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'Widespread infection' as Yukon's active COVID-19 cases climb to 49

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Yukon has risen to 49 confirmed and one probable, marking the highest case count since the start of the pandemic, according to the territory’s chief medical officer of health. 

'This is our first widespread outbreak and it has outstripped anything we have seen before'

'We’re now seeing widespread infection, primarily amongst younger, unvaccinated adults and youth,' Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said Wednesday morning. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

The number of confirmed active COVID-19 cases in Yukon rose to 49 Wednesday, with one probable case, marking the highest case count since the start of the pandemic, according to the territory's chief medical officer of health. 

"This is our first widespread outbreak and it has outstripped anything we have seen before," Dr. Brendan Hanley said Wednesday morning.

Forty-four of those cases are in Whitehorse and six are in communities, he said, noting two cases are located outside of the territory and one case is probable.

Hanley didn't indicate which rural communities are impacted by the outbreak.

"This outbreak is demonstrating the stark difference in outcomes between those who are protected with vaccine and those who are not," he said. "It's not one case introduction into Yukon that's got us into trouble — it's the spread, within close, crowded and often closed gatherings of people, particularly unvaccinated people, that gets us into trouble."

Most cases are confirmed to be the gamma — or P.1 — strain of the virus.

At last count, on Tuesday evening, there were 33 active cases.

Hanley said the outbreak is strongly linked to recent graduation-related events and parties that occurred last weekend.

"And we're also seeing activity amongst young adults, who have been frequenting the various bars and restaurants around Whitehorse," he said. "This is more the gathering behaviour — it's not the bars and restaurants themselves."

Hanley was flanked at Wednesday's news conference by Premier Sandy Silver, who said the outbreak is connected to the graduating class of Porter Creek Secondary School, two classes at Elijah Smith Elementary School, and various "social groups" who have been partying together.

Watch Wednesday's news conference here:

Case count could climb

Hanley said he expects the number of cases to escalate in the coming days, and that it "will likely number in the dozens and may reach hundreds."

"We're now seeing widespread infection, primarily amongst younger, unvaccinated adults and youth," he said.

Hanley called for calm, noting that most Yukoners have received at least one dose of a vaccine. 

"Yes, we are concerned, but panic is not necessary and fear will not help," he said, adding it's crucial people continue to don masks and remain physically distanced, particularly when indoors.

As of Monday, 80 per cent of eligible adult Yukoners had received their first shot of Moderna vaccine and 72 per cent had received both shots.

Yukoners aged 12 to 17 started receiving Pfizer vaccines a few weeks ago, however the territory has not released data on how many in that age group have received shots so far.

Hanley said people who attended post-graduation events or certain group-related events should self-isolate until June 25.

"Because of all of this advice, there are now hundreds of people in self-isolation," he said. "It was what you might call a focused lockdown measure and that is how we will control this outbreak."

Yukon's total case count for the entire pandemic was at 136 on Wednesday, plus one probable case, Hanley said. 

Enforcement measures to be 'stepped up'

Silver said the outbreak shows just how important it is for Yukoners to get vaccinated. Failing to do so, he said, puts entire communities at risk. 

"You might be done with COVID, but COVID's not done with you," Silver said. 

People who don't get vaccinated are putting entire communities at risk, said Premier Sandy Silver.  (Alistair Maitland/Government of Yukon)

"We know that the outbreak is linked to situations where people are socializing in close proximity to one another. This includes bush parties, house parties and sometimes even breaking some of the rules and socializing in the bars.

"This simply has to stop."

To stem what could be a growing tide of new cases, Silver said enforcement measures will be "stepped up." 

"When we have zero cases, there's not as much enforcement," he said. "When we have as many cases as we have now, enforcement increases, and the resources will be available for those."

Clarifications

  • This story was updated to clarify there are 49 active COVID-19 cases in Yukon and one probable case.
    Jun 16, 2021 7:14 PM CT

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