There was at least one bit of good news coming out of the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday afternoon: there are currently no virus cases in the hospitals around the Yukon.
That news came from Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health.
Elliott pronounced that as very good news, even as it belied the ongoing concern of public health and government officials that the latest outbreak of COVID-19 – starring the Omicron variant – threatened to strain or exceed the capacity of the
territorial health system.
Earlier in the briefing, Premier Sandy Silver called the situation “extremely dynamic.
“We have to be able to change things quickly in response. It’s a serious threat to our health care system and is putting a significant strain on it,” Silver said.
“Our rural health care system is very small, so any change in numbers is significant.”
Last week, two people were hospitalized, although it wasn’t known if they were in intensive care or not.
Elliott said she was delighted to see that information. Silver said it was good news, seeing as how only a small swing in numbers could represent problems for health care in the Yukon.
“I’m very happy to see there isn’t anyone in the hospital,” she said.
Much of the news conference was devoted to rehashing the new health restrictions announced last Friday evening that have constantly been in the news since (see story below).
With a flash of irritation, Silver said the government is criticized when it releases information, and is criticized when it doesn’t.
“We were giving people time to prepare,” he insisted. “The timing of that announcement might have been inconvenient, but COVID is not convenient. Our communications staff work 24-7,” he added. (See related story, p. 6.)
Most of those restrictions, Silver and Elliott said, are aimed at limiting contact between individuals in an effort to break the chain of infection.
They stressed the measures will be temporary, although Elliott couldn’t precisely explain how an evaluation would be done to decide when to lift them.
“We absolutely do not make these decisions lightly,” Silver chipped in.
The current numbers show 306 active cases in the Yukon, with 27 cases from Monday through Tuesday.
Those numbers show a clear decline, but that’s deceiving, Elliott acknowledged.
Due to changes in the testing regimen reducing access to the PCR lab tests, the numbers are artficially low, she said.
The government is also not tracking the results of rapid tests carried out at home or work, she said.
Elliott said “we know there are far more cases,” but insisted the government still has a good handle on how the outbreak is trending.
There has been an average of 31 cases a day over the last three days, she said.
Silver bristled when a CKRW radio reporter asked him why the public should “trust the government” when it appeared to many that it’s giving up on battling the virus.
Silver said no one he has talked to has expressed that sentiment.
Elliott touched on the recent approval of a new anti-viral drug manufactured by Pfizer that can be taken orally to stave off the worst effects of a COVID-19 infection. The Yukon is expecting to receive 100 initial doses of PAXLOVID, but there is no timeline as to when a shipment will arrive.
In a separate news release issued after the briefing, Elliott and Tracy-Anne McPhee, the minister of Health and Social Services, said, “The Government of Yukon is pleased that Health Canada has authorized a new drug to treat adults who have
been diagnosed mild to moderate COVID-19 and are at risk of developing serious disease.
“The new oral antiviral drug PAXLOVID TM, developed by Pfizer, is the first COVID-19 therapy that can be taken at home. The new drug is a combination of two medications that work to stop the virus from replicating and greatly reducing the likelihood of hospitalization or death in high-risk COVID-19 patients.
“We are working with the federal government to receive the Yukon’s initial allocation as soon as possible. This will be a very limited quantity of treatment courses.
“Additional treatment courses will be available as the supply of the medication increases in the coming weeks and months.”
Silver appeared to be startled to be asked where the government stands on the ongoing controversial debate as to whether provincial and territorial governments should make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for the general public.
The Quebec government is proposing to bring in a “substantial tax” on non-vaccinated adults seeking health care, and the federal government is pressuring the jurisdictions to consider the idea. So far, most of the provinces have rejected the
“What do you mean by mandatory vaccines?” Silver asked when the question was posed Tuesday.
When it was explained to him further, he would only say,“we’re not considering that.” (See Chantal Hébert’s column on the issue, p. 8.)
In the meantime, Old Crow in the far North of Yukon has gone into another lockdown at the behest of the Vuntut Gwitchin government.
That’s being ordered despite a lack of documented cases of the virus at the moment.
In Dawson City, most recreational sports activities are now under suspension.
Many people in Whitehorse who are involved in sports are also saying the wording of the restrictions is totally unclear.
The government says it will offer them a technical briefing, but no date has been set. (See related coverage in Sports.)