Yukon gov't may begin releasing names of communities with active COVID-19 cases

The Yukon government has resisted calls to identify communities outside Whitehorse that have active COVID-19 cases. But, it may change course as municipalities and First Nations have started issuing that information on their own.

Right now, the territory doesn't identify communities outside of Whitehorse

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, right, and Premier Sandy Silver, left, at the Government of Yukon COVID-19 news conference in Whitehorse on Tuesday. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon health officials say they may consider disclosing the names of communities outside Whitehorse where COVID-19 cases are active.

Since the pandemic began, the government has justified the measure saying it's needed to protect the privacy of people in smaller communities who test positive for the virus. That's always come with an asterisk: officials have identified smaller communities when issuing exposure notices.

But since Yukon's latest outbreak began, many municipal and First Nations governments have been issuing notices when people test positive in their communities, without any apparent privacy breaches so far.

Now, the territorial government is considering whether to start revealing communities where cases are identified. At the moment, health officials only say COVID-19 is present in "most" Yukon communities.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, said he doesn't believe there's much "public health value" to identifying communities. But speaking to reporters Wednesday, he said he's open to the idea, if that's what chiefs and mayors want.

"Is it more convenient for the communities and municipalities? Does it enable them to be able to give information back to their own communities more and more easily?" Hanley said. "I actually have brought that up as a question for the chiefs to consider as well as the municipalities."

Local governments announcing cases on their own

But the Yukon government does tell First Nations and municipalities when there are positive cases in their communities. And local governments are increasingly making that information public on their own. Both the City of Dawson and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, for example, have done so.

Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill said releasing the information means people are more likely to follow public health guidelines such as physical distancing and limits on the size of gatherings. 

Doris Bill is the chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Bill said that earlier in the pandemic, officials with her government struggled to convince people to follow guidelines and get vaccinated. With more transparency, that's changed, she said.

"We believe that having that information creates more of an awareness in the community," she said. "People are more vigilant and they take the precautions seriously when they know that it could be just down the street." 

Hanley was scheduled to meet with chiefs Thursday and mayors Friday.