Few details on policy for unvaccinated N.W.T. gov't workers as deadline looms

The N.W.T. government said it has a plan to allow unvaccinated employees to get tested regularly, rather than meet the vaccine requirement that takes effect on Nov. 30. But details of the plan — like how often people need to be tested and who will pay for it — have not been announced.

Testing requirements and access unclear as Nov. 30 deadline draws closer

Rapid tests could detect infection in people who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, and prevent COVID-19 from spreading. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

The government of the Northwest Territories said it has a plan to allow unvaccinated employees to be regularly tested instead of meeting a vaccine mandate, but as a deadline looms, details of the plan remain unknown.

The vaccine mandate for territorial government employees kicks in on Nov 30. 

With a little more than a week to go, questions remain about who will pay for tests for employees who choose not to get vaccinated and what type of tests will be required. 

In response to questions from CBC News, a spokesperson for the territory's finance department said on Nov. 18, "We'll be providing this information to employees, then making it public."

Roughly a month ago, on Oct. 19, a department spokesperson told CBC News in an email, "At this time, there is no plan for unvaccinated employees to pay for the costs of testing as required by the policy," adding that the N.W.T. government was still "exploring options." 

As of Friday, none of these types of details seemed to be known to employees.

'We haven't been formally told anything'

CBC News spoke to an unvaccinated territorial government employee on Friday. CBC News is not revealing the person's identity because of the employee's fear of reprisal.

The employee said they had not been told who would be paying for the tests, what type of test would be required, or how they would get them. They said testing frequency had also not been confirmed, nor to whom the test results might be sent to. 

"We haven't been formally told anything. All we know is that guidelines are being developed," the employee said. 

"My sense is that it will be two times a week or three times a week, but we don't know if this is something we can do ourselves, or if it's paid for by the government or not. I don't know for sure," the employee said.

If necessary, the employee said they would probably pay for the tests themselves, no matter which kind of test is required, rather than give up their job or get vaccinated. They said they are hoping it is a cheaper self-administered test, as opposed to needing to go somewhere twice a week to receive a test from a health-care professional. 

Few details have been made available about how unvaccinated GNWT employees will get regular tests. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

They said they are pleased the policy is more accommodating than other levels of government or jurisdictions, where vaccination is the only option.

"I'm relieved that I won't have to make a difficult choice [with my job]. And my vaccination status is completely private," the employee said. 

What do those who are unvaccinated do on the 30th?

There is, however, some ambiguity for what happens to people who are unvaccinated on Nov. 30 said the employee.

"If you read the mandate it only says that people have to be vaccinated by the 30th, it doesn't say that people have to start testing on the 30th. I've looked for that, it isn't there," they said.

CBC News asked the government when the first negative tests were due, as well as other details about the plan, but these questions were not addressed.

The policy simply indicates that people who are not vaccinated, not fully immunized or do not provide proof by Nov. 30, 2021, "will be required to wear personal protective equipment in the workplace and undergo regular testing for COVID-19 until they have provided proof of full vaccination."

Despite not having all the answers, the employee said they would rather see the government get it right and not be faced with a policy that had to be walked back.

The employee said they are not "anti-vaccine" and they are glad the vaccine is available to others, including older people in their life who are at higher risk.