COVID-19 restrictions extended, teachers must disclose vaccination status

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VICTORIA — British Columbia's top doctor has extended a COVID-19 order that will keep gyms and fitness centres closed and limit gatherings at events and restaurants.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry is expected to provide more details on her orders Tuesday, when an existing order from Dec. 22 was set to expire. She said last week that she believed COVID-19 hospitalizations would spike after overall cases peaked.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement on Twitter Monday that the updated order was made to ensure the health officer's restrictions were in place until she spoke about them on Tuesday. The previous order expired at 12:01 a.m., he noted.

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In a separate order, Henry directed school boards to collect information on the vaccination status of staff.

“A lack of information on the part of boards of education, independent school authorities and francophone education authorities and the medical health officer about the vaccination status of staff members in school settings interferes with the suppression of SARS-CoV-2 and constitutes a health hazard under the Public Health Act,” she said in the written order.

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“In some health regions or parts of health regions of the province there is an immediate and urgent need for focused action to reduce the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools and to ensure the continuity of school services,” she said.

The order also says children aged five to 11 are more likely to be infected because they have only recently become eligible for vaccination and it will take some time before they can be fully vaccinated.

However, the provincial health officer has maintained that the likelihood of transmission remains low in schools, which should remain open for the social, mental and developmental needs of children.

Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said the union was not consulted or notified ahead of time about the order.

“This was definitely a surprise,” she said Monday.

“This particular order raises a lot of questions in an atmosphere where there's already a lot of concerns on behalf of education workers and families about the relative safety of schools.”

The order also suggests there's a need for additional safety measures including N95 masks, teachers being prioritized for booster shots and the availability of rapid tests in schools, Mooring said.

She said the union has already agreed with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association on a vaccine mandate process and would like more school districts to implement mandates.

The Delta School District ordered last week that all staff show proof of vaccination within six weeks or they will have to undergo regular rapid testing or take an unpaid leave of absence.

The Revelstoke School District announced a similar vaccine policy for its staff last week and Mooring said conversations to do the same are being held elsewhere across the province, which has a total of 60 school districts.

“We would much rather have a vaccine mandate put in place by the provincial health office, which they obviously have the full authority to do, rather than just vaccine status disclosure because this process of disclosing vaccine status is part of the process of implementing a vaccine mandate.”

B.C. reported 5,625 new cases of COVID-19 over the last three days, with 819 people in hospital, 99 of them in intensive care.

It said over 77 per cent of those hospitalized were fully vaccinated.

The Health Ministry says 22 more people have died after becoming infected, for a total of 2,490 deaths.

It said 50 health-care facilities have ongoing outbreaks, mostly in long-term care homes.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.

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