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Bighorn vaccination procedure to strike balance rather than mandate

“Anyone who has had a vaccination shot will be reviewed when they come into the office and we will use the QR code and they will be allowed to come into the office. We’re trying to achieve a balance for people who volunteer or work for the MD, dealing with the COVID crisis right now.”
MD Bighorn
MD of Bighorn  EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO 

MD OF BIGHORN – The MD of Bighorn will forgo a vaccination mandate for its staff and have a vaccination status procedure.

The move comes a month after council directed staff at its December meeting to look at having a policy in place for employees, firefighters and board and committee members.

The vaccination status procedure means staff, volunteers or contractors with the municipality aren’t mandated to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but would require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

“Anyone who has had a vaccination shot will be reviewed when they come into the office and we will use the QR code and they will be allowed to come into the office,” MD of Bighorn CAO Rob Ellis said.

“We’re trying to achieve a balance for people who volunteer or work for the MD, dealing with the COVID crisis right now.”

Ellis said the procedure was crafted after discussions with the municipality’s legal counsel, reviewing cases coming from eastern Canada and existing public health recommendations.

He said the procedure allows municipal staff to adjust aspects to base it on existing public health recommendations, particularly with the consistently changing nature of the pandemic.

Ellis said an electronic file system to deal with QR codes was set up, adding only himself and the director of finance have access in order to meet confidentiality requirements under FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act).

According to a staff report, the procedure still applies for anyone working or entering an MD of Bighorn facility. However, for people who aren’t vaccinated, they will be able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test or a human rights exemption.

For anyone going the rapid test route, they will be responsible for paying for the test, while any new employees hired by the municipality will need to be vaccinated.

“Federal, provincial and local governments have renewed restrictions and developed new policies and procedures to address the ongoing threat to workplace health and safety created by COVID-19,” the report stated. “There has been a major shift in employers across the country implementing similar or more restrictive procedures on vaccination status and/or testing as an occupational requirement.”

Though lacking the same teeth as other municipal vaccine policies, people not complying can still face discipline and possible termination if they choose to not inform of their status or provide regular test results.

Rather than having people do their own tests, Coun. Joss Elford recommended the municipality look at contracting a pharmacy to be able to administer the test and get the correct results.

“I’d like to think everyone in this world is honest, but there’s lots of stories of fake vaccination codes. If we had somewhere people could go – contractors or volunteers – then we know it’s being done on the up and up," he said.

“Having the test done by a professional and not a home test is critical. … If it’s done by a professional, there’s no question if it was done correctly or not.”

Ellis said staff can look at that possibility in either the Bow Valley or the Town of Cochrane.

Bighorn Reeve Lisa Rosvold echoed Elford’s idea and raised the issue of how it’s not uncommon for people to continue testing positive for weeks or months after first contracting COVID-19.

She noted how an unvaccinated person who may continue testing positive could inhibit their ability to do their job.

“Having just got over COVID myself, I know that it’s possible for someone to test positive for quite a while afterwards,” she said. “How can someone who has not been vaccinated continue with their role, say in the fire hall, if they need to be tested every three days and could be testing positive for months afterwards?”

Ellis previously said all municipal staff are fully vaccinated, while the majority of the part-time firefighters for Exshaw Fire-Rescue had received both COVID-19 doses.

He noted municipal staff have mostly worked remotely, though they were temporarily brought back to the office in September and ultimately returned to working from home shortly after as cases increased in the province.

According to a staff report, the health and safety of M.D. employees is a priority for administration and there have been discussions with council before and after the October 2021 municipal election to institute some form of policy or procedure to ensure staff and volunteers – committee members and firefighters – are protected against COVID-19.

"The major impetus for this action is to ensure a safe work environment for our employees and volunteers," the staff report stated.

The municipalities of Banff and Canmore instituted a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all municipal staff in 2021. Fewer than a handful of people were terminated in Banff when they declined to get vaccinated and fewer than five employees in Canmore rejected getting the vaccine and were placed on unpaid leave.

Ellis said he believes the new vaccine procedure for the MD of Bighorn will strike a balance, but he’ll continue to discuss with the MD’s legal counsel.

“I think we put together a standard operations procedure internally on how we’re going to deal with our volunteers and our staff with rapid tests. I think that’s the best way to do it," he said.