B.C. senior care home employees and contractors who don’t provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination must be given rapid tests at the start of each shift, and stay away from work for at least 10 days if they test positive, according to the latest public health order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Henry first announced her intention to require staff vaccination status information in early June, when B.C.’s infection rate was slowing down with the onset of summer and recreational travel within B.C. was allowed to resume. The 14-page order was finally issued Aug. 20, with coronavirus cases rising sharply again and a dozen long-term care and assisted living facilities in outbreak protocol after confirmed infections inside. Its strict legal language acknowledges a right to refuse vaccination under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The order gives facility operators until Sept. 1 to report vaccination status of workers to the health ministry. It allows for authorized medical exemptions for workers whose health may be affected by taking a coronavirus vaccine, and does not bar unvaccinated people from coming to work.
Instead, they are to be subjected to a COVID-19 rapid test at the beginning of every work shift. If that comes back positive, they are required to leave and arrange a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test as soon as possible. If the PCR test is positive, the worker must stay away from the facility for at least 10 days, unless an exemption is granted by public health officials.
Unvaccinated workers who test negative are required to wear masks at all times, except when eating or drinking, and maintain a two-metre distance from everyone in the facility, “except for the resident to whom they are providing care.”
The care home staff order shows a glimpse of the legal situation faced by public health authorities as B.C. prepares to make proof of vaccination mandatory for entry to ticketed indoor sports events, restaurants, bars, high-intensity fitness centres and other shared indoor spaces. That measure is to take effect Sept. 13, when people will be required to show proof of a first dose, and full vaccination by Oct. 24.
Henry said the proof-of-vaccination program will not offer medical exemptions, or exemptions for people who have refused vaccination for religious reasons.
“This is a temporary measure that’s getting us through a risky period where we know people who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk of contracting and spreading this virus,” Henry said Aug. 23. “Those rare people who have a medical reason why they can’t be immunized … they will not be able to attend those events during this period.”
Religious services are exempted from the proof-of-vaccination requirement, and from the province-wide mask mandate for indoor public areas that was reinstated as of Aug. 24. “However, faith leaders are supported to implement these additional measures in their in-person services should they desire to do so,” says a bulletin from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.