Whitehorse General Hospital will be suspending all non-urgent surgery procedures scheduled from the coming Monday onward, as one of several updates to the territory’s COVID-19 response.
Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer, announced the changes this morning during a media briefing in the foyer of the Yukon Government Main Administration Building
As of this morning, there were still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Yukon, though some Yukoners are awaiting test results from Vancouver.
“We’re still in a good position, preparations are ongoing and at the same time we’re living in an unprecedented time,” Hanley said.
“We are in a time of intense preparation.”
Hanley explained that Whitehorse General Hospital will continue to allow emergency procedures. These will include time-sensitive operations and minor cancer procedures.
Yukoners currently holding non-urgent appointments will be contacted individually by the hospital to provide information and reschedule for a later time.
“It’s really trying to limit the flow of people into the hospital in line with other social distancing measures,” Hanley said.
This measure will allow hospitals to prepare for a potential surge in patients due to COVID-19, Hanley explained. Bed management and ventilator training for nurses and general practitioners are essential at this time.
Hanley also provided updates to COVID-19 testing processes and childcare operations in the Yukon.
Earlier this week, a backlog in COVID-19 tests stretched the wait for results to upwards of six days.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control, which manages all of the Yukon’s tests, resolved the backlog earlier this week. The Yukon is now receiving test results in two to five days, Hanley said.
Recent changes in B.C.’s automation process mean that some tests conducted earlier this week have returned results, while others from late last week are still awaiting results.
Hanley explained that the territory is essentially waiting on two bundles of results. Everyone awaiting a test result will be contacted and counselled accordingly.
“We are all interested in rapid turnaround times…. I’m very happy with the speeding-up of testing,” Hanley said.
The number of tests completed will now be posted to the coronavirus section of yukon.ca and updated weekly. As of Wednesday, yukon.ca had confirmed 101 negative tests, with no positive cases.
Hanley said the territory is encouraging testing according to the criteria of COVID-19 symptoms with travel history. Symptoms include a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
The Yukon government has now launched an online self-assessment tool for COVID-19 on yukon.ca. Yukoners are encouraged to check their symptoms using that tool before calling to request a test.
If the assessment tool recommends a test, Yukoners should call the nurse’s hotline at 8-1-1.
The hotline’s capacity will be broadened, with more lines, in response to the substantial number of callers. Earlier this week, the Star reported that Yukoners were on hold with 8-1-1 for several hours, or were experiencing dropped calls.
Callers to the 8-1-1 line will now be diverted to either the Public Health Agency of Canada or to Yukon Communicable Disease Control.
Hanley said this change will help callers access Yukon-specific information. If a Yukon caller is suffering a severe respiratory illness or requires a COVID-19 test, he or she may be directed to the new respiratory assessment centre set to open next week.
The Yukon’s daycare centres will not be closing. This is because daycares are “very different settings from schools,” and the government has been actively working with daycare operators, Hanley explained.
The territory is conducting a measured approach to childcare services. Reducing the number of children in centres has already happened, simultaneously reducing the risk of those centres.
Hanley said his office recognizes that Yukoners working in essential jobs are not able to keep their children at home, and the continuation of daycare services will enable essential services to continue.
“We are not in lockdown,” Hanley said.
“Society needs to function as well as possible under these new measures and constraints; this is a time of adaptation and preparation, but not of shutting down.”