5,500 healthcare workers in B.C. unvaccinated a week before mandate goes into effect

Healthcare mandate looms

More than 5,500 healthcare workers in B.C. remain unvaccinated a week before the province’s vaccine mandate for the sector goes into effect.

Anyone who works or volunteers in a public healthcare facility will have to be vaccinated as of Oct. 26.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday of the 129,924 healthcare workers employed by provincial health authorities, 5,512 (4%) remain unvaccinated.

“We are hopeful of course that people will move to get vaccinated and comply with the coming order,” he said.

The Interior Health region has the highest rate of unvaccinated health authority employees at 7%, followed by Northern Health (6%), Vancouver Island Health (5%), Vancouver Coastal Health (3%) and Fraser Health (2%).

Along with the mandate for staff, visitors to acute-care settings like hospitals will have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 26.

The mandate does not extend to doctors who provide care in private practices. Doctors of BC advocated for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers. The BC Nurses Union, however, has said it cannot support the mandate over fears it will exacerbate the nursing shortage that predated the pandemic.

The ratio of unvaccinated general healthcare workers is similar to that of the long term care and assisted sector, which saw its mandate go into effect on Oct. 12. Employees in care homes who refused to get vaccinated were placed on unpaid leave and will be terminated in the coming weeks.


Coronavirus infections amongst students, school staff declining after back-to-class surge

80 clusters in schools so far

There were 1,123 cases of COVID-19 detected within K-12 students and school staff in the Interior Health region in the first five weeks of the school year.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Tuesday 28% of those cases, 314, were linked to 80 coronavirus clusters across the region.

The clusters, defined as two or more cases, impacted 46 schools in the IH region between Sept. 7 and Oct. 12. That means a COVID-19 cluster was detected in 12 per cent of all schools in the BC Interior in that time frame.

The data was released in a report detailing the virus’s spread within the B.C. school system this fall.

Across B.C., case counts within students and school staff initially surged during the first 2-3 weeks of the school year, but have since declined.

Dr. Henry said this trend was most pronounced in the Interior Health and Northern Health region where community spread was widespread at the end of August.

“Now that's taking a downturn,” Henry said.

COVID-19 cases in the school-age population make up a “very small proportion of overall cases” in Interior Health, says the BCCDC, “they generally follow community trends and reflect community COVID-19 activity."

The data shows cases started to decline prior to the mask mandate being expanded to include K-3 students.

“Masks can provide an added layer of protection against COVID-19 transmission; however, it is difficult to assess the impact of mask wearing among younger grades. There are many factors that contribute to the risk of COVID-19 infection, including rates in the community, vaccination coverage, and contact with others through social networks,” the BCCDC report explains.

Henry noted that there have been “very few” school-aged children admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. In the past week, there have been five new hospital admissions in the 0-4 age, one in the 5-11 age group and one in the 12-17 age group. No children were admitted to the ICU in the past week.

Henry pointed to the lower likelihood of negative outcomes associated with a child catching COVID-19 as the reason why B.C. is not considering any type of vaccine mandate for school children.

Citing federal data, the BCCDC says there were 451 adverse events following immunization with COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., tingling or prickling, vaccination site pain, headache) reported among 12-17 year olds as of October 1, 2021.

That represents 12 reports per 100,000 doses administered, meaning the 12-17 age group experienced the lowest number and rate of reported adverse vaccine events of any age group. The majority of those adverse events were not serious.

The data shows among 12-17 year-olds, unvaccinated individuals are 24 times more likely to acquire COVID-19 when compared to their two-dose vaccinated counterparts.

Opposition BC Liberals say COVID booster shots should have gone out weeks ago

Blasted over booster delay

Sixty-two long-term care and assisted living homes in B.C. have received COVID-19 booster shots, with “more to come every day,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday, as the government came under fire for what the Opposition Liberals say is a hazardous delay in boosters in care facilities.

