The City of Barrie is set to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, or regular antigen screening tests, for all of its employees.
Michael Prowse, Barrie’s chief administrative officer, sent the message to city staff late Wednesday afternoon.
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner "made the recommendation that all local employers institute and ensure compliance with a workplace COVID-19 vaccination policy to help us achieve higher overall vaccination in the population and, as such, the City of Barrie will be implementing a mandatory vaccination or regular antigen screening test,” Prowse said in his message, which was obtained by BarrieToday.
He said the city’s emergency management team, along with its human resources department and readiness committee, will work to finalize a COVID vaccination policy — along with a frequently asked questions document — by the end of next week.
Reached Thursday morning by BarrieToday, Prowse reiterated the policy and its details will be released next week, and that 'vaccinated' means two doses.
“It would apply to all employees and management, unionized and non-(unionized), full-time and part-time,” he said. “We continue to put the health and safety of our employees and residents as a top priority for the city.”
Health Canada says antigen-based tests detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus. They are often called rapid tests, as they typically provide results in less than an hour, Health Canada says.
Most city employees are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 2380. There are approximately 500 full-time members who work for the city.
Michael Murphy, president of CUPE Local 2380, was asked about the mandatory vaccination/screening policy.
“I can’t comment at this time other than to say that our local is committed to ensuring all of our members have a safe work environment,” he said Thursday morning, “and that we will continue to follow the direction of the Simcoe Muskoka (District) Health Unit and CUPE National.”
Prowse also noted in his message that the city’s return-to-office plans have been delayed past Sept. 13, the date when Barrie councillors are next scheduled to meet. They have been meeting virtually since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
On Wednesday Dr. Gardner strongly recommended that all local employers implement a COVID workplace vaccination policy.
“Employers are required to maintain a safe work environment for their workers. While enhanced protection measures are essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19, the most effective method of protection is vaccination. It is highly effective at reducing virus spread and protecting against serious illness,” he said.
“As such, a COVID-19 vaccination policy will help safeguard the work environment for employees and clients and will help us to achieve higher overall vaccination in the population," Gardner added.
Simcoe-Muskoka has seen a significant increase in the past weeks in the number of COVID-19 infections, going from an average of three new cases daily at the beginning of July to 20 cases per day as of Aug. 30, according to the local health unit. Based on provincial numbers reported the week of Aug. 22, 69 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated or those partially vaccinated with only one dose.
On Tuesday, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) announced its mandatory vaccination policy, which affects all employees and anyone who does business at the Barrie hospital, more than 4,400 people.
The RVH vaccination policy applies to all health-centre employees, including those who’ve been working remotely during the pandemic, credentialed staff, students, contractors and vendors. They must be double-vaccinated by Oct. 31, 2021 — unless they have been granted a medical exemption or accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
RVH says 80 per cent of staff and physicians who have declared their status say they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But RVH says it wants to ensure it can achieve 100 per cent vaccination status across the hospital.
Anyone who chooses to remain unvaccinated after Oct. 31 will be subject to what RVH calls "progressive policies," including unpaid leave and termination for cause, ending of learner placement, and restriction, suspension or termination of privileges for credentialed staff. Volunteers must be fully vaccinated before returning to their roles at the hospital.
Several emergency services providers in the region, including Barrie city police, are also considering vaccine policies for their staff.