This is the second January living with COVID-19 for Yukoners. Much has changed, and much has not. Everyone has access to vaccinations, some people are now working from home (again), some are still deemed essential and are on the job, some have access to rapid testing and some do not.
Schools are open and kids are in classes, though there’s been a call to delay the opening of the Robert Service school in Dawson City.
A few First Nation governments have extended their Christmas closures to Jan. 10, others are closed except for essential services, and some are asking that those who can work from home, do. Some First Nation governments are using their rapid tests for people who come into work in the offices, and others are leaving that choice up to the workers themselves. Two are open as usual, and a couple could not be reached. For some, guiding policies are clear and for others the situation is fluid.
The regular Zoom calls between leaders in rural Yukon and the mothership departments of Community Services and Aboriginal Relations are sometimes combined with mayors and chiefs together. Additionally, the Yukon government regularly updates rural leaders but it is left up to each community to decide whether and how to share that information with their community residents.
For instance, the Ross River Dene Council has a data page with active cases in their community compared to Yukon overall, and then does the same with partial and full vaccination rates, along with a numbered COVID risk assessment number updated daily as conditions change. Vuntut Gwitchin uses cartoons on Facebook to illustrate counts, and cheer on their extremely high vaccination rates. Champagne Aishihik artist Cole Pauls has designed graphic art blocks with Southern Tutchone messaging, with more panels on the way.
Jan. 4 was the first community call since the reality of Omicron hit home. The Yukon’s chief medical officer of health attended along with three Yukon government ministers — Tracy-Anne McPhee, Health minister, Richard Mostyn, minister of Community Services and Jeanie McLean, minister of Education.
Mayors, chiefs, executive directors and CAOs of the First Nations and the municipalities totalled over 50 people on the call. Jan. 5’s meeting lasted over two hours.
As 2021 ended, the Yukon government (YG) had been explaining in emails to non-First Nation communities how rapid tests are only available groups with “federal partners,” and that they were not available from the Yukon government. Calls were increasing on all fronts for YG to improve access to rapid tests, especially as their utility was being shown.
Bob Dickson, Chief of the Kluane First Nation, told the News in early December how useful they are. He said rapid testing had made a huge difference in his community, being able to test people before funerals and gatherings.
Pauline Frost credited the rapid tests as an early warning system in Old Crow that flagged the necessity of PCR tests to confirm the presence of COVID and triggered a shutdown that worked and contained the spread of the virus.
Mayor Gord Curran anecdotally confirmed that in Teslin, rapid testing played an early role in causing households to self-identify due to contacts and “do the right thing” regardless of medical confirmation during a rise in cases there.
On Tuesday, the Yukon Party official opposition reiterated its call for the Liberal government to provide schools and all Yukoners easy access to rapid antigen tests.
On Wednesday Jan. 5, YG indicated they have 5,000 rapid test kits remaining and Premier Silver confirmed they will be aquiring more soon. Officials committed to providing guidelines for their use in certain circumstances in the coming days.
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News