The province announced Tuesday that public education employers in Ontario and many major health care places will need to put in place COVID-19 vaccination policies for employees in the coming weeks.
As the county government navigates a fourth wave of the pandemic, it issued a press release saying that policies are needed to help combat the spread of the highly contagious delta variant as fall and winter approach.
Thus, Ontario will remain in the final step of its “roadmap to reopening” plan for now, pressing a pause to lift remaining restrictions and workplace safety measures – despite the vaccination targets being exceeded. The county will also offer booster shots to some vulnerable populations and expand vaccination eligibility for 12-year-olds this year.
Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, announced the new procedures at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are preparing very hard for autumn,” he told reporters. “I am sorry to say that I think it will be a difficult fall and winter.”
Moore said he expects cases to rise more in the fall when people move indoors, particularly among the younger and younger demographics who are the least vaccinated and will congregate in classrooms in September.
Watch | Ontario’s chief medical officer announces vaccination policies for education and health care workers:
Moore hinted at the possibility that additional vaccination measures could be taken later in the year if needed, but did not explicitly say what those measures might look like, saying most of the policies he wants to see implemented and more details will follow in the coming weeks.
“Any orders will be targeted, focused and time-limited,” he said. “We want to minimize disruption to our economy in the future and reduce disruption to our schools.”
Strict policies for hospitals and healthcare facilities
Moore has directed hospitals, community and home care providers to implement strict immunization and testing policies by September 7 for all employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers. Ambulance services will also need policies in place for paramedics.
The directive does not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, but those who refuse the injection will need to undergo regular antigen testing for the virus. It’s similar to what’s already found in county long-term care homes.
Staff in healthcare facilities will need to provide proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19 or a medical reason for not receiving the vaccination. Those who did not get vaccinated will need to complete an education session about COVID-19 vaccines and will be routinely tested for the virus before coming to work.
Some Ontario hospitals such as the University Health Network in Toronto have already introduced vaccination policies for employees similar to the government’s plans.
Rules for schools, post-secondary institutions, and high-risk places
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said it intends to implement a vaccination status disclosure policy for publicly funded school board staff, as well as staff in private schools and licensed childcare places.
Asked why the vaccination policy for education workers is taking so long, Moore said, “We’ve had a sudden downturn over the past several weeks and, quite frankly, we have to re-support our efforts to vaccinate the people of Ontario.”
Moore said the county was making progress but “not fast enough.” He said the delta variant now accounts for 90 percent of detected cases and hospitalization rates are on the rise.
Moore also said he is in discussions with the Department of Education to discuss immunization policy for students who will see parents report their children’s vaccination status so that public health units can follow up in the event of a potential outbreak.
Those who have not been vaccinated against the disease will be required to undergo a frequent rapid antigen test.
Moore said tests will be required on site or in advance at least once a week and could escalate to two to three times a week.
Currently, the tests are provided by the federal government. As for whether individuals will eventually be required to pay for their rapid tests, Moore said that is unlikely but did not rule out the possibility.
In its news release, the county also indicated that vaccination policies will be necessary for the following high-risk situations:
- Post-secondary institutions.
- Licensed nursing homes.
- Women’s shelters.
- Group homes, day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, children’s treatment centers and other services for children with special needs, and licensed residential places for children.
The province also announced that it would expand eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to all 12-year-olds in 2021, citing the examples of Alberta and British Columbia, which took the same step several months ago and did not identify any associated risks.
Who will get the third doses?
In addition, Ontario will also begin offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to select vulnerable populations including transplant recipients, those actively treated for blood cancers, and people who take certain medications called anti-CD20. These groups can receive a third dose at least eight weeks after the second shot.
The third doses will also be offered to residents who provide long-term care, First Nations nursing homes and “high-risk” retirement homes. It’s unclear which retirement homes fall into this category. These groups can receive a third dose at least five months after the last dose.
Watch | Ontario will provide third doses to vulnerable populations:
Premier Doug Ford previously said he would not make vaccinations mandatory in any sector because he considers it a constitutional right not to get vaccinated. Ford has been fully vaccinated against the virus and regularly encourages Ontarians to get both doses.
The changes also come as the county enters what leading experts have announced as a fourth wave of the pandemic driven by the most contagious delta variant, despite high overall vaccination coverage in the eligible population.
The most recent data shows that the majority of newly reported infections are among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people.
Meanwhile, NDP and opposition leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement calling Tuesday’s announcement “half a risky measure”.
“Testing just once a week is not the same as a mandatory vaccination,” Horwath said. “This means that Ford is not asking anyone – from long-term care to childcare – to get a vaccine.”
Earlier this month, Horwath retracted comments she had made against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for education workers, after heavy criticism.
In her statement Tuesday, she also criticized Ford for refusing to implement a vaccine certification program.
Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca, who on Tuesday also called for compulsory vaccination of all lawmakers, accused Ford of “pimping anti-vaccination”.
“Mandatory vaccination disclosure and mandatory testing are simply not the same thing as mandatory vaccination,” he said.
The Ontario Long-Term Care Association has also called for mandatory vaccinations for all direct care providers.
Other observers said the new policies indicated some progress.
The Ontario School Board Association described the planned policy for teachers as a “positive step” toward ensuring schools remain safe and open, while the Ontario Hospital Association said it was “delighted” to see the government put in place basic requirements for vaccination policies.
Doris Grinspoon, president of the Ontario Registered Nurses Association, said the policies are too close to the start of the school year to be fully effective, but will eventually help increase vaccination rates.
348 new cases of COVID-19 virus
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 348 new cases of COVID-19 this morning.
The Ministry of Health said that of the 331 known cases of vaccination:
- 203, or about 61 percent, were individuals who did not receive a dose.
- 79, or roughly 24 percent, were individuals who took two doses.
- 49, or approximately 15 percent, were individuals with a single dose.
Notably, the county’s data on cases’ vaccination status does not include breakdowns by age, indicating how long after the first or second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine a person contracted the virus, or whether they had symptoms at the time of testing.
The new cases include 85 in Toronto, 45 in the Peel area, 41 in Windsor-Essex, 34 in Hamilton, 32 in the York area and 21 in the Halton area.
As of Monday evening, there were 163 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals — the most in just over a month. Of those, 127 have been treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care.
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said 10 new adult patients were sent to intensive care units yesterday and cautioned that the relatively slow but steady rise in total admissions in the past two weeks is likely related to the delta variant.
The Department of Health also reported 10 more deaths from the COVID-19 virus this morning, but said six of the deaths “occurred more than two months ago” and were included as part of a data cleanup by Public Health Ontario.
Ontario’s official death toll is 9,428.
Here are some other key indicators and figures related to the epidemic from Ministry of Health daily regional update:
The rotation rate is seven days for daily cases: 473.
Tests completed in the last 24 hours: 17408.
District-wide test positivity rate: 2.6 percent.
Currently infected cases: 3930.
vaccinations: 40,626 doses provided by public health units on Monday. About 73.7 percent of eligible Ontarians, age 12 or older, now have two shots. This works out to approximately 65.1 percent of the total population of Ontario.