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West Kootenay municipalities mull mandatory employee vaccinations

Nelson, Trail, Rossland, and RDCK still deciding whether to follow lead of Creston, Vancouver

Some West Kootenay local governments are still thinking about whether to follow the lead of Creston, Vancouver, and other municipalities by making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for employees.

Last week, Creston council unanimously approved a vaccine mandate for all town staff, elected officials, and volunteers. Mayor Ron Toyota said they were prompted in part by the 65 per cent double-vaccination rate in the Creston Valley, which is among the lowest in Interior Health.

Toyota attributed that partly to resistance to vaccines among some religious groups, including the polygamous community of Bountiful.

He said they canvassed volunteer firefighters in the valley and found only one was adamant about not being vaccinated. He believes about five of their 38 paid staff are not vaccinated.

Under the policy, everyone must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 4. Those who refuse to do so will be placed on unpaid leave for up to 90 days, and could lose their jobs if they remain unvaccinated afterward.

“That’s their decision,” he said. “We’re not firing them. We’ve put a policy in place that you must adhere to. If you don’t, it’s your choice.”

Toyota said they have received some pushback, including several “blistering” emails from a man in Cranbrook with relatives in Creston.

Kamloops and Vancouver also announced this week they will require employees to be vaccinated. Canal Flats adopted a policy last month that strongly recommends vaccination for village employees, but stops short of insisting upon it.

In Nelson, city manager Kevin Cormack said staff have a high level of vaccination but it isn’t 100 per cent.

Cormack said if senior staff do recommend compulsory vaccinations, it will still be up to city council to make the final call. He added the city has a “pretty good sense” of who is vaccinated and who isn’t, and believes the majority are.

Among the latter, Cormack said some are vaccine hesitant, while others had negative reactions to previous vaccinations and doctors have recommended they don’t get the shot.

“We are definitely trying to understand the implications of doing that,” Nelson city manager Kevin Cormack told the Nelson Star. “We are doing research but haven’t decided whether to take that step.”

A council decision would apply to workers at city hall, public works, Nelson Hydro, the fire department and youth centre, but not the police department and library, which are governed by separate boards.

Regional District of Central Kootenay chief administrator Stuart Horn said they have also thought about the matter, but no decision has been made.

In Trail, acting chief administrator Michelle McIsaac said the city is following the requirements of higher levels of government over COVID-19. Because airports are federally regulated, city employees who work at the Trail airport will be required to be vaccinated based on a recently implemented federal mandate.

By Oct. 30, they are required to have a vaccination policy in place for those employees.

“If the Province of B.C. introduces a similar vaccine mandate to that of the federal government for its public sector employers, the city would follow suit to ensure compliance for the balance of our workforce,” she said.

McIsaac added that while following federal and provincial directives does not require politicians to weigh in, if the city were to impose a vaccine mandate on its entire workforce without being required to it would be a council decision.

She added they don’t presently keep track of the vaccination status of their workers.

In Rossland, city manager Bryan Teasdale said they have been reviewing the subject “for quite some time now as it is an ever-evolving and hot topic of conversation.”

In the meantime, they are continuing the “programs, policies and practices” that have been in place throughout the pandemic and will continue to follow the advice of the Provincial Health Officer and any orders or directives.

Due to their small workforce, he said, Rossland is informally aware of the vaccination status of most of its employees, but haven’t officially tracked that info.

Castlegar chief administrator Chris Barlow said they have no plans to issue a vaccine mandate unless they receive direction from higher levels of government, and will stick with their existing communicable diseases plan.

“We do not plan to vary from this approach at this point,” he said. “The Province of B.C.’s proof of vaccination for public service employees does not currently apply to local government employees. If they changed this to include local government, that would be the city’s trigger for a vaccine mandate.”

The province has not asked municipal governments to track which employees are vaccinated, he said.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary is not considering a vaccine mandate either, nor any changes to their current practices related to COVID-19. Operations manager James Chandler said they have not asked staff to provide information about their vaccination status.

None of the Boundary municipalities are contemplating compulsory vaccines either. Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor, Greenwood mayor Barry Noll, and Midway mayor Martin Fromme all said it is not in the works.

With files from Tyler Harper and Laurie Tritschler

READ MORE: Canal Flats adopts vaccination policy for village employees