“Vulnerable seniors in long-term care were supposed to be getting their booster shots starting weeks ago,” said Opposition Leader Shirley Bond. She cited an outbreak affecting about 80 residents and 20 staff at Willingdon Care Centre in the Fraser Health Authority that has been responsible for at least 10 deaths. “It only has 95 beds,” she said.

Bond pointed to an internal document from Fraser Health suggesting eligible residents will be offered a third dose by mid-December, which she said is not good enough.

“This is not a supply issue, we know that,” Bond said. “It is a failure to organize the rollout.”

B.C. Care Providers Association president Terry Lake, a former health minister, said in an interview that Alberta has finished its boosters in long-term care and assisted living. Lake said the outbreak at Willingdon could have been prevented if B.C. started when Alberta did.

Ontario started giving boosters to long-term care residents in August, while Alberta began offering boosters in seniors homes on Sept. 1, and Saskatchewan on Sept. 7.

“We have been asking for six weeks,” said Lake. “When [provincial health officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry finally gave the go-ahead, health authorities had no plans in place.”

Henry has said the boosters would coincide with flu shots.

B.C. started giving COVID-19 booster shots to the most extremely vulnerable in mid-September, said Dix.

Boosters in long-term care and assisted living will be completed “long before the middle of December,” he said.


BC announces 1,846 new coronavirus cases; 322 in Interior Health

1,846 new cases, 26 deaths

The provincial government has announced 1,846 new coronavirus cases, including 322 in the Interior Health region, over the past three days.

The new cases bring B.C.’s total since the pandemic began to 198,278, although just 4,917 cases remain active. Of the active cases, 360 individuals are currently in hospital and 151 are in intensive care.

Within the Interior Health region, there are 777 cases active.

The new cases were confirmed over the weekend as follows:

  • Oct. 15-16: 753 new cases
  • Oct. 16-17: 650 new cases
  • Oct. 17-18: 443 new cases

In the past 72 hours, 26 new deaths have been reported, for an overall total of 2,081. Five of those deaths occurred in the IH region.

As of Monday, 89.2% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83.4% received their second dose.

The new/active cases include:

  • 737 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 2,039
  • 212 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 642
  • 322 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 777
  • 406 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 880
  • 169 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 521

From Oct. 8-14, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 68.3% of cases and from Oct. 1-14, they accounted for 74.6% of hospitalizations.

Past week cases (Oct. 8-14) - Total 3,914

  • Not vaccinated: 2,420 (61.8%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 255 (6.5%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,239 (31.7%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (Oct. 1-14) - Total 465

  • Not vaccinated: 320 (68.8%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 27 (5.8%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 118 (25.4%)

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Oct. 8-14)

  • Not vaccinated: 268
  • Partially vaccinated: 74.2
  • Fully vaccinated: 29.4

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Oct. 1-14)

  • Not vaccinated: 53.4
  • Partially vaccinated: 11.8
  • Fully vaccinated: 2.7

Pfizer officially requests Health Canada approval for kids' COVID-19 shot

Pfizer seeks approval for kids

Pfizer has asked Health Canada to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years old.

As soon as the regulator gives the green light, providers will be able to start offering the COVID-19 shot to kids, though new child-sized doses might need to be procured.

The doses are about one-third the size given to adults and teens age 12 and up.

The vaccine was developed in partnership with Germany's BioNTech and is now marketed under the brand name Comirnaty. It was authorized for people at least 16 years old last December, and for kids between 12 and 15 in May.

Pfizer already submitted clinical trial data for its child-sized dose to Health Canada at the beginning of the month, and made a formal request for approval to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has also been tested on children as young as six months old. Topline data for children under five years old is expected as soon as the end of the year. More Coming.

Restaurant workers struggle to enforce vaccine mandates

Restaurant workers struggle

When a proof-of-vaccine policy was announced, Juliana Murphy knew it would be another burden she'd face at work.

“I’ve had grown men yell and raise a fist at me just because of contact tracing,” says the waitress at a Halifax breakfast restaurant. “I knew asking them to show me proof of their COVID-19 shots would be worse.”

Vaccine passports are emerging as the latest challenge for restaurant workers in Canada, as many face verbal abuse, sexual harassment and racism from customers.

