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COVID-19 gargle test now available for young Yukoners

Yukoners under the age of 18 can now be tested for COVID-19 using a saline gargle test. Officials made the announcement at their weekly update on Wednesday afternoon.

As of Tuesday 2,590 vaccines have been administered in territory

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley spoke at the government's weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday afternoon. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukoners under the age of 18 can now be tested for COVID-19 using a saline gargle test.

Officials made the announcement at their weekly update on Wednesday afternoon.

The mouth rinse-gargle-and-spit test was first made available to school-age children in B.C. in September. It is less invasive than the swab test currently used to test for most COVID-19 cases.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said the test is a good alternative "without all that fuss of a nasopharyngeal swab."

It will be available for Yukoners aged five to 18, at the territory's COVID Testing and Assessment Centre in Whitehorse. Hanley said it should soon be available at community health centres as well.

Hanley said another advantage of the spit test is that samples can be collected at home, without the presence of a health care professional. He says directions are available on the government's website.

Premier Sandy Silver also announced on Wednesday that Whitehorse's drive-thru testing centre on the Alaska Highway will close "in the coming days."

"We recently have seen very few people at the drive-thru testing centre," he said.

The territory has had a total of 70 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, with none that are currently active. Sixty-nine people have recovered and one person has died.

Miss Wednesday's news conference? Watch it here:

2,590 vaccinated so far

Hanley, speaking along with Silver on Wednesday, said that as of Tuesday, 2,590 vaccines have been administered in Yukon. That represents about eight per cent of the territory's adult population.

Officials also said 91 per cent of residents at the territory's long term care homes — considered a priority population for inoculation — have already been vaccinated. 

The territory's first mobile vaccination clinic was held this week in Watson Lake, and Hanley said it was a success. He spoke of one 96-year-old woman who came for her vaccination despite her family's hesitancy "because some of the comments and doubts they have seen and read." 

Hanley said their concerns were eased by providing them accurate information about the Moderna vaccine

"With good information, people can have confidence to do the right thing," he said. 

Hanley said so far there have been two documented adverse "allergic-type" reactions to the vaccine in Yukon, but he said they were not anaphylactic reactions, and had no lasting effects.

A temporary drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre was set up in Whitehorse in November. Officials said it will close in the coming days as fewer people have been using it lately. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Hanley has said he expects that the territory can achieve herd immunity within the next three months. The aim is for 75 per cent of the eligible adult population to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the beginning of April.

Still, Hanley and Silver urged Yukoners to keep practicing physical distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and other safety measures to control any spread of the virus in the meantime.

Hanley said even with mass vaccinations happening in the coming months, it's unlikely that high school students will return to full-time in-class learning this school year. 

"I think that's probably not realistic. I think it's more how this influence the planning for next year," he said. 

No concerns about vaccine supply

Officials also said they have no concerns about interruptions or delays to the delivery of more doses of the Moderna vaccine in the coming months.

That's despite production delays in the alternative Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine that's being used elsewhere in the country.

"I'm not concerned at all," said Silver, when asked if the needs of other jurisdictions might affect Yukon's promised supply of doses.

"I have had no information to indicate any implication about supplies of Moderna," said Hanley.

Neither Hanley nor Silver had received their shots as of Wednesday.

"I'm one of those waiting for my turn," Hanley said.

The territory's two mobile vaccine clinics will travel to more communities in the coming weeks, and as of Feb. 10 all adult Yukoners will be able to register for a shot, depending on vaccine availability.

Silver and Hanley urged Yukoners to register for the shot when they can. Hanley said anybody with concerns should check out the territorial government's website and other official channels to get more information.

"Ask questions. Ask your doctor or your health care provider, call the COVID info line, talk to your community leaders," Hanley said.

"There's always going to be a few refusers, but most people just want the confidence and the right information," he said. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said 2,690 people in Yukon had been vaccinated by the end of Tuesday. In fact, 2,590 people had received the shot.
    Jan 20, 2021 6:02 PM CT

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