Yukon's acting chief medical officer said there's no sign of ongoing COVID-19 spread in schools that have seen recent cases, but the risk is still there.
Health officials said this week there are now three rural schools — two in Watson Lake, one in Carcross — where some students and staff have been asked to isolate or monitor for symptoms. That's after cases had been confirmed in some classrooms.
Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Elliott said a lot of people in Watson Lake have been tested in recent days.
"We've asked people in the Grade 1 and 5 and 4 class, and those in the Grade 10 classes, to get tested even if they don't have symptoms. And we haven't picked up any new cases in those schools at this point. We're very pleased to see that," she said on Wednesday morning.
Still, she said, some people may test negative soon after infection, only to become ill later.
"So it's early days. It's not to say we won't see more cases, but at this point that's where we're sitting."
It's a similar situation in Carcross, where students in the Kindergarten and Grade 1, 2 and 3 split class at Ghùch Tlâ Community School have also either been monitoring or isolating as a result of positive cases identified at that school.
"Usually when we have a school case, we might continue to see a couple of cases in the households of the families where the case exists or even amongst the close contacts, so you know, a play date friend or that type of thing," Elliott said about Carcross.
"But we are not, we don't have any signs of spread in the school, in particular in those situations."
'Very targeted' response means schools stay open
The schools remain open, and Elliott expects that to continue. She said planning has meant that a confirmed case in a certain class has minimal impact on other classes in that school.
"We take the measures that are necessary where the spread is, and very targeted. And that means that the rest of the school can carry on with the important activities of learning and being together," she said.
Elliott said the three schools have been handling things well, and following their plans. But some things are beyond their control.
"What the schools can't control necessarily is whether people are vaccinated. And really, we're seeing that in those communities with lower vaccination rates, this is where we're seeing school cases. And that's, you know, that is concerning."
Yukon's southeast region, which includes Watson Lake and Carcross, has consistently had a lower vaccination rate than most of the territory. As of last week, 69 per cent of adults in the southeast were fully vaccinated, compared to 84 per cent of adults in the territory as a whole.
As of Tuesday, Watson Lake had 20 active cases, and Carcross had six.
Whitehorse, meanwhile — home to more than three-quarters of the territorial population — had fewer than either of those communities on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, the territory's active case count was 36. Four of those were confirmed over the previous couple of days, including one in Carcross, one in Whitehorse and two in Dawson City.
Last week, health officials warned of community transmission in Watson Lake and advised people there — residents and visitors — to wear masks in all indoor public places.
"When you have more unvaccinated people, we're much more likely to see that transmission chain continue. So that's why masking in indoor public spaces is recommended in Watson Lake at this time," Elliott said.