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Yukon government recommends wearing masks and preparing for sick days as kids return to school

The press conference also provided an update on the most recent COVID-19 case
Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley at the Government of Yukon COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse, Yukon on June 9. The government is now recommending masks for students age 10 and older when in situations that social distancing isn’t possible. (Photo by Alistair Maitland Photography)

The Yukon government is warning that Aug. 20 won’t be the start of a normal school year.

In addition to social distancing and previously announced changes to daily schedules, sniffles could be cause for alarm, students will have assigned seating on buses and children are being asked to wear masks in situations where physical distancing is difficult.

Additional details for the school year were announced at a press conference on Aug. 12.

“As we return to face to face learning, we are putting the health and safety of students and staff and our communities first. These are unprecedented times and we know that school this year will be different,” education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said.

Students and teachers will return to school on Aug. 20. The original start date was pushed back by one day to allow for teacher training. Each school has submitted an individual COVID-19 Operational Plan.

“We’ve discussed and researched and debated everything from whether children should be able to play with blocks, as to whether windows in classrooms should be open, from use of gymnasiums and libraries, to how far away from each other students should be while waiting for the bus,” said Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley.

“This, of course, has been a tremendous amount of work but will, I believe, help us to achieve our goal, and that is to get kids back into schools. I think that’s all what we want. We can all agree that the safest place for children to be is back in the schools,” he said.

The government is now recommending that children age 10 and older wear non-medical masks “in situations where physical distancing is not possible.”

Hanley said the change in recommendation was due to emerging evidence that older children have similar transmission rates to adults. The Department of Education will supply disposable masks.

Hanley said he is still not in favour of making masks mandatory and cautioned that they are a supplement to safe distancing and sanitation.

There will also be a lower threshold this year for keeping kids at home.

“I’ve seen many emails, particularly with school beginning, that kids will be missing school and parents perhaps missing work as a result of one kid with a sniffle. That is one of the realities we’re going to have to face,” Hanley said.

Testing and contact-tracing have been kicked into high gear after a person tested positive for COVID-19 last week in Whitehorse. Hanley said the process of identifying and contacting potential exposures continues.

He cautioned people not to react with hostility towards Dawson City residents or those who have visited the community.

“While contract tracing continues, we’re talking about a very small number of individuals who had COVID infection while in Dawson City. We are not seeing community spread. There is no reason to target Dawson City as a place of risk,” he said.

Since July 31 public health has collected 425 samples for testing and received 264 results.

Hanley thanked all the people who have come forward for testing with symptoms. He encouraged all people who feel sick to stay home, even if they suspect a common cold.

Contact Haley Ritchie at