As Yukon’s daily case count continues to rise past an all-time high, everyone should be isolating if they experience symptoms, said acting chief medical officer Dr. Catherine Elliott at the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 12.
“We are no longer advising people to visit a test centre for confirmatory testing, if they’re not sick,” said Elliott. “The hard truth is a lot of people in Yukon are going to get COVID.”
An outbreak has been declared at Copper Ridge Place. Two residents may have contracted the virus and Elliott said “measures are being put in place and further investigation is underway.”
The number of active cases is currently 471. The average number of new cases in the past three days has moved to 91. Two people are in hospital with COVID-19.
Key symptoms are cough, fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing or loss of taste or smell. Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 will have symptoms.
Testing criteria for lab-confirmed PCR tests is now limited to vulnerable populations. This week the territory made at-home rapid tests available for symptomatic people and so far have distributed 1,400 test kits.
The kits can confirm a positive diagnosis, but even those who test negative should continue to self-isolate.
“We know that there are many people here in Whitehorse who are interested in getting tested, but do not meet that new criteria,” said Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. “It’s important to remember that they are not a substitute for being vaccinated or following public health measures.”
McPhee emphasized that being vaccinated, practising the safe six and limiting contacts are the most important ways to prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19. The vaccine clinic is currently open from Monday to Saturday and appointments for booster shots are the priority.
A pop-up clinic will be held Jan. 13 at the Whitehorse Health Centre for children aged five to 11 from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. In February, the priority of the vaccine clinic will shift to second shots for youth. Right now the vaccine uptake for children is just over 50 per cent.
“Every shot delivered helps protect every person in our territory,” said McPhee.
Elliott shared a graph showing case counts over the fall and winter months. Starting in October to the end of November, the graph shows a wave of high cases before a lull before the holidays.
The graph shows cases spiking sharply in the current period.
“Based on what we know about the impact of Omicron and other parts of the country, we can begin to understand what might happen in the Yukon,” she said.
“Based on this, I anticipate we’ll continue to see a number of people off work due to illness and isolation and a number of more people continuing to get sick. I also expect that we’ll see more people requiring hospitalisation in the next few days,” she said.
Elliott said the active case counts will change since the Yukon’s testing strategy will change. Only lab-tested PCR results will be counted in the active case count. Elliott said the territory is still able to use modelling and epidemiology research to get a better picture of overall cases.
Community transmission is widespread and Elliott said all communities carry a risk of COVID-19.
“I can appreciate that the change away from things like testing and case counts that many people have been following very closely, might be concerning for some. Please note it doesn’t leave us unequipped,” she said.
Recommendations regarding travel outside the territory have also been changed. During the first two weeks of January the recommendation was that Yukoners self-isolate for three to five days.
Because the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the territory is now the same as Outside, the advice is being changed to recommend Yukoners returning from domestic travel monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolate only if they are sick.
Non-essential travel to rural communities is not recommended.
Elliott and McPhee also addressed a second public health crisis in the territory: a recent spike in overdose deaths. (See coverage, Page 3.)
McPhee warned that outside of the existing issue with toxic drugs, the territory has seen a recent increase in the use of benzodiazepines or “benzos.” She said the government is working with RCMP, the coroner and community partners to respond.
In the meantime, she cautioned people not to use drugs alone, have supply tested and to carry naloxone.
“Our thoughts and best wishes are with the families and the loved one of these individuals. And these terrible tragedies are felt by us all. I am imploring people to be careful,” she said.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org