Everyone working in long-term care and assisted living facilities in British Columbia will now be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Health officials announced Thursday that a new public health order will make vaccination mandatory and is a condition of employment for those working in those settings. They will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct.12. In the meantime, unvaccinated staff will be tested for the virus regularly.
Volunteers and personal care workers at those facilities will also be required to be fully vaccinated.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this will ensure all information on immunization status will be provided to the province for both residents and staff to assess risk and outbreak potential.
“This is a necessary step to take,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
“This additional step will add to the safety and protection of everyone working in long-term care.”
Last month, long-term care homes opened to visitors with fewer restrictions. As of July 19, visitors no longer need to schedule visits in advance, and there is no longer a limit on the number of visitors each resident can have.
There are currently eight outbreaks in long-term care homes in the province.
“We have seen transmission from unvaccinated staff, and it has reinforced the need for protection,” Henry said.
“We have now seen with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation.”
Elderly residents hard hit by COVID-19
Long-term care and assisted living facilities have been particularly susceptible to the virus, which in elderly populations often leads to severe illness and death. The majority of deaths connected to COVID-19 have been in long-term care and assisted living facilities.
High levels of transmission and increased risk led to staff and residents being prioritized in the province’s immunization program.
Officials said the majority of long-term care and assisted living staff and residents are already vaccinated.
“Given the circumstances, we need, I believe, that level in long-term care and assisted living to be 100 per cent,” Dix said.
The B.C. Care Providers Association supports the move to make vaccines mandatory for staff.
“This order is particularly important as we face new variants of this pernicious virus, which has affected seniors living in long-term care and assisted living so drastically,” CEO Terry Lake said in a written statement.
“Front-line staff and leadership in B.C.’s long-term care homes have worked extremely hard to keep residents safe from COVID-19 while helping them to live as well as possible, despite these very difficult circumstances. This order is one additional action which can be taken to strengthen our defence against the virus.”
Highest new case count in 3 months
This comes in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement of 536 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest number of new cases in B.C. in nearly three months.
In a written statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Health said there are 3,585 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in the province, the most since May 25.
In the last five weeks, B.C. has seen a 1,000 per cent increase in cases. The Interior Health region currently accounts for about half of the new daily cases of COVID-19 in the province, but the numbers are rising in the rest of B.C. as well.
Most patients are people between the ages of 20 and 40 who aren’t vaccinated or who have had only one shot.
Officials say more than 80 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 70 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The province is continuing to encourage residents to become fully immunized.
“It is not mandatory for a citizen to be vaccinated in B.C., but there are things that you may not be able to do if you are not vaccinated,” Dix said.
British Columbians 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
The vaccine is also available at walk-in clinics throughout the province.
In an effort to curb further virus spread, the province has reduced the amount of time between first and second vaccine doses for B.C. residents.
Henry announced Monday that people will be invited to get their second dose 28 days after their first dose, instead of the previous wait time of 49 days.
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