School boards in B.C. now required to collect vaccination status of all staff

School boards in B.C. now required to collect vaccination status of all staff
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The B.C. government has issued a public health order requiring school boards to collect and report the vaccination status of all staff members.

The order, issued and signed by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, requires employers to request proof of vaccination from every staff member and keep a record of every staff member’s vaccination status, and report the vaccination status on an aggregated basis by the school to the medical health officer.

READ MORE: 49 schools on Vancouver Island added to website tracking COVID exposures since Jan. 10

Staff members must provide their employer with proof of vaccination by the deadline set by the employer.

Further, when implementing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, employers are to proceed on the basis that a staff member is not vaccinated if they have not provided proof of vaccination.

The BC Teachers’ Federation says they were not given advanced notice about the public health order and they had already come to an agreement with the BC Public School Employers’ Association to implement a vaccine mandate process.

“We were surprised that it was put into effect today just because, usually, the education partners get a bit of a heads up about when orders are going to come out. Certainly, that didn’t happen,” Terri Mooring, BCTF president, told CHEK News.

Last year, the B.C. government opted not to impose a vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff. Instead, the decision is left to each individual school district board.

Mooring said the province could have avoided the current situation and the need for the order by mandating vaccines for all teachers and staff — something they have done for healthcare workers.

“We would much rather have seen an actual provincial vaccine mandate,” she said. “We’ve been calling for that rather than going district by district in terms of vaccine mandates.”

In the order, Dr. Henry outlines why it is necessary, citing unvaccinated people in close contact with others can promote the spread of COVID-19, and that children and youth are the most recent to be eligible for the vaccine so are more likely to be unvaccinated. Another reason cited is that there is an “urgent” and “immediate” need to reduce the risk of transmission within schools.

Mooring said the language contained in the order is surprising because it appears that the provincial government is acknowledging, for the first time, that there is a real issue regarding Omicron and schools.

“This kind of urgent need for action, the first time we are reading about it in a provincial health order today and yet there is no other explanation about whether there has been information that’s come to light that has made this order urgent? These are all questions that we have,” she said.

RELATED: Calls grow for vaccine mandate for teachers as Omicron drives surge in cases

At various times throughout the pandemic, Dr. Henry has stated that schools are “low-risk” settings and not a “major” source of transmission and the provincial government has never publicly provided any specific data regarding in-school transmission.

“While schools are most definitely a reflection and an extension of our communities, they have not, and we have seen this consistently and there is no reason to think it will be different now, they are not a major source for transmission,” said Henry during a press conference at the beginning of the month.

But since the majority of students returned to the classroom on Jan. 10, a handful of schools outside of Vancouver Island have briefly closed — a term the province is calling a “functional closure” — due to staffing shortages and other issues related to Omicron.

Mooring said there has been zero communication from public health officials about the spread of Omicron in schools.

“We haven’t heard anything from the provincial health officer or the local health authorities about the spread of Omicron in schools and we’ve been really concerned about that,” she said, later adding. “All we get is information that says there isn’t a high level of transmission in schools, and schools or safe spaces. Yet, we get an order like this that has a rationale that seems to contradict everything that we’ve been told.”

One positive, said Mooring, is that appears the B.C. government is taking a more serious approach to schools.

“It’s good to see that more serious attention seems to be paid to schools now in terms of safety measures. We just want to see the additional safety measures that we’re calling for implemented tomorrow,” she said.

Those additional safety measures include prioritizing teachers for their third dose, wide distribution of N95 masks, upgrades to existing ventilation systems at schools, and immediate access to rapid tests.

“All the safety measures that we’re calling for are all designed to keep schools open,” said Mooring. “We want schools open and we want schools safe.”

ALSO READ: Expert pushes back on Bonnie Henry’s claims schools are not a major source of transmission

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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