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City lays out rules for unvaccinated employees

Policy requires proof of vaccination, proof of exemption, or rapid testing; councillor against mandatory vaccination calls it 'a good compromise'
COVID-19 Vaccine 2

Starting in a month, anyone who works, or wants to work, for the City of Orillia will be required to be double vaccinated, show proof of medical exemption or be subjected to frequent rapid testing.

Council committee approved a COVID-19 prevention policy at its meeting Monday, a decision that was rubber-stamped during a special council meeting immediately after.

The policy applies to all part- and full-time city employees, council members, contract workers, casual employees, volunteers, students and members of boards and committees. It will also be a condition of employment for new employees.

It doesn’t go so far as to make vaccination mandatory. Those who do not provide the city with proof of vaccination will have to take rapid tests every other day, depending on their work schedules, or take an unpaid leave of absence.

Coun. Ted Emond asked about the cost to the city of paying for rapid testing.

Human resources director Lori Bolton said the city has a “large stockpile” of rapid test kits that were obtained at no charge from the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce.

If it gets to the point where more kits are needed, she said, staff will look at the “most cost-effective way” to get them.

That raised another concern for Emond. In the motion presented by staff, it included a recommendation that the city’s Municipal Code be amended “to provide delegated authority to the chief administrative officer to amend the policy as required due to new information or changing provincial or federal requirements.”

When introducing a possibly contentious policy, Emond said, “I believe that the residual powers should rest with council, not with staff.”

Coun. Mason Ainsworth was comfortable with staff having the delegated authority, but he wanted to make sure any significant changes to the policy — for example, the potential of making vaccinations mandatory with no exceptions — come before council for a decision.

Staff assured council would have a say, so the original motion was passed.

Ainsworth encouraged people to get fully vaccinated.

“However, I don’t believe in mandatory vaccination,” he said, referring to the new city policy as “a good compromise.”

Coun. Rob Kloostra asked how long someone who refuses to be vaccinated or take rapid tests can remain on a leave of absence.

Bolton could not say for sure, but she noted the leave would not be indefinite.

Coun. Tim Lauer wanted to know how the city would ensure those to whom the policy applies are being honest about their test results.

“We do have to rely on employees to be truthful ...” Bolton said, adding she and other members of the senior leadership team will discuss that further.

Coun. Jay Fallis supported the staff recommendations but indicated a desire to make vaccinations mandatory if necessary.

He cited news reports from the United States about unvaccinated patients with COVID-19 “begging” for the vaccine and being told “it’s too late” for them.

“Over time, throughout society, making the vaccinations mandatory is going to become more common,” Fallis said, adding he supports exemptions for medical and human rights reasons.

“This is a compromise to start and it’s one I’m supportive of,” he said of the policy.

Even when the city lifts its state of emergency, the policy will remain in effect. Mayor Steve Clarke said the topic of ending the state of emergency comes up for discussion frequently at emergency management committee meetings, but the consensus is that it’s not yet time to do so.

While she supported the new policy, Coun. Pat Hehn was upset the city was the one that had to implement it.

“I’m really feeling very frustrated because I don’t believe it should be up to us to mandate this whole thing,” she said, adding it should be up to the health unit, the province or the federal government.

Clarke agreed, saying municipalities acted first on smoking bylaws before the province stepped in.

“I would hope that they’d take the lead on this as well,” he said.

The COVID-19 prevention policy will come into effect Nov. 15.