Yukon entering 'high risk' period for COVID-19, says health official; no action yet on opioid crisis

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Dr. André Corriveau, Yukon's acting chief medical officer, says the territory is still in a fragile period and the department of health will need to be cautious about how and when restrictions will be lifted.  (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)
Dr. André Corriveau, Yukon's acting chief medical officer, says the territory is still in a fragile period and the department of health will need to be cautious about how and when restrictions will be lifted. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)

Yukon's acting chief medical officer says cases in the territory are generally on the decline, but the territory is entering a "fragile period" where his department needs to be careful with how and when they lift restrictions.

André Corriveau didn't share a date for when the COVID-19 state of emergency will lift.

"It's important to know that we shouldn't let our guard down," Corriveau told opposition members in the Legislature Monday afternoon. "[The active case count] remains high and still has an impact on our fragile healthcare system."

Earlier this month, health officials declared a state of emergency as a "circuit-breaker" to slow the case rate in Yukon.

That included a wide range of new policies, like mandatory vaccination for all public servants, indoor masks and gathering limits.

The emergency measure is supposed to lapse on Dec. 3, according to that first announcement. It's unclear now, based on Corriveau's answer, whether that will be extended or not.

Corriveau said there are a few factors the government is taking into account, including the number of cases, the fragility of the healthcare system and the upcoming holiday season.

This period is also "high risk" because there will be fewer staff throughout the healthcare system, and Yukoners will be travelling to see family and friends.

Getting the pediatric Pfizer vaccine to children between the ages of five and 11, Corriveau continued, will put Yukon "in an even better place." Those first appointments will start on Dec. 6.

There were 69 active COVID-19 cases in Yukon as of Monday afternoon.

Government under fire for communication over non-mRNA vaccines

The opposition took the government to task over what they say was a short-notice decision to provide non-mRNA vaccines to the Yukon public.

At 5:49 p.m. on Friday, a Facebook post on Yukon Health and Social Services' page told the public that a limited supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine will be made available to adults over 18 that are looking for an alternative to the Moderna vaccine.

But there's a catch — those who want either of these vaccines could only make an appointment Monday or Tuesday.

Currie Dixon, the leader of the opposition, said they got an email from the health department three hours before the Facebook post went up, where health minister Tracy-Anne McPhee wrote that the only option for adults is the Moderna vaccine.

"You know, it's inconsistent communication and that's become the norm with this minister," Dixon told reporters after the session.

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada

Kate White, NDP leader, said the opposition has been asking for non-mRNA vaccines for a long time, so they're happy to see some are being provided — but it's not well advertised.

"I think it needs to be opened up more," White said. "Why aren't we singing this from the mountaintops? Why aren't we saying ... you can choose which one you want?"

Corriveau said they still recommend people get vaccinated with mRNA vaccines like Moderna because they are more effective at combating COVID-19.

Public health makes decisions on how and when they can offer non-mRNA vaccines, he continued, based on how much is available and whether they can procure more in the future.

No commitment or state of emergency call over opioids

Heather Jones, Yukon's chief coroner, said Monday the territory has seen 21 deaths so far this year from opioids, up from 14 in August.

That brings the per capita death rate to the highest in the country, surpassing British Columbia for the first time.

"This must be seen as a medical crisis," Jones said in a press release. "These deaths for the most part are people who are dying alone in their homes."

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

A few hours later, minister McPhee rose in the Legislature to respond to a petition from Mayo residents, asking for a state of emergency to be called over a high number of substance-related deaths.

The minister acknowledged the crisis happening in Mayo and across the territory, but didn't go far enough to agree to the state of emergency call.

"A state of emergency is only an option for Yukoners, we must consider it together," McPhee said. "There's no doubt we're in a difficult place right now."

White tabled the petition on behalf of Mayo residents earlier in the session. She said the news from the coroner Monday "highlights a tragedy" that the government needs to take seriously.

Wayne Vallevand/ CBC
Wayne Vallevand/ CBC

"I think every community in the territory would tell you that they're hurting and that they need support," White said.

McPhee has said previously that a mental health summit will be held in January. Possible solutions to tackle the opioid crisis will be discussed there, she continued.