Parents demand rapid COVID-19 tests across Yukon schools

·3 min read
Yukon Education Minister Jeanie McLean. The assistant deputy minister of education said he hadn't seen the letter but added the department acts on the advice of the chief medical officer and Yukon Communicable Disease Control. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)
Yukon Education Minister Jeanie McLean. The assistant deputy minister of education said he hadn't seen the letter but added the department acts on the advice of the chief medical officer and Yukon Communicable Disease Control. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)

Some parents of school children in the Yukon are demanding the territorial government implement COVID-19 rapid tests in all schools.

Fraser Pearce, the parent of two children at École Whitehorse Elementary School, said in a letter sent to Jeanie McLean, minister of education on Monday, that the immediate implementation of the measure will help manage caseloads in schools.

Pearce added that Yukon Communicable Disease Control should also require — as opposed to recommend — that unvaccinated students who are close contacts of someone with COVID-19 self-isolate.

The letter was sent on behalf of more than 90 parents.

Growing list of COVID-19 exposure notices

Over the last two weeks, there has also been a growing list of public exposure notices at schools in Whitehorse and across the territory, according to the Yukon government's COVID-19 website.

NDP Leader Kate White said the growing list is making it difficult for parents.

"What we're hearing from families right now is that this is almost crippling," she said, adding that many parents have children of different ages, sometimes in different schools.

"So right now, parents are just trying to navigate this and one of the things they keep on saying is if they had access to rapid testing, for one thing it's less traumatizing for children but you'd have an answer sooner."

Wayne Vallevand/CBC
Wayne Vallevand/CBC

Thane Phillips has two children who attend École Whitehorse Elementary School.

He said his son had to self-isolate at home this week because of a positive exposure in his class.

The school has also made wearing masks indoors mandatory for everyone in Grades 2 to 7 in the school, but despite the precaution, Phillips decided to keep his daughter home too.

"There seems to be a high number of cases at Whitehorse Elementary, so just for her safety," he said.

He agrees the government to make rapid testing mandatory for children and staff, and if it can't, then it should close the school.

Education Department acting on advice from health officials

Ryan Sikkes, the assistant deputy minister of education with the Yukon government, said he hadn't seen the letter yet and doesn't know the exact number of students who have COVID-19 in Yukon.

He said the department takes its advice on the measures taken in schools against COVID-19 from the chief medical officer of health and Yukon Communicable Disease Control.

"They continue to maintain that schools are sites of low risk of transmission and are safe and available for students who attend school," he said.

"So at this point, barring different public health advice from the chief medical officer of health, schools will continue to remain open."

'What is the threshold?'

Shari McIntosh has two children at Christ the King Elementary School, where there has been one confirmed COVID-19 case.

She said her kids' health comes first and she may also take them out of school.

"My husband and I talk about this daily — What is the threshold?… When will we pull the kids? I think you have to do what's right for your family and these are the decisions we are left to do on our own."

She said the Education Department needs to give parents more up-to-date information.

Right now, she said parents are left in the dark and it's causing even more stress.

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