Vaccinations or testing required for thousands of local workers

Lambton EMS staff work at the Bluewater Health emergency department. Troy Shantz

Cathy Dobson

Vaccinations or regular testing will now be mandatory for thousands of local employees and volunteers after Ontario announced last week it would require COVID-19 policies for high-risk settings.

That includes colleges, hospitals, schools, retirement homes, women’s shelters and group homes.

Bluewater Health and Lambton College have already released details about their new protocols.

Hospital sites in Sarnia and Petrolia will require full vaccination or regular asymptomatic testing for all staff, volunteers, students and contractors as of Sept. 7.

“We know the best protection against COVID-19 is to have as many people vaccinated as possible,” said Dr. Mike Haddad, Bluewater Health’s chief of staff.

“The next best is to prevent those who are not fully vaccinated from transmitting the disease.”

Unvaccinated staff must undergo rapid testing and complete education programs.

Neither hospital site has had volunteers during the pandemic, but they are slowly returning and will be required to show proof of full vaccination before entering.

At Bluewater Health, 94% of staff has already received at least one dose, and 95% of physicians are fully vaccinated, the hospital said.

“Our community is relying on us to provide safe, quality care,” said CEO and President Mike Lapaine. “The highest rate of full vaccination among our care team is the best protection we can offer our patients and families.”

Bluewater Health has 2,500 staff, volunteers and professional staff, such as physicians and midwives.

Lambton College had already announced it was joining a growing list of universities and colleges requiring vaccinations shortly before the province acted.

To be on campus, all students, employees and guests must have their first dose by Aug. 31 and a second dose by Oct. 11. On-campus vaccine clinics will be held in September, with dates to be announced.

Exemptions will be granted for those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons or other grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code. A documentation process is being put in place.

“It’s been a long 18 months of online learning and remote working,” said the CEO and president Rob Kardas.

“I’m proud of the way Lambton College has innovated and adapted to succeed, but it’s time now for our employees, students and partners to light up our campus once again.”

Ambulance services and home and community care service providers must have vaccination policies in place for employees by Sept. 7.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said mandatory shots or regular testing are needed in high-risk settings because the Delta variant is highly transmissible.

And with children headed back to in-person learning, a vaccination disclosure policy is coming for all publicly funded school board employees, staff in private schools, and child care workers, she said.

Anyone not fully vaccinated will need to undergo rapid testing.

Vaccination policies are also being implemented for retirement homes, women’s shelters, group homes for adults with developmental disabilities, and services for children with special needs.

Meanwhile, the province intends to offer third doses of COVID-19 vaccine to those at highest risk, including transplant recipients and cancer patients.

 

AT A GLANCE

 

* More than 81% of Ontarians aged 12 and over have received a first dose, and more than 73% have two doses.

* The Ontario Roadmap to Reopen moved into Stage 3 July 16 and is now on pause.

* In July, unvaccinated individuals were about eight times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals.

* Vaccination receipts can be downloaded or printed through the provincial portal, or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Health