As with employees of the Region of Waterloo and its lower-tier municipalities, Woolwich employees had until Wednesday to disclose their vaccination status. The date coincides with the province’s new vaccine passport policy as officials look to boost inoculation rates to combat a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff who are not vaccinated, or choose not to disclose their vaccination status, will be required to undergo education on the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, as well as participate in a rapid antigen testing program at their own expense.
“Similar to the region and the other area municipalities, the policy is going to really take the approach that we’re looking to encourage people to be vaccinated,” said Woolwich chief administrative officer David Brenneman of the impetus for the program.
“If you’ve chosen as a staff person not to be vaccinated, there’s an education video program and rapid test that you have to complete that we’ve worked with the region and other area municipalities on. If at the end of the day any staff member still chooses that they want to be unvaccinated, then there’s going to be a regular testing program that’s established and different municipalities have been looking at different levels of testing, but I think we’re all aligned. Our policies will reflect testing twice a week.”
The new policy doesn’t require vaccinations for all municipal workers, though it may be a step on the road to such a stance.
All the moves are about minding the health of the staff and the residents they serve, said Brenneman.
“We obviously have a lot of health and safety protocols around personal protective equipment, for example, wearing masks, wearing safety glasses, appropriate social distancing, hand washing, normal hygiene practices, things of that nature. Recognizing all of that, we felt comfortable in terms of moving forward right now with this [policy]. If you’re unvaccinated, and that’s a choice that you made, we’ll do the educational video, hopefully we’ll be able to raise awareness, convince people on the importance of being vaccinated.”
There’s been little resistance from employees, he noted.
“I haven’t heard about any concerns to date, any significant or major concerns, so that’s good news. Most of the organizations have a fairly large percentage of vaccinated staff – we will determine exactly what that percentage will be once we go through the mandated program of having to file whether you are or you aren’t.”
With those measures in place, the area’s municipalities will continue to take guidance from public health officials at the regional, provincial and federal levels, Brenneman added.
The new policy was quickly backed by township councillors.
“Council is leading by example, both by supporting this policy and by being fully vaccinated ourselves,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz in a statement announcing the policy. “Woolwich is a community that works together to help each other. Right now, getting vaccinated is the best way to help protect each other against COVID-19 and the Delta variant.”
In a related move, Woolwich council this week passed a policy addressing the possibility of members of the public getting unruly in the face of the new vaccine passport and restrictions on access to facilities by those still unvaccinated. In a motion Tuesday night, councillors stressed that staff must be respected, laying the groundwork for possible removal and banning of those who become confrontational or abusive in challenging the new provincial rules.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan called for a “no-tolerance policy for disrespectful behaviour in our WMC and public facilities,” citing confrontations that have occurred elsewhere and the sometimes angry messages township staff and councillors have received from some people.
“Behaviour in facilities by non-vaccinated people sometimes has gone to quite the unacceptable level.”