Restaurant staff across the country say while most customers are respectful of the new vaccine requirements, others are argumentative and angry.

They describe a work environment where they are routinely grilled about COVID-19 vaccine certification policies, with a small number of customers becoming belligerent and intimidating.

They describe the added work of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions as exhausting and stressful.

In response, some restaurant operators have hired security guards to review vaccination records and identification before allowing customers to sit at a table.

But in most cases, the responsibility falls to front-of-house staff — a largely young, part-time and low-wage workforce that’s already under strain from an industry-wide labour shortage.

“A lot of the hosts working at downtown restaurants are young women and it’s kind of scary for them to be essentially bouncing at the front door,” says Sean Bridge, a part-time server, bartender and host in Toronto. (The restaurants where Bridge and Murphy work are not being named to prevent them from being targeted by anti-vaccination efforts.)

“You can get a really ... arrogant crowd around here," Bridge says. "I hate that the onus of enforcing these rules has come down to restaurant staff.”

For an industry slammed by pandemic public health measures, the vaccine passport rules have been another blow for bars and restaurants.

While they're scrambling to stay open and doing their best to enforce the vaccine mandates, the restrictions have further increased the workload for staff and hurt sales, according to an industry group.

Restaurants Canada found in a recent survey that more than half of restaurant operators say their employees have experienced hostile confrontations from people opposed to the new rules.

The survey also found that 20 per cent of restaurants have lost staff and more than 60 per cent say they need to hire more workers.

“It’s restrictions on top of restrictions,” says Todd Barclay, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada. “It’s very labour intensive and time consuming to implement … restaurants are losing money.”

The industry group says restaurants should be compensated for the cost of enforcing vaccine mandates, which would help them hire more workers. It is also calling for capacity and distancing restrictions to be lifted now that vaccine requirements are being enforced.

Still, front-line restaurant workers suggest some customers may be forging vaccine records.

"I had one table that I overheard later in the evening say that they had forged their documents," says Bridge. "I had looked at their forgeries, and there’s zero way to tell they were fake."

On the flip side, he says he almost didn’t allow someone who had the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine into the restaurant because he didn’t realize it only required one dose to be fully vaccinated.

"We’re trying to enforce these rules but we’ve had zero training," Bridge says. "It's a really uncomfortable situation to be in."

In Halifax, Murphy says her restaurant provided no training but left a pamphlet on the front desk about the proof-of-vaccine policy for staff to use as a guideline.

“The hard thing is, the vaccine records are different for every province,” she says. “It takes time to verify and some customers get upset. They really do believe it’s the restaurant imposing this.”

The waitress says while younger people, seniors and women generally tend to be understanding, she’s had multiple hostile interactions with middle-aged men.

“Some of them seem to take this as an opportunity to be racist,” she says. “I’ve repeatedly noticed that some customers give our Syrian and Indian employees a much harder time. They get really angry when they ask for their proof of vaccines.”

Murphy says she does her best to help de-escalate these situations, but that the amount of money she makes has dropped.

"By the time they get through the front door to my table, they're already in this horrible mood and complaining about things that have nothing to do with our actual restaurant service or quality. They've already made the decision that they're going to tip less."

5 deaths linked to outbreak at Brock care home

More deaths at care home

Five people have died from the outbreak at the Overlander Residential Care facility in Brocklehurst.

The ongoing outbreak at the Brock care centre has a total of 28 cases, according to an Interior Health release sent out on Friday.

The majority of the cases are residents— 21 residents and seven staff members. As of Friday, five deaths are connected to the outbreak.

The release does not state who the deceased were, or if they were all residents at the care home.

As of Oct. 14, IH had reported three deaths linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. IH declared the outbreak at the Overlander Residential Care facility on Sept. 19, after four people tested positive for the virus.

Distribution of COVID-19 rapid-test kits cut short in New Brunswick

Rapid-test kits cut short

Faced with long lineups and heavy demand, health officials in New Brunswick were forced to cut short the distribution of free COVID-19 rapid-test kits at three locations today.

