WHITEHORSE — Yukon's acting chief medical health officer says a COVID-19 outbreak linked partly to high school graduation events could add to rising infections in the territory, which had no new cases for nearly a month.
Dr. Catherine Elliott urged residents on Monday to follow guidelines aimed at preventing infection, get tested if they have symptoms and register to be immunized.
The territory had one case of COVID-19 in early May but currently has 20 cases, half of them diagnosed since Friday.
No decisions have been made on introducing more restrictions in the territory, which opened restaurants and bars to full capacity on May 25 and allowed residents to plan for events with up to 200 guests.
"It really does depend on what happens in the next couple of days, and it also depends on everybody doing their part to be responsible at this time," Elliott said.
The quick rise in cases, many of them involving the Gamma variant associated with Brazil, should have people following basic preventive measures such as physical distancing and washing hands, she said.
"What concerns me right now is that the disease is being spread, it has been spread, among people who are in close contact without physical distancing," Elliott said, adding that could be happening among people who don't know each other.
"My concern is that with all the fatigue that we all have with COVID-19, people are finding this hard to do. And without doing this, particularly for people who haven't had their full vaccine yet, COVID will spread."
Some people who have tested positive attended formal and informal graduation events as well as house parties, and Elliott said anyone who is linked with them, including parents, should be monitoring for symptoms.
Guidelines on school-based graduation events varied and were reviewed by public health officials.
At some events, invitations were limited, masks were required, students could sit only in family groups and a meal was not served following the cap and gown ceremony. At other schools, one dance was permitted with a partner or household member and families were seated together for a meal. Some schools held events outdoors.
Elliott said some of the cases are associated with one high school but graduates from several schools socialized together without physical distancing so it wouldn't be surprising to see more cases.
"We've seen that again and again, across Canada and around the world, where people socialize without physical distancing, where they socialize in close proximity, particularly outside their bubble with unfamiliar faces, this is how COVID spreads."
Yukon's premier, Sandy Silver, said earlier this month that the territory was leading the country with its high vaccination rate.
By late last week, nearly 80 per cent of eligible adults had received a first vaccine dose and over 72 per cent of Yukoners had been fully vaccinated. The territory began immunizing youth between 12 and 17 about two weeks ago and does not yet have data on the vaccination rate for that age group.
Yukon has recorded a total of 104 cases since the start of the pandemic.
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.
The Canadian Press