Yukon reporting COVID-19 outbreak in Whitehorse


The Yukon’s acting Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Catherine Elliott, has declared a COVID-19 outbreak in Whitehorse.

The territory is reporting 10 new cases since Friday and there are now 21 active cases in the territory.

“We declare an outbreak when a group of cases occur in a common location or people who share affiliations such as high school students,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

The source of the outbreak is unknown, though it’s linked to grad events and people socializing at bars and house parties.

On Friday the Yukon government said in a press release that a student at Porter Creek Senior Secondary School in Whitehorse had a confirmed case of the virus.

As a precaution, students in the Porter Creek graduating class have been advised to self-isolate and the school’s prom ceremony scheduled for June 12 will be rescheduled.

Elliot said nine of the new cases are linked to the outbreak.

Five cases are direct contacts of each other while some cases don’t appear to be connected through events or locations. Two cases are yet to be determined.

Eighteen cases are in Whitehorse and four are in the communities.

While vaccination clinics for youth 12 and up are currently being rolled out across the territory, Elliott said youth vaccination numbers are not significant at this time.

Outbreak linked to variant

Elliot said the COVID-19 outbreak is associated with the gamma, or P.1. variant of concern. She said that variant is known to re-infect people who have already had the virus, though vaccines have been shown to be effective against it.

“It’s more important now than ever before to get vaccinated, including the gamma, or P.1 variant,” she said.

She also confirmed one person who has the virus has been fully vaccinated. They reported having mild symptoms.

“It does occur and it is rare,” Elliot said.

“It usually happens due to prolonged close contact, household contact; caregiving for somebody, your partner, somebody’s whose close and has the disease can give it to you in those circumstances.”

She said the risk of illness and death is greatly reduced in people who are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Outbreak ‘concerning’

Elliot said she is worried about the outbreak.

“I am concerned about the outbreak at this point and our hope is not to have any more severe cases or any more hospitalizations. The way that we do that is we stop the spread.”

Elliott said to do this, people must continue to get vaccinated, not stand in close proximity of each other and continue wearing a mask when in public.

“Without doing this, particularly for people who haven’t had their vaccination yet, COVID-19 will spread. COVID-19 is very good at spreading from person to person before it involved into the variants of concern,” she said.

As for reissuing restrictions or tightening the territory’s border, Elliott said the situation is being closely monitored.

“We are not there yet,” she said, “but…as the information comes out we may need to increase measures. It really does depend a lot on what happens in the next couple of days and it also depends on everybody doing their part to be responsible.”

First Nations affected

Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) in Whitehorse, where the bulk of the cases are, put out a notice on Friday advising citizens of two confirmed cases in the KDFN McIntyre community.

The notice states for the next 2 weeks the KDFN government will be moving into phase two of the pandemic plan and will be scaling down some services depending on risks and case numbers.

Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Carcross has confirmed there are cases in the community and has gone into level three of its COVID-19 and is closed with essential services only.

Kluane First Nation in Burwash Landing is also reporting its first case of COVID-19.

On Monday Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek issued a press release stating the Yukon regional office will be postponing its Indigenous post-secondary graduation celebration

“The rise in cases has been linked to formal and informal gatherings related to graduations that have recently taken place, and we must take the proper steps to ensure that we do not risk any further exposures,” it states.

There have 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Yukon since June 4.

Three earlier cases were linked to a Yukon gold mine.

Last week three people were hospitalized due to the virus and two of those people were medevacked outside of the territory.

There have been no updates regarding their conditions.

Reporter / Whitehorse

Sara Connors is originally from Nova Scotia and has a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax. After graduation she worked in South Korea for two years as an English Language teacher and freelance journalist. After she returned home in 2019 she worked behind the scenes at CTV Atlantic in Halifax before joining APTN's Yukon bureau in July 2020.