As promised, the City of Barrie has introduced and is implementing a COVID-19 vaccination policy for its employees.
All staff will be required to provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status by Monday, Sept. 20. The policy applies to all employees of and volunteers with the city, along with contractors. But this means contractors only where the city has any duties as an employer as defined by Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The vaccination policy was developed using criteria and risk assessments provided by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
“Right now, the focus is on education and getting the workforce vaccinated,” said Michael Prowse, Barrie’s chief administrative officer. “However, employees who don't comply with this procedure may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.
“The City of Barrie has a duty to provide safe environments for staff and the public," the CAO added. "By introducing this new vaccine policy, we feel we are leading by example and doing our part to keep health and safety a top priority.”
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, had little to say Thursday about the vaccination policy.
“My comment hasn’t changed since the last time we spoke, as things are still unfolding,” he said.
Last week, Murphy said Local 2380 is committed to ensuring all of its members have a safe work environment and that it will continue to follow the direction of the local health unit and CUPE National.
The vaccination policy will also affect about 230 non-union city employees.
City staff who have not been vaccinated or who don’t disclose their vaccination status by Sept. 20 will be required to attend mandatory education sessions on the benefits of vaccination.
Unvaccinated city employees are required to undergo regular antigen screening tests (at least twice a week for full-time employees) or the equivalent, and supply results.
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, according to Health Canada.
Due to the nature of certain city jobs, some staff have been deemed to be at a higher risk — working with citizens who may not be vaccinated or masked — or their positions with the city are critical to the health and safety of the citizens of Barrie.
These employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29, 2021, or may be subject to discipline in accordance with the city’s vaccination policy.
All other employees who refuse to get vaccinated, or refuse to disclose their vaccination status by Oct. 1, 2021, will be required to get tested at their cost for COVID-19 on a regular basis.
The city will exempt staff with valid reasons related to protected grounds from vaccination requirements according to the Ontario Human Rights Code. If the exemption is accepted, these employees will be required to get tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis.
The policy also says COVID-19 and its variants, such delta, present a significant health risk, particularly in unvaccinated people. This procedure recognizes that vaccination against COVID-19 is the most effective measure to reduce the risk of severe illness and transmission to others, including members of the public.
Last week, 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 officials said last week that 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. Officials there say they want to ensure RVH 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.