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Testing for unvaxxed school staff to end Tuesday

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Unvaccinated teachers, educational assistants and other school employees will no longer have to undergo frequent testing before their shifts as of Tuesday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Unvaccinated teachers, educational assistants and other school employees will no longer have to undergo frequent testing before their shifts as of Tuesday.

The province is ending COVID-19 proof of immunization and testing requirements for designated public-sector employees, including front-line workers in education, child care and health care as of March 1.

The public health order, which required employees to test negative on a rapid test as many as three times per week to report to work, has been in place since Oct. 18.

“We’ve always been guided by public health orders. It doesn’t change the fact that (approximately) 96 per cent of teachers are vaccinated, and it doesn’t, of course, undo that. That fact alone continues to make our schools safe working environments,” said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We’ve always been guided by public health orders. It doesn’t change the fact that (approximately) 96 per cent of teachers are vaccinated, and it doesn’t, of course, undo that. That fact alone continues to make our schools safe working environments,” said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

Bedford acknowledged there have been “difficult situations” in schools arising from tensions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, but the union leader said there is widespread understanding that the public health order allowed people to make a choice — vaccination or ongoing testing — to protect school communities.

Not long after the order came into effect, the province indicated nearly 11 per cent of the K-12 workforce was undergoing frequent testing.

In the Winnipeg School Division — the largest in Manitoba — 161 staff members have still not shown their employer a vaccine card and thus, are subject to the current order. Four months ago, that figure was around 250.

Lauren Hope, a parent in Winnipeg who co-founded Safe September MB, is skeptical about Manitoba’s plans to remove all public health mandates by March 15. Hope said the ableist blueprint will particularly affect people with disabilities, anyone who has a compromised immune system, and the families of young children who are ineligible for vaccination.

“It’s premature, it’s short-sighted and again, it’s a political decision and not one based on science,” said Hope, who has advocated for precautions in schools to limit transmission since August 2020.

“The doctors of Manitoba continue to say this is not only premature, but too much, too soon.”

The mother of two indicated she considers public health protocols to be “protections” rather than “restrictions.”

“I honestly felt more safe around students and fellow staff knowing I was testing negative,” said one unvaccinated educator, who works in a division just outside of Winnipeg.

The teacher, who agreed to an interview on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about public hostility towards people who have chosen not to get immunized, has been hesitant to get a jab, citing the fact he is healthy, potential side-effects and the fact vaccinated people can still spread the virus if they become infected.

COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing most infectious, as well as severe illness, but people who get breakthrough infections can still be contagious.

The unvaccinated teacher said he has appreciated the fact he can undergo testing to keep his job.

He said he would have no problem continuing regular testing for his personal peace of mind, but he thinks all K-12 employees should be tested, regardless of immunization status.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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