Unvaccinated teachers, health-care workers in Manitoba will have to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing in October: health order

WINNIPEG –

As of next month, designated front-line workers such as health-care workers and teachers will need to undergo regular rapid COVID-19 testing if they are unvaccinated, according to a new public health order.

On Friday, the province announced that as of Oct. 18, designated public-sector workplaces will need to make rapid testing available on-site for unvaccinated employees.

“This new order requires all public servants who have direct and ongoing or prolonged contact with vulnerable populations to undergo regular testing procedures or be fully vaccinated,” Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon said in a news release.

The province said the order applies to:

  • health-care personnel;
  • school personnel;
  • licensed child-care facility personnel;
  • public servants who regularly have direct and ongoing or prolonged direct contact with vulnerable populations;
  • child and family service personnel;
  • funded agency personnel in direct contact with vulnerable populations;
  • home care workers; and
  • paramedics.

The province is estimating this could include around 20,000 individuals who may potentially have to undergo regular testing.

HOW RAPID TESTING WILL WORK

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said how this will look will be different from sector to sector.

Employees who choose not to be vaccinated, are not fully vaccinated, or cannot show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18, will need to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and show a negative result before they can keep working.

Roussin said the province will be using Abbott PanBio and BD Veritor COVID-19 antigen tests. Both return tests within 15 minutes.

Scott Sinclair, Deputy Minister of Central Services, said initially the province will be giving these tests to the public sector free of charge because the province has an ‘ample supply’ of tests from the federal government.

“That may change as inventories change or supplies change,” he said.

These employees will need to test negative within the last 48 hours in order to work. Roussin said depending on an employee’s schedule, this could be up to three tests in a week.

If an employee tests positive on a rapid test, they will need to go to a provincial testing site to take a test and self-isolate until the results have come back.

If the results are negative, the province said they can return to work. If the results are positive, the province said the employee will need to self-isolate for 10 days and receive a negative rapid test result before returning to work.

Once they are fully vaccinated and show proof, they will not be required to do regular rapid testing.

WHAT HAPPENS IF AN EMPLOYEE REFUSES TESTING?

The province said vaccination is not a condition of employment.

“In really broad terms, the health order is very clear that in order to be in the workplace you certainly need to have either shown proof of vaccination or the testing,” said Charlene Paquin, the civil service commissioner.

She said if people refuse to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing, the province will deal with it on a case-by-case basis.

“I think nobody is looking to have anybody lose a job over this,” Paquin said. “Our objective would be to work with employees to try to help understand their hesitation and try to work with them to understand where we’re coming from on this and find a solution.”

The province said this public health order does not apply to the private sector, not-for-profit sector, or organizations that may choose to enact their own vaccination or testing requirements. Those that do have their own vaccine requirements can access rapid tests through the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

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