How Yukon's 'one caribou apart' physical distancing campaign became a sensation

A quirky public health campaign in Yukon promoting physical distancing by urging people to stay "one caribou apart" has proven popular.

'Someone said, 'Wouldn't it be better if we had something that resonated with Yukoners?''

A public health campaign in Yukon urges people to stay at least one caribou apart during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Government of Yukon)

Michael Edwards, a communications analyst with the Yukon government, said the idea was simple — tweak a serious public health campaign to make people "smile a little bit."

The result is a series of quirky Yukon-themed ads promoting physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Stay one caribou apart," reads one ad, with an illustration of a caribou spanning the distance between two people. That would equal a distance of about two metres, the ad shows.

It also adds an important fine-print disclaimer: "Note: Please stay at least 90 metres/300 feet away from actual caribou."

Edwards said the idea for the ads was hatched as people in Yukon's Department of Health and Social Services started playing around with ideas for the physical distancing campaign, based on other ads.

"Someone said, 'Wouldn't it better if we had something that resonated with Yukoners, to show what the distance would be?'" Edwards said.

"We started throwing ideas around, and I think 'one bear' was the first one we came up with."

They didn't go with the bear — yet — but opted instead for a caribou in the first poster.

"Caribou was sort of one of the most iconic animals for Yukon," he said.

That poster has been widely shared on social media in Yukon, and beyond. Edwards said people in his department were surprised, and delighted.

4 ravens, 8 sourdough loaves

New posters have followed each week, as Yukoners are urged to keep two huskies apart, four ravens apart, even eight sourdough loaves apart ("based on an average 24 centimetre loaf," it says). All are measured, roughly, to be about two metres, or six feet.

People have also started making suggestions on social media for future posters, such as staying one tundra swan apart.

A public health campaign in Yukon urges people to stay at least eight sourdough loaves apart during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Government of Yukon)

The ads have even transcended the online world. Edwards said he's heard people talking about them in public.

"I've actually heard people say to each other, 'Hey, remember to stay two huskies apart,' or 'one caribou apart,'" he said.

"It's really great to actually hear people saying it, and referring to it out there."

"The one I'm working on right now is one cord of wood … which is actually eight feet," Edwards said.

That poster will also include a message about the timeliness of stacking and storing wood now, so it will dry and burn cleaner by winter.

"So we've managed to sort of pack on another Health and Social Services messaging onto the physical distancing messaging," he said.

"These are tough times, and we realize people are having difficult times, and so it's nice to do something that is a COVID[-19] message but also makes people smile a little bit."

With files from Leonard Linklater and Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada