that I had hoped we would not see. That somehow we could spare everyone from the worst outcomes of this virus,” he said.

This is the first death from the virus in the territory, after having seen only 23 cases since the start of the pandemic. Five cases – four in Watson Lake and one in Whitehorse – remain active and recovering at home.

The individual who died was recovering at home and being closely monitored. Hanley said physicians and nurses were doing daily check-ins and the death was sudden. He said hospitalization likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Public health was notified of death on Thursday afternoon.

“We know that most of the time in most people COVID presents a mild illness, but we also know that unexpectedly and somewhat randomly, COVID can be fatal or cause serious complications. We also know that the higher the age, the more the medical conditions, the higher the risk,” he said.

“We must double our efforts to protect our elders and vulnerable citizens,” said Hanley.

Hanley said the family is grieving. Medical staff in Watson Lake are also feeling shaken and sad, he said.

“To lose a patient, it always hits you in your heart,” Hanley said. “I think they’re pulling together and I think Watson Lake is such a great community for being unified and working together. We’re all working together on this and I think we will rely on each other’s support to get through this.”

Hanley said they had considered testing all 800 residents of Watson Lake, but decided it would not be helpful. Public health is confident that there is no ongoing transmission.

Hanley said one or two more cases may still be discovered in connection with Watson Lake, as tests are still being confirmed. In total, 53 people in the community have been tested so far.

He also confirmed that “safe and modest” celebrations are still being encouraged this weekend for Halloween. Indoor events must be kept less than 10 people and he also encouraged everyone to wear masks where physical distancing is not possible.

“As we look south to surging activity, we must be vigilant and we must persevere and support each other in our efforts. We must continue to live our lives with all the precautions in place to protect us from COVID spread, but we can still live our lives actively and fully,” he said.

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

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