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School staff’s vaccine status needed so districts can decide on mandates, B.C.’s top doctor says

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: B.C. teachers criticize ‘half-measure’' COVID-19: B.C. teachers criticize ‘half-measure’
The B.C. government hopes a new public health order requiring teachers and school support staff to report their vaccination status will provide clearer data on the risk of COVID-19 in schools. But the province's teachers call the order a half-measure. Kamil Karamali reports. – Jan 18, 2022

New orders requiring B.C. school staff to reveal their COVID-19 vaccine status are designed to help districts make an informed choice about vaccine mandates, says the province’s top doctor.

The decision to require school staff to be vaccinated, however, remains with their employer, Dr. Bonnie Henry said, in response to some confusion about what the new orders mean.

“I’ve been very clear that it is the employers who are responsible for making those decisions, and in the way that our school system is set up, it’s the school districts who are the employers,” she explained.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Public health order for all B.C. school staff to disclose vaccine status' COVID-19: Public health order for all B.C. school staff to disclose vaccine status
COVID-19: Public health order for all B.C. school staff to disclose vaccine status – Jan 18, 2022

Read more: B.C. to allow gyms to reopen Jan. 20, but extends other restrictions

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On Monday, the B.C. government posted a new order from the provincial health officer to its website, requiring school districts to request proof of vaccination from each staff member and record their status.

Staff members are now required to provide that proof and medical health officers (MHOs) in each health region are authorized to help enforce the orders in their area.

As it stands, the order reads, the lack of information about vaccine status among school staff “interferes with the suppression” of COVID-19, and “constitutes a health hazard under the Public Health Act.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. school staff must reveal their vaccine status' COVID-19: Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. school staff must reveal their vaccine status
COVID-19: Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. school staff must reveal their vaccine status – Jan 18, 2022

Henry reassured members of the public and unions on Tuesday that it is legal to require vaccine status information from school staff.

The information collected, she added, will help districts make an informed decision about whether a vaccine mandate is needed in their region, and help them identify schools at greater risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

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“[The order] really enables the school district to make it very clear that it is a legal mandate, that they are able to ask all staff in that school district to report their vaccination status,” she said.

Read more: All school staff in B.C. must disclose COVID-19 vaccine status

School boards in Delta and Revelstoke, B.C. have announced vaccine mandates for their staff.

On Tuesday, B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Teri Mooring said she would have preferred for Henry to announce a provincewide vaccine mandate for school staff instead.

“In other words, if it’s intended to encourage vaccine mandates, especially in parts of the province where there are low vaccination rates, then why not just put in a vaccine mandate? That would have been so much more straightforward,” she told Global News.

Click to play video: 'B.C. teachers asked to disclose their vaccination status' B.C. teachers asked to disclose their vaccination status
B.C. teachers asked to disclose their vaccination status – Jan 18, 2022

The BCTF has been calling for a vaccine mandate for some time, in addition to N95 masks for educators who want and need them, better ventilation in schools, priority booster shots, and an education campaign on the benefits of masking and vaccination for children.

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“We think this order also does draw attention to the fact that there are additional safety measures that should be put in place before we’re looking at the possibility of functional closures,” said Mooring.

Monday’s order was a “complete surprise,” she added, and the BCTF received no advance information on what it implications and powers were, leading to some confusion among school staff.

Based on its own survey, the BCTF estimates 94 per cent of its teachers are vaccinated, although that number does not capture regional difference in vaccination rates among staff.

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