Yukon getting more than $4M to help with school reopening

The federal government will give Yukon $4.16 million to help with safely reopening schools, as part of $2 billion in funding for all provinces and territories, said officials at the territory's weekly COVID-19 press conference.

In another COVID-19 update, sports can now form 'mini-leagues' of up to 60 players

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley spoke at the weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT. (Alistair Maitland/Government of Yukon)

The federal government will give Yukon $4.16 million to help reopen schools, as part of a $2 billion funding announcement for all provinces and territories. 

During the territory's weekly COVID-19 press conference, Premier Sandy Silver could not yet say exactly how Yukon would spend the money. He said it could go toward extra busses, custodial staff, cleaning supplies mental health supports, personal protective equipment, or further health and safety training.

Silver said the government will prioritize based on school needs and new costs as they come up.

The territory will get half the money now, and the other $2 million in early 2021. The premier said they were "pleasantly surprised" by the federal announcement.

Responding to reporter questions, Silver would not commit on using money to bring back full-time classes for Whitehorse Grade 10 to 12 students. Those students in Whitehorse's three largest high schools will learn at home half the day, as part of Yukon's school re-opening plan.

The $2 billion was divided up on a per capita basis based on student population. The Northwest Territories will get $4.85 million, while Nunavut will get $5.75 million.

Yukon schools had to make safety adaptations in order to reopen. In this classroom at Elijah Smith Elementary School, clear plastic shower curtains hang between desks so students can sit closer together. (Laura Howells/CBC)

The provinces and territories will have discretion on how to use the money to deal with challenges in the classroom created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What we have to do is take a look at what has already been identified by the department as necessities," said Silver.

No change in travel restrictions, masks

As schools re-open, Dr. Brendan Hanley ​​​​​​said there will be no changes in travel self-isolation requirements. He also has "no interest" in making masks mandatory, like in other jurisdictions.

Yukon has had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all of which have recovered. The territory has tested 2,459 people.

Hanley said Yukon has done a good job containing COVID-19 since opening its borders to British Columbia. He urged young people to be cautious, and asked people not to "party" at close distance. He said Yukon's latest COVID-19 case was contained because people were following distancing measures and "doing the right thing."

Although British Columbia is seeing a spike in cases, Hanley said most cases are traceable, there isn't an increase in hospitalizations, and younger people seem to be driving the increase.

"Closing our border to B.C. would not guarantee us any gains in stopping the spread of COVID-19," Hanley said. "Letting fear rule our lives is not going to keep COVID-19 at bay."

Sports players can form 'mini-leagues' of 60 people

Hanley also announced updated guidelines for sports where players can come in contact with each other, such as hockey, soccer, volleyball and basketball.

Players can form "mini-leagues" of up to 60 people, and hold games and tournaments within that cohort. People can participate in up to two sports mini-leagues at any one time, and should keep a record of participants in each league.

The guidelines say players should still maintain physical distancing where possible, including eliminating team huddles and post-game handshakes.

Guidelines for social gatherings

The Yukon government has also released its guidelines for gatherings.

Organized gatherings — defined as seated events at rented venues, like a wedding — can have 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors with distancing. Rental venues should have an operational plan.

Social gatherings, which are in private or public spaces, can have 10 people indoors or 50 people outdoors with distancing. These kinds of gatherings include birthday parties or backyard barbeques.