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Yukon lowers threshold for COVID-19 testing as flu season wanes

With fewer people experiencing flu symptoms, Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley says it's time to expand the list of who can get tested for COVID-19.

Territory's top doctor says officials can expand the list of symptoms that qualify for testing

Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley at the Government of Yukon COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse, Yukon on April 20, 2020. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon's chief medical officer of health says the territory is lowering the threshold for COVID-19 testing.

Dr. Brendan Hanley said Friday the end of flu season means fewer people showing symptoms that are similar to, but are not, COVID-19. That's meant the number of tests for the novel coronavirus has dropped in recent weeks.

The list of symptoms that will trigger a test is now expanded to include fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, a sore throat, headache, runny nose or nasal congestion, unexplained vomiting or diarrhea, fatigue or muscle aches, and the loss of smell or taste.

Hanley said people who haven't left the territory, but who show signs of fever, cough, or difficulty breathing may now also get tested for COVID-19.

"This effort is a precautionary approach to detect any unrecognized cases or chains of transmission that may have been missed," Hanley said.

Missed the press conference? Watch it in full here:

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yukon stands at 11, all linked to travel outside the territory. Eight of those cases have fully recovered. Officials have conducted 888 tests for the disease so far. The results of 17 tests are still pending.

Hanley said no new cases have been identified since two new cases earlier this week and that health officials have completed contact tracing for those cases.

Reopening plan in the works

Hanley said the process of developing a reopening plan for Yukon is now underway, although he said a detailed plan won't be publicly available for several weeks.

While Hanley reiterated that life won't be back to normal for at least a year, he said officials are mulling ways to gradually loosen restrictions. 

He said public health criteria will guide any decisions to reopen. But those criteria include weighing the impact of keeping people cooped up for too long, and the loss of economic opportunities.

"We know that there's a lot of a lot of anxiety but all [decisions] will be through a public health lens," he said. 

In the meantime, Hanley urged Yukoners to continue to follow the "six measures of safety": physical distancing, regular hand washing, staying home when sick, limiting social gatherings and non-essential travel, and self isolating when required.

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