City of Calgary employees won’t be mandated to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, an internal source has told Global News.
According to a senior source with the city, mandatory vaccinations are being ruled out for now, however the city announced several safety measures to keep staff safe over the next several months.
Namely, the postponement of the planned return to the office for employees working at home, which was scheduled for Sept. 15. The gradual return will now start on Oct. 20, the city said in a news release Friday afternoon.
The city said it was updating its protocols in response to rising COVID-19 infections in Alberta, which saw 749 new cases reported on Friday, bringing the total number of active cases to 6,709.
“This (return to the office) plan includes a voluntary and gradual return over the summer and early fall by increasing building occupancy to a maximum of 33 per cent of capacity in our facilities,” the city said.
“Starting Oct. 20, all employees are asked to return to in-person work for a minimum of three days per week unless a previously approved telework arrangement is in place.”
Acting city manager Michael Thompson said officials will continue to watch infections, provincial health measures and guidance from health experts and update plans as the situation evolves.
“The city is also working on plans for mandatory rapid testing for employees who are not fully vaccinated,” the city said.
“Fully vaccinated means having two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 14 days has passed since the last dose. The city will comply with its human rights obligations and accommodate employees who are legally entitled to accommodation.”
Thompson said the city “strongly encourages” all employees who can, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We will be taking some time to work through the details of this new plan,” he said. “Our first priority is communicating with our employees, and we are working as quickly as we can to provide more information to them in the coming days.”
The moves come after the Town of Banff mandated vaccines for its 300 employees. Town officials said the majority of their staff is fully vaccinated, but those who aren’t have six weeks to get their shots or they’ll be out of a job.
The City of Toronto also announced two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be mandatory for its staff by Oct. 30, while accommodating for those staff members who “are legally entitled to accommodation.”
Earlier this week, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, which represents Calgary Transit staff, said while it encourages all staff to get the vaccine, it isn’t in favour of mandating the shot.
“I’m heavily in favour of vaccines and getting vaccinated and really do hope that the vast majority of people do,” president Mike Mahar told Global News on Wednesday. “Although I hope it gets a real high saturation rate. We would have to protect the interests of those within our bargaining unit who chose not to.”
Meanwhile, a group of city councillors continue to push Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to call an emergency meeting of council to discuss their role at the current stage of the pandemic and hear from experts on the matter.
Masks are still mandatory on transit and in city-owned and operated facilities, a policy that only the city manager has the power to change.
The city-wide mask bylaw was lifted in July and would require a council vote to re-instate, but there are no meetings scheduled during the month of August.
“I think it’s really important to ensure we’re managing the time that we’re in,” Ward 3 Councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek said. “I think that sends a clear message to the public that we are respectful of what’s happening right now, and we’re taking some mitigation measures to make sure we emerge from this as safely as possible.”
Gondek, along with councillors Druh Farrell and Gian-Carlo Carra, have publicly called for the emergency meeting to bring back masking.
However, Farrell isn’t confident there are enough councillors in favour of the meeting or a new mask bylaw for indoor public spaces.
“I don’t see the majority of members of council wanting to go down this route. I don’t know how bad it needs to get before we decide that we need to act,” Farrell said. “Masks is just one small step that we can all take to help each other.”
According to Nenshi’s office, a request from eight members of council hasn’t be received.
“The mayor would call a special meeting if there were a proposal on the table that requires council input, but we haven’t been aware of any proposal at this time,” a statement from Nenshi’s office said. “Eight members of council may request a meeting simply by sending the mayor an email, but no request has been received so far.”
Both Gondek and Farrell have disputed the mayor’s statement.
The next meeting of council is scheduled for Sept. 13.
— With files from Global News’ Heide Pearson