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City implements corporate vaccination policy

A corporate vaccination policy was presented to city council Monday. A second policy that incorporates council and members of various boards and committees will be introduced at the next council meeting.

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Call it part one of the city’s corporate vaccination policy.

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By provincial legislation, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has the duty to protect the health and safety of its employees and that includes developing its own internal vaccination policy.

The first steps of that policy – which addresses the corporation’s employees only – was unveiled to city council.

City CAO Malcolm White called it the first phase of a policy that will change and evolve as provincial legislation, public health directives and best practices evolve along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council will receive a second part of the policy – addressing council and boards of committee members – at its meeting later this month.

That portion of the policy won’t be completed until city staff receive the regulatory notes and legislation from the provincial government. That legislation must then be interpreted and applied to the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s facilities and the programs run in those facilities.

In any event, city staff will be required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 15.

For those not fully vaccinated, proof of vaccination will be required by Oct. 5.

Those not fully vaccination by that date will be required to submit regular rapid antigen testing to ensure negative test results. The city will cover the costs of those tests for a period of six weeks, after which the cost onus will be put on the employee.

For staff who have not been vaccinated, or hesitate to do so, an educational program will be mandated for those staff. It’s not yet known who will deliver that programming, White said, but he made assurances that the educators will be able to answer health questions of the participants.

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“We understand the amount of inaccurate information that is out there and we will ensure that the information we provide is completely accurate,” White said.

He said it is hoped that the educational process will help those who are vaccinated hesitant to get the answers they need and get vaccinated.

It’s not anticipated the city will have inordinate costs for the rapid testing kits. It’s expected the costs can be absorbed in operational budgets or perhaps be funded through the Safe Restart funding or other future funding opportunities that may come about.

Those unable to be vaccinated due to medical or accommodation issues will be required to have ongoing rapid antigen testing, he said.

If a third dose of the vaccine is required, the policy will be updated as needed, White said.

“Our response to the pandemic has been constant evolution and we envision that this policy will be the same,” he said.

Ward 5 Coun. Matthew Scott commended staff for the policy. “It’s very thorough and it covers every basis. This is good work from staff.”

White said senior staff will work on determining the vaccination status of staff over the next few weeks and determine how to proceed from there.

Different functional areas within the corporation may require different needs or modifications, he said.

“What we’re really doing is living up to our obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure our workplace is safe for all employees,” he said.

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If employees who are not fully vaccinated refuse to participate in the mandated educational programming, disciplinary action will take place, including possible unpaid leave.

“We hope that isn’t the case,” White said. “This is similar to all other health and safety sessions we have and we hope employees will attend and have this conversation with us.”

White said it remains undetermined whether outdoor facilities will require proof of vaccination, however many user groups of outdoor facilities have developed their own vaccination policies.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie’s policy is not unlike others developed across Northern Ontario by other municipalities, he said, all of which are expected to evolve over time.

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