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Yukon to deploy 3 new school buses, 5-year-olds to wear masks en route in new year

Yukon students will be returning to school in the new year with some changes to busing and new health regulations to follow.

New buses will accommodate about 350 more students, education minister says

Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, spoke at a Thursday morning news conference alongside Yukon’s Minister of Education Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland)

Yukon students will be returning to school in the new year with some changes to busing and new health regulations.

Yukon's Minister of Education Tracy-Anne McPhee said the territory will deploy three new school buses to fill gaps in service, which she says are a result of some of the "adjustments that we have had to make this year."

McPhee made the announcement alongside Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley during the government's weekly COVID-19 update on Thursday.

The three buses were originally announced in August, and in mid-November the education minister said the buses had arrived and would be in service within 2 weeks.

Around 250 kids have been unable to ride the bus this year in Whitehorse due to COVID-19 changes. Opposition parties have questioned what took so long for the buses to be deployed, while some parents expressed frustration.

A spokesperson for the territorial government, Kyle Nightingale, said earlier this month that officials were reviewing routes and ridership, to figure out how to best use the new buses.

The buses will be in service starting Jan. 4 and will include a route along the Hamilton Boulevard corridor areas to schools in Porter Creek. It will also include routes from the Porter Creek and Whistlebend areas to schools in Riverdale, and Elijah Smith Elementary school.

"The buses are being deployed in these areas as part of our efforts to ensure that we can accommodate as many students as possible," McPhee said, adding the changes are based on the needs the territory was seeing across Whitehorse.

She said that adjustments are also being made to some bus routes, such as changes to pick-up and drop-off times, "to optimize the number of students who can ride the bus."

Approximately 350 additional students will be accommodated to by these new buses and rules, McPhee said.

As of now, just over 1,900 eligible students are being accommodated, but these new updates will allow for about 2,250 students, she said. 

New guidelines for back to school

Students will also need to follow new guidelines when returning to school.

Dr. Hanley said on Thursday that students age five and older are now required to wear a non-medical mask when on the school bus, an update from the previous guidelines that required the masks on students age 10 and older. 

"Our revised recommendations include monitoring your child's symptoms before sending them to school, bus drivers must also assess themselves for daily symptoms," said Hanley.

He added that while waiting for the bus, students and parents or guardians are recommended to keep two meters distance from others at bus stops while they are loading or unloaded.

All families using the bus should check the school bus schedule, before returning to school in January for the most current routes and stop times.

Missed Thursday's news conference? Watch it here:

'No bubble infidelity' over holidays

Hanley reminded Yukoners on Thursday that they must continue to follow health regulations over the holiday season.

"We know that holiday gatherings have the potential to fuel virus transmission," said Hanley.

Maintaining a social bubble is important to helping combat the spread of COVID-19, he said, and keeping consistency with those who you are in contact with.

"Please use common sense, and keep in mind your goal is to keep your bubble small and consistent, and safe," he said.

The ideal bubble is under 10 people, with the maximum limit of 15, Hanley added.

"I do urge you to maintain consistency, no bubble infidelity allowed."

Mask regulation charge laid

On Thursday, McPhee said that there have been five new charges under the Civil Emergencies Measures Act, including one charge for failure to wear a mask, three charges for failure to self-isolate, and one for refusing to stop at the border.

The territorial government has previously said that it is focused on education, awareness and support as a primary means of compliance when it comes to mask regulations.

"I can't speak about this specific case but what I can say is that the reported circumstances of that matter were egregious and the individual was clearly refusing to cooperate," said McPhee.

As of Wednesday, when the territorial government's website was last updated, there were 59 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory with one active, one death, and 57 people recovered.

The most recent case was reported on Monday in Whitehorse and was linked to a previous case, according to a government statement.

The Yukon government says the person was already self-isolating when they became infectious and is recovering at home in isolation.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine coming 

The news conference comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the territories are scheduled to receive doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks, pending Health Canada approval.

The three territories previously said they had expected the doses to arrive within the first three months of 2021.

On Monday, Canadians elsewhere began receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was approved by Health Canada last week.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said last week that all adults in the territory who want the vaccine will receive it for free, within the first three months of 2021.

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