Yukoners should keep holiday gatherings small, say health officials

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Dr. Catherine Elliott, Yukon’s acting chief medical officer of health, and John Streicker, Minister of the Public Service Commission, held a news conference Wednesday. Elliott advised Yukoners to limit their contacts over the holidays, and asked that travellers coming into the territory stay home for five days to help prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.  (CBC - image credit)
Dr. Catherine Elliott, Yukon’s acting chief medical officer of health, and John Streicker, Minister of the Public Service Commission, held a news conference Wednesday. Elliott advised Yukoners to limit their contacts over the holidays, and asked that travellers coming into the territory stay home for five days to help prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. (CBC - image credit)

Yukon's acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Catherine Elliott, advised residents to limit their contacts over the holidays, and asked that travellers coming into the territory stay home for five days to help prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Elliott said that while Yukon's COVID-19 situation is "stabilized," the Omicron variant is highly transmissible and is most likely to be imported through out-of-territory travel.

She said there are two active cases of the Omicron variant in the territory and that it is likely to become the dominant variant.

The territory reported no new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. As of Wednesday, there are 47 active cases in the Yukon, a decrease of two from the previous day.

"What we're seeing is people who are returning from outside of territory have become infected and are coming home with those infections. This is what we expect to see at this time," said Elliott, adding the variant has the potential to strain the health care system.

While Elliott recommends people reduce their contacts over the holidays, the government did not mandate further gathering restrictions.

"I would prefer if people choose to do the right thing," she said, adding that if the situation worsens, the government is prepared to take stricter measures.

She said a "moderate" number of people who are infected are not being tested.

Holiday gathering recommendations

As Yukoners prepare for the holiday season, Elliott advised against taking part in activities that involve large numbers and cramped spaces that could increase exposures.

"It's a good time to slow down, to keep group sizes small and consistent," she said.

Elliott said travellers entering Yukon should limit their contacts to a bare minimum in the first three days. In the first five days, they should plan to stay home and only take part in essential activities.

"Avoid contact with those who are at risk of severe disease," she said, such as the elderly, immunocompromised and unvaccinated.

Elliot said 88 per cent of residents have had their second shot, and 29 per cent have had a booster.

'Inexplicable' lack of rapid test access

Brad Cathers, the Official Opposition's public health critic, said that while provinces distribute rapid tests for the holidays, Yukon has "inexplicably" denied residents requests for rapid tests.

Without access to rapid tests, Cathers worries people will gather for Christmas and may transmit COVID-19 "because of government's failure to make those kits available."

Cathers said that despite the push to get people vaccinated, people have been unable to book appointments in Whitehorse for several days.

John Streicker, minister of the public service commission, said that appointments have been booked up into January.

This is in part because of appointments allocated to children ages five to 11, which has allowed the territory to reach 40 per cent vaccination in that age group.

For children five and up, 87 per cent have now received a first dose and 80 per cent have received two doses.

Vaccine appointments can be made by visiting https://yukon.ca/en/this-is-our-shot.

Yukon seeking vaccination staff

The government is looking for individuals who can be trained to help with booster roll-out, such as emergency medical services staff and pharmacists, as well as retired healthcare professionals.

"If you are able to offer your support, we would welcome it," said Streicker.

He said that two serious "upticks" in COVID-19 would have been significantly worse with lower vaccination rates.

The COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Whitehorse will be open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the exception of Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 when it will be closed.

The COVID-19 Testing and Assessment Centre at 49A Waterfront Place in Whitehorse will be open between 8: 30 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

In the public service, 95 per cent of employees have met the vaccine mandate requirements.

There are 31 exemption requests for medical and religious reasons.

There are 106 employees on leave without pay and 192 part time or casual employees who have not attested, which makes up five per cent of the workforce, said Streicker.

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