Yukon seeks federal help to deal with ‘widespread community transmission’ of COVID-19

Yukon is at a pivotal point in the pandemic, testing the limits of its healthcare system, the territory’s Health Minister Tracy McPhee said Wednesday during a media update.

The territory has reached out to the federal government and other jurisdictions for help as it battles what McPhee called “widespread community transmission.” 

“The current wave is the biggest challenge that we have faced yet, and we all need to come together to stop COVID-19 from spreading,” she said.

The territory’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the territory is requesting additional personnel, including nurses, social workers and assistance with contact tracing, along with logistical support.

“Everyone is tired and we are overtaxed,” Hanley said. 

McPhee said seven nurses are on the way from Ontario.

The update comes a day after the territory announced its fifth COVID-19 related death — the third in a little more than two weeks.

Missed the update? Watch it here:

Despite having Canada’s highest vaccine rate with more than 60 per cent of all residents fully vaccinated, the territory is dealing with what Hanley has described as its first “true wave” of COVID-19. 

“Right now, the likelihood of getting this virus is as high as it has ever been in the Yukon,” he said.

Rapid response teams have been sent to Carmacks and Pelly Crossing to temporality support community health centre staff. Hanley said working closely with Yukon’s communities is a priority area to limit spread. 

As of Wednesday, Yukon has 131 active cases.

Eighty-two per cent of those cases are in unvaccinated people, Hanley added. Twelve per cent are fully vaccinated, but have mild symptoms, he said. 

Since June 1, 16 people have been hospitalized, with eight people currently in hospital. Three of those cases have been sent down South for further treatment.

Overall, the cases range from people aged one to 90. The highest number of cases is in the 10 to 19 age range, with the second highest numbers in the 20 to 29 age group.

Fifty-one cases have tested positive for the gamma variant.

‘Not the summer we were planning for’

The outbreak has led to tighter restrictions at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, and prompted the Selkirk First Nation in Pelly Crossing, Yukon, to erect road blockades to discourage people from entering the community.

A public exposure notice was issued Tuesday for anyone who was at the 98 Hotel in Whitehorse between June 19 and June 27, and the Bambinos Bilingual Montessori Daycare in the city was closed.

Hanley has requested parents keep their children home from daycare for the next two weeks, if possible. 

He also asked residents to consider postponing any events or scaling them down. He recommends gatherings be limited to 10 people indoors with masks and 20 people outdoors with physical distancing, but is strongly encouraging gatherings of no more than six.

“We need to buckle down until we can take a breath, get reinforcements into place and start to bend the curve for the next few weeks. I’m asking you to do everything you can to reduce contacts with other people,” he said.

“This is not the summer we were planning for.

“The coming weeks will continue to be challenging but we still have much to be thankful for. We are not locked down. And with this degree of transmission, it is thanks to that high vaccination rate that we do not have to close retail stores or personal care services or medical clinics.”

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