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AHS offers testing option to unimmunized workers as Omicron variant spreads

Alberta Health Services will welcome back thousands of workers who are not immunized against COVID-19 because of growing fears of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

In a news release Thursday, AHS said at the direction of the provincial government, it will provide “all unimmunized physicians and staff the option of temporary frequent COVID-19 testing to ensure the anticipated demand on the health-care system caused by the Omicron variant can be met.”

As of Thursday, about 1,400 full- and part-time staff who are not fully immunized were placed on unpaid leave. The testing option allows those staff to return to work if they accept the testing option.

Testing will be available at their expense, and unimmunized staff will be required to provide proof of a negative Health Canada-approved COVID-19 test that was completed no more than 48 hours before each of their working shifts. A positive rapid antigen test would require a PCR test.

“We stand by the Alberta Health Services workers immunization policy as we have from the start, and staff and physicians deserve credit for the high immunization coverage they’ve achieved,” said Jason Copping, Minister of Health.

“In light of the risk posed by the Omicron variant, we need to adjust the policy to maximize capacity and avoid losing any staff if we can while still keeping patients safe. The immunization policy is about putting patients first, and this adjustment continues to put patients first by supporting Alberta Health Services in planning to add capacity as needed.”

AHS noted in the release that 97 per cent of its full and part-time staff have already received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 99 per cent of physicians and ICU staff are also fully immunized.

“We are concerned about the rapid rise in Omicron cases across the province in recent days, and anticipate that it could further impact our health-care system quickly. We must ensure we have the staff and resources required to care for our patients,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services.