The Yukon government declared a state of emergency and announced the territory’s fourth case of COVID-19 on Friday.
“This action is not meant to alarm Yukoners,” Premier Sandy Silver told an afternoon news conference of the emergency declaration.
“It gives the government a wide range of options to manage public enforcement and legal issues.”
Silver and Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer, made the announcement.
The territory’s fourth case of COVID-19 was found in an individual in close contact with a previous case, according to Hanley. All four of the Yukon’s
COVID-19 cases were described as “doing well at home” on Friday afternoon.
The emergency declaration was made under the Civil Emergency Measures Act, and will last for 90 days unless rescinded earlier. The state of emergency enables government to take certain actions without a cabinet consensus.
The government is now empowered to “do all things considered advisable for the purpose of dealing with the emergency” primarily through the Community Services Department, headed by Minister John Streicker.
The emergency declaration removes red tape from actions protecting people and property; maintaining, clearing and controlling roads and streets; obtaining and distributing accommodation, food, clothing and other services; providing and maintaining water, power and sewage; assisting in law enforcement; fighting and preventing fires; protecting the health, safety and welfare of inhabitants; and putting into effect any civil emergency plans.
“Today’s declaration does not supersede Yukon’s human rights, nor does it allow government to access your personal medical information,” Silver said.
The premier said he has received an onslaught of requests to implement penalties and enforcement procedures for physical distancing and self-isolation rules.
Silver noted that the government has had the authority to enforce these rules since declaring a public health emergency earlier this month.
“We see that as a last resort,” Silver said.
“I have confidence in every Yukoner that you are going to do what’s right.”
Hanley explained that the fourth case of COVID-19 was not unexpected, as medical officials are now in the “cluster management” phase of virus prevention.
This means identifying a cluster of related cases and controlling further transmission by retracing close contacts.
There is not yet any sign of community spread, meaning cases that can’t be traced back to a previous case.
Medical officers are diligently searching for signs of this, and see community spread as an “imminent threat” that reinforces the importance of physical
“We should behave as if COVID-19 is already circulating widely in our community,” Hanley said.
“It isn’t, but we should behave as if it is.”
Hanley said the Yukon is still ahead of the curve, and that self-isolation after travel is a necessity, not a recommendation.
Further measures made by the chief medical officer are in relation to dental services and mine workers.
Starting last Friday, dental practices have been ordered to suspend all non-urgent treatment until further notice. This move is intended to protect Yukoners and dental care providers from the spread of infection.
Workers at placer or hard rock mines, exploration camps or other business related to mining are required to self-isolate for 14 days after entering the territory.
Workers cannot carry out their regular duties in a camp or at a mine while self-isolating.
Hanley also expanded on last week’s announcement of “low risk” exposure of COVID-19 at the Bethany Church and Elias Dental. He said Yukoners should expect more of these announcements, as investigations are ongoing.
Certain settings will be described as “low risk” because they are more transient and people are unlikely to have spent a lot of time in these areas. Other factors include the closeness and length of contact time.
Essential workers are exempt from self-isolation requirements, and have been asked to closely self-monitor for symptoms. This includes continuing care and health care workers returning from travel.
Hanley said an official list of essential workers will be published shortly. He clarified that health care workers are subject to individualized risk assessments before returning to work.
Asymptomatic transmission, or transmission of the disease before falling sick, is a “minor” presence in the pandemic, Hanley said. The majority of transmission is through people experiencing symptoms.
He noted that asymptomatic transmission has more impact in communities facing intense outbreaks, and the Yukon has not yet reached that point.
Hanley expressed gratitude to community members for adopting distancing rules and supporting others during a challenging time.
“The more I think and read about COVID, the more I think of this as a war and the conditions that we’re living in as being close to wartime measures,” Hanley said.
“How fortunate, then, that we’re not killing each other, but working together against a common enemy.
“To win, just as for any war, we need to be very deliberate with our strategy: we need to be tactical, organized and one step ahead of the invisible enemy.
“We are the soldiers and we are the home guard…. We’ll do this together.”
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