On Thursday, the province announced the kits would be handed out in Moncton, Perth Andover and Grand Falls — areas that have been subjected to strict health-protection measures since Oct. 5 because of a surge in infections and hospitalizations.

The distribution, however, was suspended by 11:30 a.m. in Moncton and by 1 p.m. in Perth Andover and Grand Falls.

At 9 a.m., the RCMP were reporting traffic jams near the Moncton location, a parking lot at the Magic Mountain amusement park.

Local residents turned to social media to vent their anger, with some saying more kits should have been made available at more locations.

The province pledged Friday to offer wider distribution of rapid-test kits on Monday at 20 locations across the province.

More local COVID school exposures, including all Lake Country schools

More local school exposures

More local schools have been added to Interior Health's list of possible COVID-19 exposures.

The health authority recently disclosed new potential exposures at seven Central Okanagan schools, including at three the four schools in Lake Country.

Recent additions in the Central Okanagan include:

  • George Elliot Secondary (Lake Country) – Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Davidson Road Elemenatry (Lake Country) – Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Watson Road Elementary (Kelowna) – Oct. 7, 8
  • Peter Greer Elementary (Lake Country) – Oct. 4, 5, 6
  • Casorso Elementary (Kelowna) – Oct. 5, 6, 7
  • Okanagan Christian School (Kelowna) – Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Kelowna Christian School – Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

A possible exposure at the fourth school in Lake Country, Oyama Traditional on Oct. 1, was previously reported by Castanet.

To the south, new possible exposure dates have been disclosed at Penticton Secondary School, from Oct. 4-9.

In the North Okanagan, two Vernon private schools have recently had COVID-19 exposures.

The Kamloops Thompson region has two new possible exposures:

  • Brocklehurst Middle School – Oct. 4, 5, 6, 7
  • Beattie Elementary School – Oct. 5, 6, 7, 8

Earlier this week, the Central Okanagan School Board said they would wait to hear more from the province before making a decision on whether or not to mandate vaccinations among school staff.

B.C. had 667 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths, in past 24 hours

667 new cases, 13 deaths

Another 667 new COVID-19 cases were identified in British Columbia in the past 24 hours, including 101 in the Interior.

The new cases bring B.C.’s total since the pandemic began to 196,433 cases, and 5,128 remain active. Active cases dropped by 220 since Thursday.

Hospitalizations dropped by 11 in the past 24 hours, to 367, and 152 people are being treated in intensive care.

There are currently 817 active cases within Interior Health.

There were 13 new deaths reported throughout B.C. in the past 24 hours, including two in the Interior and 11 in the Fraser Health region. This is the most single-day deaths reported in the province since February. To date, 2,055 British Columbians have died after contracting COVID-19.

A new COVID-19 outbreak was declared Friday at Quesnel's GR Baker Memorial Hospital, and there remains 19 active outbreaks among care homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals. Five of the outbreaks are in the Interior.

The new/active cases include:

  • 246 new cases in Fraser Health – Total active cases: 2,221
  • 75 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 724
  • 101 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 817
  • 184 new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 734
  • 59 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 572

In the past 24 hours, 16,498 doses of a COVID vaccine were administered in the province. As of Friday, 89% of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 83% received their second dose.

From Oct. 7-13, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 68.3% of cases and from Sept. 30-Oct. 13, they accounted for 76.3% of hospitalizations.

Past week cases (Oct. 7-13) – Total 4,019

  • Not vaccinated: 2,478 (61.7%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 265 (6.6%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 1,276 (31.7%)

Past two weeks cases hospitalized (Sept. 30-Oct. 13) – Total 439

  • Not vaccinated: 312 (71.1%)
  • Partially vaccinated: 23 (5.2%)
  • Fully vaccinated: 104 (23.7%)

Past week, cases per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Oct. 7-13)

  • Not vaccinated: 273.3
  • Partially vaccinated: 76.2
  • Fully vaccinated: 30.4

Past two weeks, cases hospitalized per 100,000 population after adjusting for age (Sept. 30-Oct. 13)

  • Not vaccinated: 51.3
  • Partially vaccinated: 10.4
  • Fully vaccinated: 2.3

COVID outbreak declared at Quesnel hospital

Quesnel hospital outbreak

Northern Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak on the Inpatient Unit at GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel, following lab-confirmed case among patients on the unit.

