British Columbia

B.C. teachers must disclose vaccination status if requested, under new public health order

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

Teachers' union says it was not consulted ahead of time

A staff member of Gray Elementary School in Delta, B.C., pictured during recess last Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Teachers and support staff in B.C. schools are now required to report their COVID-19 vaccination status to their employer if requested, according to a new public health order.

The order, signed by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, was issued Jan. 17 and gives regional health authorities the power to direct school boards to collect information on the vaccination status of staff.

"This was put in place to support the medical health officers who are working with their school districts across the province to make those important decisions around the need for vaccine mandates," said Dr. Henry during a press conference on Tuesday.

As well, Henry says it will provide important data on which schools are at the highest risk of an outbreak.

"It's a way of us being able to prioritize, and manage and support schools."

The order says there is a lack of information about the vaccination status of staff in schools, including in independent school authorities and francophone education.

"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,'' said Henry in the order.

On Tuesday, Henry clarified that employers will only be required to gather the information if requested by their regional medical health officer.

The order also says children age 5-11 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, Henry 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 B.C. 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.''

Individual school mandates

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.

Mooring 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," said Mooring.

Interior Health has confirmed it issued a directive to School District 23 (Central Okanagan) to report vaccination status information by Jan. 28, 2022.

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.

Henry also recently extended a COVID-19 order that will keep gyms and fitness centres closed and limit gatherings at events and restaurants. She is expected to provide more details on her orders Tuesday.

With files from the Canadian Press