The Yukon government announced guidelines for a safe COVID-19 holiday on Dec. 22, but stopped short of mandating gathering sizes or border closures as seen in other jurisdictions.
“I know that many people have limited their travel at this time, whether domestic or international, in order to avoid the risk for themselves. It does reduce the risk of importation and I appreciate that people have had to make these hard choices,” said acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Catherine Elliott.
“We will learn to live with Omicron. Until that time, it’s wise to limit our activity,” she said.
Elliott said evidence is still being gathered on Omicron, and it is unknown if it is more severe than other variants, although it is being transmitted among fully vaccinated people. Vaccinated people are less likely to be hospitalized, but infections can leap to more vulnerable populations.
She suggested precautions for those travelling over the holidays.
For the first three days they enter or re-enter the territory, people should limit contacts to a bare minimum, ideally those within a single household. In the first five days, they should remain home or only do essential errands.
She said it’s important to avoid seniors, elders, non-vaccinated and those with chronic disease.
For those from Outside visiting, they should be limiting contacts and be cautious while in the territory.
She said holiday gatherings should be limited to a maximum of 10 people from no more than two households.
“This is a tough time and we’ve all had to make changes,” she said, adding that people should be paying attention to their mental health as they make these changes and continuing to stay connected in safe ways.
Right now the advice is being provided as a guideline, rather than a legally-enforced restriction. Elliott said her office is monitoring the situation.
“Measures are the heavy hand of the law. I would prefer if people choose to do the right thing and I know most Yukoners do that. However, if we get into a situation where we need further measures, we’re ready to do that and recommend those to governments,” she said.
Lower-risk holiday celebrations include celebrations with immediate households, virtual visits, door-stop visits and outdoor celebrations with physical distancing. Additional guidelines are available at yukon.ca/holiday-planning-guidelines.
Public Service Commission Minister John Streicker started the press conference wishing everyone happy holidays and acknowledging the solstice.
Streicker said 40 per cent of children aged 4 to 11 have now received their first dose. Children have been the focus of the vaccine clinic in the lead-up towards Christmas, but post-holidays the booster shots for adults will be the priority.
“Walk-ins will be accommodated when possible, but remember that they are not guaranteed,” he said.
Currently, all booster appointments for those over 18 have been booked. Sticker said the government will continue releasing weekly appointments and is currently seeking more immunizers to boost capacity at the clinics.
He said the government is asking retired health care workers to return to the clinic and trying to identify other potential immunizers – including pharmacists and emergency medical staff – to join the effort.
“We have reached out to the federal government to explore what assistance Canada can provide to bolster our vaccine booster campaigns [as well],” he said. “We know that the more Yukoners that get vaccinated, the safer we are as a territory.”
The COVID-19 testing site will be closed on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 but will remain open with regular hours on all other days. The COVID-19 vaccine clinic will be closed on Dec. 24, 27, 28 and on Jan. 3.
Community clinics will take place on Jan. 13 and 27 in Carcross, Jan. 13 in Carmacks, Jan. 14 in Dawson and Dec. 22 in Watson Lake. Other communities can see details and phone their health centres online.
Elliott said daily case counts are currently steady, with ongoing community transmission in Whitehorse. There are currently 49 active cases in the territory, including two Omicron cases, although Delta is the dominant variant.
Elliott said that most cases are people returning from Outside.
“This is something that we dealt with before and we will be able to manage now,” she said.
Elliott said that there is currently a 10.6 per cent rate of positivity, “indicating that a moderate number of people with COVID are not seeking testing.” She said she hopes that people with symptoms are isolating.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org