July 24 COVID-19 Update (7 p.m.)

Current COVID-19 Situation in Ross River

Ross River Dena Council advises all community members that as of 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 24, there is one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ross River. The individual has been self-isolating since last Sunday along with a second individual who is required to self-isolate under the current COVID-19 guidelines, as enforced under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.

Council is also closely monitoring an outbreak of COVID-19 in Watson Lake/Lower Post which reached 11 cases on Wednesday, according to the Watson Lake Healthcare News Facebook page.

This particular outbreak is concerning due to the volume of non-essential travel observed between Watson Lake/Lower Post, Ross River and other neighbouring communities in recent weeks. Council advises that while essential travel (i.e. for medical reasons) is reasonable during the current outbreak, non-essential travel poses an extreme risk to the well-being of our elders, our families and our entire community.

The latest example of how dangerous non-essential community-to-community travel can be was discovered on Friday.

A resident of Watson Lake drove through Whitehorse to Ross River on Thursday to drop off a family member at Ross River Airport. The family member joined workers from multiple communities on a charter flight to a nearby mine. The driver opted to stay in Ross River Thursday night and met with multiple community members before returning to Whitehorse on Friday. Once in Whitehorse, the individual went for a COVID-19 test at the rapid testing facility. The test result was positive. 

Out of respect for those who may have been exposed, the individual posted the test result on Facebook late Friday evening and apologized, expressing sincere concern for the community members involved.

This is an unfortunate situation that could lead to more cases in the coming days, and reminds us of just how quickly an innocent visit can change a community’s COVID-19 outlook. At this time Council is asking all community members to please remain calm, please avoid non-essential travel, continue to practise the Safe 6+1 and work together to support everyone involved. 

Contact Tracing Under Way

Following the positive test result on Friday, contact tracing began immediately and has continued over the weekend.

Contact tracing is led by Yukon Communicable Disease Control (YCDC) in Whitehorse and involves reaching out to those who were in direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. If you are contacted, a representative of YCDC will play an instrumental role to guide you on next steps and will offer important advice and support based on your situation.

Any Ross River citizens who have been contacted by YCDC over the past 24 hours are being asked to self-monitor and/or self-isolate. The pilot and passengers on the flight, along with others who may be at risk at the mine site, have also been notified. Safety protocols are now being followed to reduce the risk of spread.

Please note, the probability that COVID-19 has begun to spread beyond the primary contacts (those who have been contacted by YCDC) is extremely low. It takes time, often many days, before an individual begins to show symptoms and becomes contagious.

Travel Advisory Remains in Effect

With an growing outbreak in a neighbouring community and an unprecedented outbreak still under way across Yukon, Council is once again asking Yukoners and travellers from outside of the territory to please respect the travel advisory for Ross River, which reads as follows: 

  • NO VISITORS PLEASE – Travellers are asked to refrain from visiting Ross River at this time; 
  • ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY – Community members are asked to refrain from travelling to other communities unless it is absolutely essential (i.e. for medical reasons)

Council is also reminding all citizens of Ross River how important it will be to remain diligent and to avoid travelling to other communities for non-essential reasons.

Please help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by respecting our travel advisory and all of current travel advisories issued by Yukon First Nations at this time, as posted on the Council of Yukon First Nations website. 

Why is Ross River’s Travel Advisory So Important?

The answer to this question is a four-letter word – risk.

The Government of Yukon and the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) are aware that as of July 12, Ross River continues to have the lowest vaccination rate in Yukon, with just over 50 per cent of our population partially vaccinated and only 33 per cent fully vaccinated.

It is for this reason that Council introduced unprecedented safety measures that have remained in place since June 15, including office closures, the closure of Dena General Store to the public, the introduction of COVID-19 Risk Level signage, a Ross River COVID-19 Support Line, a COVID-19 Checkpoint, a Travel Advisory and more. 

On Wednesday the Government of Yukon announced its intention to lift the current state of emergency along with a number of key COVID-19 restrictions on August 4 – including the requirement for unvaccinated visitors to self-isolate for 14 days. It means that our elders, our families and the vulnerable members of our community must now prepare for even greater risk.

Council does not support Wednesday’s announcement, and is disappointed that the community with the lowest vaccination rate in Yukon – and therefore the highest risk – has still not been respectfully and meaningfully consulted about such an important decision.

It is now Council’s intention to engage with CMOH on the Department of Health and Social Services and others to explore all available options and solutions, such as re-enforcing the current travel advisory with new COVID-19 safety measures that work to strengthen community-level support for unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated members of our community and new partnerships with our neighbours that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations across rural Yukon in the weeks and months ahead.