Testing has identified two staff and two patients who have tested positive.

Monitoring and testing is underway to identify any additional cases.

Enhanced outbreak control measures are in place at the hospital.

Northern Health Public Health is closely monitoring for additional cases, and the facility is taking steps to protect the health of staff and those they care for, with enhanced outbreak precautions such as (but not limited to):

  • Increased frequency of cleaning and infection control measures
  • Enhanced symptom monitoring among all DCDH staff and patients
  • Limiting movement of staff and patient between care areas of the hospital
  • Restricting to essential visitors only

Public health officials will be monitoring the situation over coming weeks and will only declare the outbreak over when they are confident that chains of transmission have been stopped.

Quebec delay sign of tough decisions provinces face on vaccine mandates

Quebec delays mandate

Quebec's decision to delay its vaccine mandate deadline for health-care workers is a sign of the tough choices other provinces will face as they attempt to implement similar policies, experts and advocates say.

On Wednesday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé postponed by a month a requirement for health-care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it would have been "irresponsible" to suspend thousands of unvaccinated workers at a time when the health-care system is already fragile.

Premiers and health ministers across Canada will face similar dilemmas, says John Church, a professor at the University of Alberta who studies health policy.

"I think that every health-care system in Canada is in a similar situation to what Quebec is in, because of the system actually operating far above its normal capacity at this point in time," he said in an interview Thursday.

In Alberta, employees of the province's single health authority must be fully immunized against COVID-19 by the end of the month. Like in Quebec, where only four per cent of health-care workers are not fully vaccinated, even a small reduction in the number of health-care workers in Alberta would have a big impact, Church said.

"Under normal circumstances, the system would be able to adjust to that, but we are in extraordinary circumstances," he said, adding that military nurses have been deployed in the western province, where intensive care units are at nearly double their normal capacity. "Every single health-care worker, under these circumstances, matters."

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have also announced vaccine mandates for health-care workers, some of which have already come into effect. In Ontario, individual health authorities and hospitals have implemented similar requirements.

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the difficult situation Quebec found itself in is the result of larger systemic problems that predate the pandemic.

"What's happened in Quebec is really highlighting the legacy of underfunding and under-planning in the system that has left them with no wiggle room," she said in an interview Thursday. Canada faced a shortage of nurses and other health-care professionals before the pandemic, she said, which has only grown worse.

Still, Smart said she hopes governments in other provinces that have said they will introduce vaccine mandates will not delay, adding that she sees vaccination as the path out of the pandemic.

"We strongly support them keeping the mandate," she said. "We've been calling for mandatory vaccines for health-care workers now since August. We feel that it's our moral and ethical responsibilities as health-care professionals to be vaccinated."

Kim Lavoie, chair of behavioural medicine at Université du Québec à Montréal, says provinces shouldn't set deadlines they can't meet.

"Going back on what you said was going to be the consequence really undermines credibility, and it creates frustration for those who are following the rules," she said in an interview Thursday.

Vaccine mandates and educational campaigns may encourage some hesitant people, Lavoie said. But there are others, such as people who are anti-vaccine or who believe in conspiracy theories, who can't be convinced, she added.

"There are going to be a number of people that will choose personal choice over their job and that might lead to service disruption in many provinces, at least for a period of time," she said, adding that the disruptions will impact the public. "It's not the government itself that's going to suffer, it's all of us."

Even though the vaccine mandate was pushed back, Lavoie said it has had some success: the number of unvaccinated health-care workers in Quebec has dropped by half since the mandate was announced in late August.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 644 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations remained unchanged from the day before, at 298, and 76 people were in intensive care, a rise of one.

Quebec's public health institute said 90 per cent of residents 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 86.8 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

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