Yukon to close COVID-19 testing centre, isolation facilities in new strategy

A view of downtown Whitehorse. Symptomatic Yukoners now no longer have a minimum number of days where they have to self-isolate. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
A view of downtown Whitehorse. Symptomatic Yukoners now no longer have a minimum number of days where they have to self-isolate. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

The Yukon's chief medical officer of health says it's time to treat COVID-19 like any other respiratory illness.

Dr. Sudit Ranade told CBC that the territory is in a phase of the pandemic where a more "sustainable" COVID-19 strategy is needed.

"There isn't going to be a time where we're going to say, 'oh there's no COVID[-19] anymore," Ranade said.

Ranade's comments come as the Yukon government announced several cutbacks to its COVID-19 testing and self-isolation centres on Friday, as much of the country grapples with a surge of respiratory virus cases.

The first thing the territory is doing is closing its COVID-19 Testing and Assessment Centre by Nov. 18. A statement from the Health Department says that testing is no longer required for Yukoners with COVID-19 symptoms unless indicated by a doctor.

PCR testing is still required for some situations such as access to Paxlovid, the two-dose pill used to treat those with COVID-19. In those scenarios, the territory asks the public to work with their doctors to access a PCR test.

The territory will still make rapid tests available at some spots, like pharmacies and some grocery stores.

Symptomatic Yukoners now no longer have a minimum number of days where they have to self-isolate. That means the territory is also closing its self-isolation facilities by Dec. 16.

The government will also stop updating its COVID-19 online dashboard, a space where residents can check how many known active cases there are in the territory and look at historic trends. The dashboard will be replaced by a new model by mid-December.

The government decided to update its COVID-19 action plan because the variants now in circulation "tend to cause less severe outcomes compared to strains from earlier in the pandemic," according to the government's four-page "Charting the Course" report.

"The updated approach reflects the latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic, including new variants that lead to less severe outcomes, the availability of safe and effective vaccines, high vaccination rates and the availability of treatments that lessen the severity of COVID-19," a statement from the Health Department reads.

Despite ending most of its COVID-19 measures, the Yukon government's public health emergency remains in place so officials can respond "should a significant shift occur" in the pandemic.

The new report comes as Canada's top doctor recommends wearing masks again to counter a nation-wide surge of new respiratory viruses including COVID-19 cases.

Ranade, Yukon's chief medical officer, said he is concerned that the territory's medical system could be overwhelmed by cases of COVID-19, flu and the RSV virus this winter if case counts rise.

However, Ranade didn't commit to renewing any health restrictions, including mandatory masking.

According to the online dashboard on Thursday, the Yukon has nine active COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of 30.5 per cent on all COVID-19 tests taken in the territory this week.

There is no data available for RSV cases in the Yukon.