Nova Scotia

Halifax police want COVID-19 vaccine priority, but Public Health says no

Halifax police officers won’t be moving up the COVID-19 vaccine line despite the virus spreading within a local office, according to Dr. Robert Strang. At least four Halifax Regional Police officers have tested positive for the virus.

Halifax police cases didn't come through front-line exposure, says Dr. Robert Strang

A Halifax Regional Police emblem is seen on a police officer in Halifax on July 2, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Halifax police officers won't be moving ahead in the COVID-19 vaccine line despite the virus spreading within a local office, according to Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health.

Halifax Regional Police confirmed on the weekend that four officers had tested positive for the virus.

Sgt. Dean Stienburg, president of Halifax Regional Police Association, said there's also been a "much larger" number of affected officers and personnel who were forced to quarantine as contacts of these cases.

He said their police union believes bumping front-line officers ahead into the second phase of the province's vaccination plan is a matter of public safety.

Police union says staff shortages possible

"There isn't a temp agency out there for police officers," Stienburg said.

"If we end up with a large number who have to quarantine, or a large number that end up with [COVID-19], that means we're going to have personnel shortages and issues."

All police in the province currently fall under the third phase, which is when the majority of Nova Scotians can start getting the vaccine based on age.

Stienburg said police officers work with the public in close quarters, don't always have time to grab personal protective equipment (PPE), and generally have a greater exposure to the virus than other residents.

Dean Stienburg is the president of the Halifax Regional Police Association. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

He also questioned why Nova Scotia placed police officers in the third phase when federal guidelines suggest they could be included in the second phase alongside other essential workers.

"I don't believe the logic is sound," Stienburg said.

He added he has raised these concerns with the provincial ministers of health and justice, as well as Strang.

Office protocols 'allowed spread' 

When asked during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday about moving police ahead in the vaccination rollout, Strang said there was a meeting with police that afternoon but there were no plans to take such a step.

Strang said it's "unfortunate" that these Halifax police cases are being portrayed as a result of front-line police work, when that is not the case.

"There is an individual case that was then spread throughout the office, not because of people exposed on the street," Strang said.

He said Public Health is having a conversation with Halifax police about their office COVID protocols "which have allowed spread of the virus within their office space."

Strang has said multiple times that the vaccine plan will follow an age-based approach, starting with seniors, allowing the province to get shots into people's arms as quickly as possible to build population immunity.

With files from Rebecca Martel