The Yukon now has 21 active COVID-19 cases, as of the morning of June 14.
The current outbreak is driven by close contact between people at gatherings, such as graduation parties. All those who attended those gatherings are being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.
“Yesterday I declared an outbreak of COVID-19 among youth and adults associated with graduation events and those who are socializing in close proximity such as in bars and at house parties,” said acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott.
Elliott said those who have been a close contact of someone with a confirmed COVID-19 case will also have to self-isolate.
She explained that those who may have shared saliva with one of the confirmed COVID cases or who spent 15 minutes in conversation without physical distance are considered contacts. They are being told to isolate for 14 days from their most recent contact with the infected person. Close contacts who are fully vaccinated only need to isolate if they were in prolonged household contact.
Of the 10 new cases identified since Friday, nine are linked to the recently-declared outbreak and were unvaccinated.
Elliott said 18 of the cases are in Whitehorse, four are in rural communities and they are awaiting information on one additional case.
This is an outbreak of the Gamma variant of COVID-19, a more infectious strain of the disease first recognized in Japan among people travelling from Brazil, Elliott said. It is more infectious and may be able to infect people who have already had COVID-19. Elliott said that full vaccination remains an effective protection against the variant.
Elliott explained that an outbreak is declared when a group of cases occur among a common location, such as within a group of high school students.
On June 11, a COVID-19 case was identified in a Grade 12 Porter Creek Secondary student, and the school’s prom ceremony scheduled for the next day was cancelled. Students from the school’s graduating class were advised to monitor themselves for symptoms and self-isolate.
“We do know that the graduating classes from the high schools in Whitehorse were mixing, were socializing without physical distancing whether in organized or unorganized events,” Elliott said.
“So I would not be surprised to see cases in other high schools in addition to Porter Creek Secondary School.”
She added that they are searching for the origin of the outbreak and that Porter Creek may have simply been the first school to see a diagnosed case.
The Yukon government is asking that anyone who attended a graduation event, whether formal or informal, should monitor for symptoms, isolate themselves if they get symptoms and get a COVID test.
Elliott advised people, especially those who are not yet fully vaccinated to redouble precautions including observing the safe six, physical distancing and hand washing. She also advised limiting travel to rural communities and limiting visits with those who are more vulnerable to serious illness.
Of the 24 cases identified since June 4, Elliott said only one was fully vaccinated and they experienced only mild illness. She said the rare occurrence of a fully vaccinated person getting sick usually happens with prolonged close contact with an infected person.
She said they are issuing information publicly for the first time that ordinarily would have gone out through a conversation with a nurse.
“We have many contacts, well over 100, and so in this circumstance for the first time we’re giving advice through the media and through letters and distribution lists that we would prefer to give one-on-one to people,” Elliott said.
She said the communicable disease nurses are working very hard to trace and connect with all the close contacts of people who contracted COVID. She added that specific advice from nurses should be followed even if it differs from the general advice.
“I am concerned about the outbreak at this point and our hope is to not have any more severe cases or any more hospitalizations. The way we do that is we stop the spread,” Elliott said.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org