Yukon’s COVID-19 restrictions could come to an end next month if cases of COVID-19 continue to fall and vaccination rates continue to climb, announced Premier Sandy Silver on July 14.
“We are seeing a slow but steady decrease in cases. More than 300 individuals have recovered over the last six weeks,” said Silver, adding that the young children identified in daycares as being positive for the virus have also recovered.
“Our vaccination uptake rate is increasing. And that is exactly what we need to see. If this trend continues we will be lifting the state of emergency next month,” he said.
Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the criteria for reopening does not necessarily mean zero cases, but requires confidence in testing capacity, importation risk and a caseload that the territory’s health care system can handle.
Hanley said the territory needs to be confident we can handle the “impact of an additional influx of cases or a potential surge on the system.”
“When there’s no more CEMA it doesn’t mean that we don’t have tools anymore. It means that we are integrating COVID control into our normal way of handling communicable disease, with the additional tool of vaccination,” he said.
“We have many tools going forward in living with this ongoing threat. But we will get to the state where we no longer need the heavy hammer that CEMA has afforded us,” he said.
Hanley said existing measures used to handle disease spread include public information, case monitoring, more flexible public health measures and recommendations, testing and the availability of enhanced healthcare resources.
Right now Yukoners are asked to limit gatherings to 20 indoors if everyone is vaccinated and 50 outdoors. If gathering with unvaccinated people, it is recommended that indoor gatherings be kept to groups of six.
Organized gathering spaces can return to 200 people if social distancing is maintained.
“The temporary pause on larger social gatherings is no longer necessary if you and your group is fully vaccinated,” said Hanley.
New case numbers dropping
Hanley said that the case count has “stabilized” down from 20 new cases per day down to a few. He said three people remain in hospital. During the wave, 86 per cent of cases were not fully vaccinated, while 13 per cent were fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals saw higher severe rates of illness and hospitalization.
The territory reported four new cases on July 13, and 19 new cases over the weekend.
The government announced a sixth person has died from COVID-19 on July 12.
“We lost another Yukoner to COVID-19 this week. This is incredibly sad news,” Silver said, adding that the individual was unvaccinated. “This is a stark and important reminder of the importance of getting vaccinated.”
Hanley said the question, “Can I ask if you are vaccinated?” may be initially awkward, but it is important to factor into risk considerations — along with age, health considerations, mask use, distancing and ventilation.
“Even with high vaccination rates we cannot let down our guard,” he said, adding that a good goal for vaccination is 95 per cent in order to seriously reduce the risk of another wave.
Daycares will reopen on July 19, and children identified as COVID-19 positive in those cases have mostly recovered.
“Daycares will now be able to welcome all children again starting Monday,” said Silver, thanking the operators for working closely with the government toward reopening.
“I know it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy for anyone,” he said.
The federal government has approved a request from the territory for additional support. Silver said additional public health professionals are coming to help with coordination and contact tracing, and more lab equipment and personal protective equipment is being sent to boost testing capacity.
Silver said the territory is also communicating with the federal government around the “safe reopening of the border.”
He said he spoke with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy on July 13 and discussed the reopening potential as well as possible exceptions for specific communities close to the border such as Haines or Eagle.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org