Current Risk Level 5 (Extreme)

The current COVID-19 Risk Level for Ross River remains at Level 5 (Extreme) and the following COVID-19 safety measures remain in effect:

  • The Dena General Store will be closed to the public, however community members can place an order for pickup or delivery of groceries to your door – please call 969-2280 and/or send an email to dena.general@northwestel.net to place your order;
  • The Dena General Store will now be closed on Sundays and Tuesdays for cleaning and other necessary measures;
  • Tu-Lidlini Petroleum advises that the gas station will have reduced hours from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. until further notice and that customers are strongly encouraged to use the Cardlock system to pay for fuel;
  • Banking services will be available at the Dena General Store on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – services are provided at the door, as the store is currently closed to the public.
  • The following travel advisory is now in effect: 
    • NO VISITORS PLEASE – Travellers are asked to refrain from visiting Ross River at this time; 
    • ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY – Community members are asked to refrain from travelling to other communities unless it is absolutely essential (i.e. for medical reasons);
  • Ross River Dena Council offices will remain closed to the public until further notice;
  • Ross River Dena Council employees are now in the first phase of a three-phase Re-Opening Plan, which allows access to up to three staff members into RRDC buildings at one time;
  • Ross River Dena Council will continue to engage with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Department of Health and Social Services and the COVID Response Unit to help strengthen community-level support.

These measures were introduced in response to the current outbreak in Whitehorse and the presence of COVID-19 in multiple communities, including Ross River. Council continues to work with territorial health authorities and our neighbouring communities to monitor the situation and takes this matter very seriously.

Reporting High-Risk Behaviour

To help support the re-opening plan and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community, Council is asking all community members to please be on the lookout for high-risk behaviour and to report individuals who are not following the Civil Emergency Measures Act by calling (867) 393-6210 or by filling out the online form.

High-risk behaviour consists of any activity that is not in accordance with current COVID-19 guidelines and/or the current safety measures put in place by Council to help keep Ross River safe. 

Examples of high-risk behaviour include:

  • Not following the Safe 6+1;
  • Participating in social gatherings that are outside of your bubble and involve more than six people;
  • Travelling to and from other communities for non-essential purposes;
  • Not wearing a mask while in close proximity to others;
  • Overcrowded vehicles and passengers are not wearing masks to protect one another; and
  • Visiting houses even when there is a sign on the door that says no visitors.

Not Feeling Well? Get Tested

Community members are reminded that if you are feeling sick – even with mild symptoms – it is important to immediately self-isolate and contact the Health Centre at 969-4444 to arrange for a test. Do not visit with others and do not come directly to the Health Centre, please call first.  

Symptoms include:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches

Other COVID-19 Considerations

Council recognizes that as part of the new normal, outbreaks may occur in Whitehorse and/or rural communities in the weeks and months ahead. When an outbreak occurs, Council asks that everyone remain calm, continue to follow the Safe 6+1 and that we all work together to help protect vulnerable community members during these difficult times.

Here are some additional considerations and resources to help keep Ross River safe:

  • If you or someone you know had really mild symptoms and recently tested negative for COVID-19 this is good news, however it is not the end of the story. If symptoms get worse in the days (and weeks) following a test, it’s a good idea to self-isolate and call the Health Centre at 969-4444 to arrange for another test – when it comes to COVID-19, it’s way better to be safe than sorry;
  • For the latest COVID-19 Self-Isolation Guidelines: https://yukon.ca/en/self-isolation-covid-19;
  • If you see someone who was known to be self-isolating but may not be following the current the self-isolation guidelines, you can report this activity here;
  • If you live with others and are not able to self-isolate, please inform the Health Centre or Ross River Dena Council and efforts will be made to arrange for temporary self-isolation options; and
  • Anyone seeking mental health and wellness support are encouraged to call the LifeWorks Crisis Support Line at 1-844-751-2133 (open 24 hours, 7 days a week) or call (867) 332-5468 to reach the Mental Health, Counselling and Crisis Support Line for Ross River, Pelly Crossing, Carmacks and Faro citizens.

Volunteers Needed

Ross River Dena Council has established the RRDC COVID-19 Action Plan Working Group to advise Council and help coordinate COVID-19 community outreach and support efforts during an unprecedented public health emergency. For more information about the Working Group or if you would like to volunteer and help make a difference, please send an email to the Working Group Co-Chairs Verna Nukon at vernanukon@gmail.com and/or Dylan Loblaw at dylanloblaw@gmail.com. You can also reach us by calling the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line at 747-0099 at any time. 

Thank you,

Ross River Dena Council