The Yukon government approved 241 alternative self-isolation plans between June 2020 to November 2020.
In total, of the 423 applications submitted, a little over half of those requests were approved, while the remainder were declined or withdrawn. Most of the requests (271) were personal and came from individuals, rather than companies and organizations.
“One of the mistakes that people make sometimes when they apply to us is they think that this is about how to not self-isolate. It has not been about that at all. It’s been about alternatives,” said Community Services Minister John Streicker.
The News obtained a spreadsheet with a high-level summary of the applications submitted from June 2020 to November 2020 through an Access to Information Request.
Alternate self-isolation plans were introduced as an option after the territory closed its borders and required all those entering the Yukon to quarantine for two weeks.
Normally the self-isolation requirements are strict and involve mandatory 14-day stays at a private residence or hotel in Whitehorse. The alternate plans don’t eliminate the need to isolate completely but can allow for more flexible arrangements in special circumstances.
Applications also require a risk mitigation plan, explaining how they will prevent transmission.
All requests had to be approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, in addition to the minister. There was no allowance for a reduced period of self-isolation or the use of COVID-19 tests to reduce isolation time.
As an example, Streicker said there were personal applicants seeking consideration to safely attend funerals or care for dying relatives. In that case, a person could apply to attend the outdoor portion of a funeral but not participate indoors, or the funeral home might be able to set up an isolation zone for an individual.
Another example was an applicant who was planning to move to the territory and wanted to look at housing. Approval depended on the realtor and the buyer to come up with a safe, contact-less arrangement with which to view properties.
“What we say is that the person is still self-isolating, even when they go and do these other things,” Streicker said. “Sometimes it’s really easy if there’s no one else around, we have in place protocols, it’s pretty straightforward.”
“It’s not just – I’m wearing a mask – so it’s okay,” he said.
The most common reasons for requests were to stay with a family member, travel to a residence, transit through the Yukon, operate a seasonal business, relocate, or involved essential or critical workers. The remaining 245 requests did not fall in those categories and were labelled “other.”
In addition to individual proposals, 152 applications were submitted by commercial applicants.
The largest number of requests came from the mining and exploration industry and the construction industry.
Edward Peart, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said COVID-19 has had a major impact on how larger companies are able to bring in specialists and source general labour.
“The mining industry has done okay, that is true, but you can’t overlook the financial burden of self-isolation in a hotel. There’s a human aspect of that too, adding two weeks onto a shift is a long time to ask someone to spend away from their family,” he said.
He said the industry is dedicated to preventing transmission in smaller communities and added that many companies have hired additional nursing staff during the pandemic in order to not put a strain on local health centres.
Not all applications from the sector were approved. One request, filed Aug. 22 by an unknown mining company, asked permission for 58 people from various places of origin to self-isolate in an area outside of Whitehorse. The request was denied.
A construction project in Whitehorse also requested permission for 12 people from Alberta in July, but was denied.
In November sub-trades working on a construction site in Whitehorse raised concerns about the potential for Manitoba workers to be on the same job site as locals while on an alternative self-isolation plan.
On the issue of enforcement, Streicker said “these things have evolved over time” as the new policy was rolled out.
Civil Emergency Measures Act enforcement teams are notified when an alternate self-isolation plan has been approved for areas like a job site. A copy of the policy is also sent to Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety for commercial clients, he said.
Alberta was the largest origin point for both commercial and personal requests, with a total of 173 applications, followed second by 69 from Ontario and 38 from British Columbia.
Eleven alternative self-isolation arrangements were approved for individuals from the United States. The majority of commercial applicants worked in mining, while a number of their approved requests were to stay with family in a community outside of Whitehorse.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org