Everyone who works in long-term care and supported 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, an employment requirement for those who work in those places. They will need to be fully vaccinated by October 12. In the meantime, unvaccinated employees will be tested regularly for the virus.
Volunteers and personal care workers in those facilities will also be required to have a full vaccination.
This will ensure that all information about the immunization status is provided to the county for both residents and staff to assess potential risks and outbreaks, said the county health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“This is a necessary step that must be taken,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
“This additional step will add to the safety and protection of all long-term care workers.”
Last month, it opened long-term care homes to visitors with fewer restrictions. From 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 receive.
There are currently eight outbreaks in the county’s long-term care homes.
“We have seen transmission from unvaccinated employees, and that has reinforced the need for protection,” Henry said.
“We have now seen with the transmission of the new variables that we need additional protection in this very dangerous situation.”
The elderly population has been hit hard by COVID-19
Long-term care and subsidized living facilities have been particularly vulnerable to the virus, which often leads to severe illness and death in elderly populations. The majority of COVID-19-related deaths have been in long-term care and assisted living facilities.
High levels of transmission and increased risk have led to priority given to staff and residents in the county’s immunization program.
Officials said the majority of long-term care and assisted living workers and residents have already been vaccinated.
“Given the circumstances, we need, I think, for that level of long-term care and assisted living to be 100 percent,” Dix said.
The British Columbia Caregivers Association is supporting the move to make vaccinations mandatory for employees.
“This is especially important as we face new variants of this virulent virus, which has affected older adults living in long-term care and helped live a great deal,” CEO Terry Lake said in a written statement.
“Front line staff and leadership in British Columbia long-term care homes have worked hard to keep residents safe from COVID-19 while helping them live as best as possible, despite these extremely challenging conditions. This is one additional measure that can be taken. To strengthen our defense against the virus.”
Highest number of new cases in 3 months
It comes on the heels of Wednesday’s announcement of 536 new cases of COVID-19 – the largest number of new cases in British Columbia in nearly three months.
In a written statement, British Columbia’s Department of Health said there were 3,585 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in the province, the most since May 25.
In the past five weeks, BC has seen a 1,000 percent increase in cases. The Inland Health District currently accounts for about half of the province’s new daily cases of COVID-19, but numbers are rising in the rest of British Columbia as well.
Most patients are people between the ages of 20 and 40 who have not been vaccinated or have had only one injection.
Officials say more than 80 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 70 percent were fully vaccinated.
The county continues to encourage residents to get a full vaccination.
“It is not necessary for a citizen of BC to be vaccinated, but there are things that you may not be able to do if you are not vaccinated,” Dix said.
British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
The vaccine is also available at mobile clinics across the county.
In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, the province has reduced the time between the first and second vaccine doses for British Columbia residents.
Henry announced Monday that people will be invited to get their second dose 28 days after the first dose, instead of the previous waiting time of 49 days.