Immunization or regular COVID-19 testing requirement for many Manitoba public workers starts Oct. 18

New public health rules that require some Manitoba government employees who work with the public to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing will come into effect in just over three weeks.

Requirements will affect workers in schools, hospitals, other settings with vulnerable populations

The new rules will require certain employees who work with the public to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide proof of a negative test result within the 48 hours before their shift, the province says. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Unvaccinated workers in Manitoba schools, licensed daycares and hospitals will be among those who will soon face regular COVID-19 testing before showing up for work.

The new public health rules take effect Oct. 18 and will require certain employees who work with the public to either be fully vaccinated against the illness or provide proof of a negative test result within the 48 hours before their shift, the province said Friday.

For someone who works a regular five-day week, that could mean doing up to three weekly tests, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said in an online briefing with reporters.

Rapid testing will be made available at workplaces for unvaccinated employees. The province said it will provide and pay for the tests for now, but that could change if supplies run out.

Workers will be tested with either the Abbot Panbio test or the BD Veritor test — rapid antigen tests that provide results within about 15 minutes, Roussin said.

The upcoming requirements, which the government first announced last month, will also affect paramedics, home-care workers, people working with child and family services, and all health-care personnel.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the union is still reviewing the new public health order but knows vaccines are a key step toward getting the pandemic under control.

"The past 18 months have been some of the most difficult days any nurse in this province has faced in recent history. Stopping the spread of [COVID-19] is necessary in order to move forward," Jackson said in an emailed statement.

Darlene Jackson is the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Public servants who regularly have direct and ongoing or prolonged contact with vulnerable populations will also be bound by the new rules.

That includes those who work with kids, seniors, people with disabilities, people experiencing housing insecurity and people living with addictions.

It also covers civil servants in congregate living facilities like group homes and correctional facilities.

Funded agency personnel in direct contact with vulnerable populations will have to comply, too.

That list also includes people working or volunteering for a government-funded group that provides social services to kids, seniors, people with disabilities, people experiencing housing insecurity and people living with addictions.

More details are laid out in the province's latest public health order.

Rules are about safety: premier

Earlier Friday, Premier Kelvin Goertzen said while the province is encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the new rules don't amount to mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment.

"For those who are not getting vaccinated for whatever reason in those occupations, testing will ensure that there is safety, whether it is in schools or in our health-care facilities," Goertzen said.

"It is still about safety and ensuring that we are not overwhelming the health-care system. I would encourage people to get vaccinated but there are alternatives if for whatever reasons they're not."

Premier Kelvin Goertzen commented on the upcoming rules after an announcement at Winnipeg's Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre on Friday morning. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Meanwhile, the two people running to replace Goertzen as premier in next month's Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote also weighed in on the announcement.

PC MLA Heather Stefanson's campaign said in a statement the details around rapid testing and vaccine mandates announced Friday are in line with her views.

The campaign for former MP Shelly Glover said she thinks rapid testing is a good solution but will "continue to listen to people's concerns and … work to get answers that will improve our pandemic response for all Manitobans."

Glover previously said she opposed mandatory vaccines for workers.

Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson and former Conservative member of Parliament Shelly Glover are the official candidates to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. The next PC Party leader will also become Manitoba's next premier. (John Woods/Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Under the new rules, if employees test positive for COVID-19, they will need to self-isolate for 10 days, test negative for the illness with a rapid test and provide those results to their workplace before they will be allowed to return to work.

If a worker affected by the new rules refuses to get tested or vaccinated, the matter will be referred to human resources, civil service commissioner Charlene Paquin said at the online briefing. Paquin said the province isn't expecting many of those cases.

Regular COVID-19 test sites will still be available to those workers if they test positive for COVID-19 with a rapid test, have symptoms of the illness or have been directed by public health to get tested there.

Once unvaccinated employees get their shots and can provide proof of immunization, they'll no longer have to go through regular testing.

Up to 20K workers affected

The province didn't have an exact number of how many unvaccinated workers would be affected by the new testing requirements.

But if the vaccination rate within those workplaces mirrors that of the larger population in Manitoba — where as of Friday 15.4 per cent of the eligible population didn't have their first dose — the number could be as high as 20,000 people, a provincial official said in Friday's online briefing.

The new public health order doesn't apply to private and not-for-profit organizations.

It also won't affect organizations "that may choose to enact their own vaccination or testing requirements," the province said in a news release.

Businesses that choose to take that step will be able to access rapid tests through the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

With files from Bartley Kives


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