Officials stress mandatory mask rules, urge Yukoners to stay home to prevent spread of COVID-19

Officials in Yukon are giving more details on new mandatory mask rules that go into effect on Tuesday, and are asking people to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise in the territory over past few weeks.

Case counts of COVID-19 have doubled in territory over last 3 weeks

Yukon Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley is speaking at the territory's weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Officials in Yukon are giving more details on new mandatory mask rules that go into effect on Tuesday, and are asking people to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise in the territory.

The territory has now confirmed a total of 47 cases since the pandemic began, with 17 that are currently active.

Premier Sandy Silver said at Tuesday's update that the new mask rules will extend to Yukoners over the age of five, after saying last week they would apply to those over the age of two.

He also said indoor public spaces include "indoor areas of a building that are intended for the common use of the whole public." This includes public bathrooms, lobbies, hallways, waiting rooms, elevators and stores, along with other spaces, he added.

"If you're not sure whether or not you're in a public space, wear a mask," Silver said.

He said some exemptions will include people with medical conditions which prevent them from wearing masks, people participating in sports, people in private areas of long-term care homes and anyone eating or drinking in a public restaurant. 

Silver said the government can give people fine of up to $500 if people don't comply with the rules and can't reasonably verify an exemption.

"Sanctions would only be used in egregious scenarios of non-compliance," Silver said.

A customer could be refused entry of service if they're not wearing a mask, for example — though at this point, Silver said, the territory is focused on education, awareness, and support as a primary means of compliance.

Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, said the rules around wearing non-medical masks in indoor public spaces are enforceable under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.

"Remember masks are not a substitute. They're an addition to all those measures that are already well-known. It's important that you continue to physically distance and wash your hands, and follow the other measures where applicable," Hanley said.

He added that for those who can not afford or find a mask, the government will be make them available for a limited time at public facilities.

Missed the update? Watch it here: 

Case counts double in 3 weeks, no evidence of community spread

The territory has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks.

"Our case count … doubled in the past three weeks from 23 cases as of Nov. 10 to 47 cases as of this morning," Hanley emphasized on Tuesday.

Hanley said that health officials have not yet found signals of community spread in the territory. 

"In other words, we're not seeing cases appearing in the community that are not connected to travel or to known cases. However, we haven't ruled it out," he said.

One new case was announced on the territorial government's website on Monday in an unspecified location, and one new case was announced in Whitehorse Sunday. The territory also added a new public exposure notification over the weekend: Baked Café and Bakery on Nov. 21 between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Three other cases were also confirmed in Whitehorse on Friday. The Yukon government also listed potential exposure notices for specific bus routes, the Better Bodies gym, the Canada Games Centre Wellness Centre and Sakura Sushi at certain times.

Government to provide support for leave

Silver emphasized the importance of staying home if they are feeling sick, and said the territorial government supports employers and employees in doing so.

"Our government has [a] paid sick leave rebate program for employers, including those who are self-employed," Silver said.

"To compliment this, under new COVID-19 regulations, an employee is also entitled to a leave without pay for a period of up to 14 days if they require."

The leave is available to employees if they or someone in their care is required to follow a health protection measure such as self-isolating, Silver said, given that they are able to provide a doctor's note.

Silver said that approved vaccines are expected to be available by early 2021, but there are still many details to work out on national and territorial levels.


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