The Yukon government gave the majority of its initial supply of rapid tests to private mining companies, but said it is changing strategies moving forward.
Along with other jurisdictions across the country, the Yukon was provided with an initial shipment of 38,648 antigen and molecular rapid tests from the federal government earlier this year.
Of those, 18,648 were Abbott ID Now tests, which must be administered by health professionals and 20,000 were Abbott Panbio, which were later approved by Health Canada for at-home use but were recommended only to be administered by health professionals in October 2020.
The government said 46 per cent of the Abbott ID Now tests, which require health-care professionals and a dedicated testing machine, were used in health care settings and 23 per cent were used in other high-risk environments. Around 4 per cent were allocated to mines.
Of the Panbio antigen rapid tests, which do not require a machine to process, around 60 per cent were handed out by the government to private mining companies.
In total, the Yukon government provided 11,250 of the Abbott Panbio rapid-tests to four different mining companies in the territory.
Minto received 750, Alexco received 425, Victoria Gold received 4,475 and Silver Tip (owned by Coeur Mining and located just south of the Yukon border in British Columbia) received 5,600.
The News has reached out to all five mining companies but did not receive responses in time for deadline.
At a COVID-19 press conference on Dec. 15, chief medical officer Dr. Catherine Elliott confirmed that tests were provided for companies, but also said they have been used in settings like hospitals and the emergency shelter.
“We have provided rapid tests and rapid molecular tests to mine settings and our mines have fantastic medical oversight and laboratory capacity to run these tests,” she said.
NDP leader Kate White criticised the decision on Jan. 13, after learning that the majority of the tests were provided to mines at the same time that the teachers union and parents were petitioning for use in schools.
“I absolutely agree that mineworkers deserve to be safe. That being said – how can the government justify sending thousands of rapid tests to a company in British Columbia who made almost a billion dollars in revenue last year and that qualified for free tests from the federal government?” said White in a statement.
“In the meantime, schools or Yukon small businesses must wait in line,” she said. “Parents, teachers and frontline workers have been urging the Government to implement a rapid test strategy for months now. These thousands of tests could have been deployed throughout the Yukon ahead of the holidays to help Yukoners make safe, informed decisions.”
The federal government has been providing free rapid tests to businesses and nonprofits outside of the territorial supplement.
Large companies, with 200 or more employees, are eligible to receive tests from the government while small and medium companies with less employees are advised to source rapid tests from provinces and territories.
Carleen Kerr, director of communications for the health department, said going forward, the “mine program will no longer use these tests.”
“The remainder will support the new testing strategy which prioritizes people who are at the highest risk of severe outcomes,” she said in an email, adding that the territorial government will start reporting rapid test data to the federal government.
“Given the heightened risk of people living in congregate settings, we continue to work with mines to help keep staff and communities safe. As part of this work, we continue to provide Abbott ID Now test cartridges to test symptomatic persons on site,” she said.
A second shipment of 50,000 rapid tests from the federal government arrived Jan. 8. These at-home test kits are currently being provided to Yukoners who show COVID-19 symptoms. Another shipment is expected in the coming weeks.
The federal government has also supplied a separate stream of rapid tests to First Nations governments.
While the focus was initially on rural communities, the Council of Yukon First Nations is expanding availability to urban residents and making two free rapid tests to each First Nations citizen at the Family Preservation Services building located at 206 Alexander Street.
A drive-through distribution event also took place on Jan. 13 in Whitehorse.
“CYFN’s COVID coordination team continues to introduce initiatives that remove barriers and improve access to rapid tests for Yukon First Nations,” said CYFN grand chief Peter Johnston in a statement.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Abbott Panbio rapid tests were approved for at-home use by Health Canada in October 2020. This is incorrect. They were approved for use by health professionals in October 2020 but were not utilized at home until later in 2021.