There is no denying that the Province of Alberta’s decision to implement a REP (Restrictions Exemption Program) has been divisive. Municipalities and businesses were given the option of either requiring full vaccination for patrons to access facilities or reducing the capacity of facilities. Westlock opted to require vaccinations while Barrhead opted for reduced capacity limitations.
Individuals we serve and their families are as divided in their opinions as other Albertans are. Some believe that vaccines are our way out of the pandemic, while others view it as overreach. Some have requested that unvaccinated staff not be scheduled to work with them, while others have requested that vaccinated staff not be scheduled. As an employer, WIN has opted to remain neutral. We have not required vaccinations or even that staff divulge their vaccination status. We have had many ask us why we have taken this approach. This article will explain our stance.
At our core, WIN values and advocates for independence. We believe in individual rights and freedoms, and of course, with those rights and freedoms comes responsibility. We are not health experts, legal experts nor politicians. We are all subject to the laws of the land. When our province declared a state of public health emergency, we had to put aside our varied personal beliefs and respond in a responsible and lawful manner. We have followed restrictions and complied with public health orders. We view our responsibility to both staff and the individuals we serve as being equally important. We are responsible to mitigate risks while supporting people to make individual choices and make informed decisions.
We believe that we have found a balance between safety and responsibility by requiring rapid testing for all staff a minimum of every 72 hours while working. These tests are provided at no cost to our employees. Some vaccinated staff were initially surprised and questioned why if they are already vaccinated, do they need to rapid test? Our stance is not about compliance with vaccine mandates, rather it is about safety for our staff and the individuals we serve. It is well-publicized that vaccinated persons can still contract and spread Covid-19. Our aim is to prevent infection – period. By identifying positive cases BEFORE they come in contact with individuals we serve, we stand a greater chance of preventing spread.
In fact, we believe rapid testing has prevented spread. The rapid testing system we implemented is not perfect. People make mistakes and mistakes have been made. Some staff have forgotten to rapid test prior to arriving to work and unfortunately, we did have some who later discovered they were positive for the omicron variant. It was too late, and the virus spread throughout that residence. If the staff involved had tested prior to their shift, they would not have entered the home. Thankfully, everyone recovered without complications. It did cause staffing issues and increased effort, not to mention stress, on the staff working in the program. As an agency we could not be more proud to say that our staff managed to prevent further spread within the home by following PPE and isolation protocols.
The error created a heightened awareness of the importance, and of the efficacy of rapid testing. Since implementing the program, several staff who tested positive were prevented from attending the homes of individuals we serve, reducing the risk of infection. After suffering a devastating number of cases in May 2021, and in spite of Omicron being deemed far more contagious, we have not experienced further spread (knock on wood).