All 1,500 City of Red Deer workers must show proof vaccination or a recent negative test by Nov. 28.
The city says its new immunization policy announced on Tuesday is designed to take pressure off the health care system and protect city staff and volunteers.
“Over the past 19 months, we have continuously enhanced measures and encouraged immunization in our organization, but we are at a point in the pandemic where our health care system is overloaded, we are seeing our highest number of cases in our community resulting in serious consequences,” said interim City Manager Tara Lodewyk Tuesday.
“As one of Red Deer’s largest employers, we are ready to take the next step in protecting our community and our healthcare system, and today, this is through our new internal immunization policy.”
The Alberta government announced on Tuesday that all politicians and staff at the Alberta Legislature will all be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the time the sitting resumes on Oct. 25. The move comes less than a week after a mandatory vaccination policy was introduced for Alberta’s public servants.
On Tuesday, 818 COVID cases were identified in Red Deer. In Central zone, 206 COVID patients are being treated in hospital, 19 of them in intensive care.
The virus is taking its toll on the health care workers who are facing rising numbers of patients. In Central zone, 207 health care workers had active cases of COVID on Monday — almost matching Calgary zone, where 208 workers have active cases, and Edmonton Zone, where there are 250 active cases.
City of Red Deer’s new policy applies to all staff and volunteers, and requires them to be fully immunized by Nov. 28. To comply with this date, those who have not received any vaccine will have to get their first dose by Oct. 15 and the second by Nov. 13. For those who have had one shot, the deadline for the second shot is also Nov. 13. Employees will get three hours of paid time off to get each shot.
Those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons must provide a documented exemption in keeping with the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Unvaccinated staff also have the option of showing proof of a negative test before they start work. It is valid for 72 hours, so another test would be required by their fourth shift. Employees are responsible for paying for the tests, which typically cost around $50 each time.
Those who refuse to comply with the policy face disciplinary action and could lose their jobs. Falsifying results will be treated similarly.
“We hope we don’t get to that point,” said Lodewyk. “We want to work with our staff. (Firing) is the last resort.”
Lodewyk said the city recognizes that mandatory vaccinations are controversial.
“Immunizations are a contentious issue. People have strong opinions, which create tension in our workplaces and in our personal lives, but despite all of the emotions around this particular topic, a City of Red Deer COVID-19 immunization policy is now necessary for our staff.
“This policy is about doing what we can to protect our employees, our community and our health care systems.”
It is unclear how many employees will be affected by the new policy.
“We don’t know how many are currently vaccinated,” said Lodewyk. “Without having a policy, that is private information.”
Now that a policy is in place, staff must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result by Nov. 28. Those who have already received their shots must show proof of vaccination by Nov. 19.
The policy will remain in place as long as the pandemic continues and adjusted as needed. It will be reviewed and evaluated every year after that.
Like many no doubt, Lodewyk did not expect the city to be in this position 18 months after the pandemic began. “This has lasted longer than I would have imagined.”