British Columbia’s top doctor says she hopes the COVID-19 vaccine card system that came into effect Monday could support the loosening of some pandemic-related restrictions, including indoor capacity limits, in the coming weeks.
The system means additional restrictions in the Interior Health region, such as limits on gatherings, are being revised to allow for exemptions in places where proof of vaccination is required, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
In place until at least Jan. 31, the card is a tool to help protect as many people as possible from COVID-19 “so we can get as much open as possible and get back to doing the things that we need and love,” Henry told a news conference on Monday.
Anyone who wants access to a range of non-essential indoor services must show proof of at least one dose of a vaccine, with a second shot required by Oct. 24. The digital or paper vaccine card is required at settings like ticketed sports events, concerts, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, casinos, gyms and movie theatres.
The card is not required at grocery and liquor stores, pharmacies, fast food restaurants, salons, hotels, banks, retail stores, food banks and shelters.
The response among members of the Surrey Board of Trade has mostly been positive, CEO Anita Huberman said, though a handful of businesses have said they would not follow Henry’s order to check for proof of immunization.
Some claim they don’t have the resources to implement the system, seeing it as yet another rule imposed by the provincial government after 18 difficult months of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, Huberman said.
“It’s a new process and yes, it’s one added layer that a business has to engage in, but necessary so that businesses don’t shut down,” she said in an interview.
Meanwhile, Huberman said the operator of a live music venue in White Rock recently told her that 20 per cent of people who had bought tickets for an upcoming show had cancelled because they didn’t want to show their vaccination status.
The vaccine card has spurred protests, including outside hospitals in B.C.
Henry said she recognizes some people find the vaccine card “difficult,” but she’s disheartened they find it’s OK to take out their frustration on health workers.
“Our health-care workers across B.C. are day in and day out providing the care we need in sometimes extremely stressful situations, and they continue to care for people, no matter what their vaccination status is.”
B.C.’s emergency departments and intensive care units are strained with the added burden of COVID-19 patients, she said, most of whom haven’t been vaccinated.
While some in the business community have expressed concern that would-be patrons who are upset about the vaccine card could threaten the safety of staff, Premier John Horgan has told businesses to call law enforcement if necessary.
A provincial guide to the vaccine card for businesses shows fines can range from $230 to $575 for individuals, depending on the violation, while event organizers, owners and operators could be fined $2,300 for failure to comply with the system.
Asked about threats businesses have received from those who oppose the vaccine card, Henry said they have no choice but to require it.
“It really stuns and saddens me to think that people would find that an acceptable way to express their frustrations over something as important as trying to keep people employed, trying to keep businesses open, trying to keep people safe,” she said.
“These are the businesses that have suffered the most through this pandemic and the people who work there are deserving of respect.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the vaccine card provides people with opportunities to gather and participate in activities that have been restricted throughout the pandemic and threatening others for following the law is “despicable.”
Nearly 86 per cent of eligible residents in B.C. over the age of 12 have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 78.4 per cent have received both shots.
Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba have also introduced vaccine passport programs.
Showing proof of vaccination is not required to vote in the Sept. 20 federal election.
—Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press
Sask. children's hospital ICU accepts adults in COVID-19 surge plan – CTV News Saskatoon
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is shuttling some adult intensive care patients to the province’s children’s hospital in the face of surging COVID-19 cases.
“Critical care capacity is under strain and all avenues of support need to be explored to so we can continue to care for extremely ill patients,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Shaw said in a news release.
Adult patients requiring an ICU bed will be considered for admission to Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon, according to the health authority.
Patients are selected through a clinical review by the adult and pediatric critical care physicians.
Pediatric patients will continue to be prioritized for critical care at the hospital’s PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) and no pediatric patients will be displaced, according to the SHA.
The change is effective immediately and is part of a larger SHA surge plan announced Sept. 17 to prepare for a growing number of COVID patients throughout the health system.
The PICU will be able to surge to 18 critical care beds, including six additional flex beds for both pediatric and selected adult patients.
Staffing plans have been developed and continue to be secured for the additional beds, much of which will come through service slowdowns.
The SHA’s normal (ICU) capacity is 79 beds. To increase ICU capacity, the SHA has also added 22 surge beds.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 78 of the 101 available ICU beds were full and two adult COVID infectious patients had been admitted to JPCH.
Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required at Prince Edward County rec facilities and town halls – Quinte News
The municipality of Prince Edward County is making some rule changes to comply with Ontario’s vaccine passport program.
Tuesday afternoon the municipality sent out a press release stating that anyone over 12 years of age looking to enter municipal recreation facilities or town halls will need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
This applies to meeting spaces and municipal offices as well.
Anyone looking to enter any of these facilities will need to show a paper or electronic proof of vaccination along with government-issued identification.
However, anyone accessing front counter services at Shire Hall, the Edward Building and the Picton Fire station will not need to provide proof of vaccination as active screening and contact tracing will continue at those locations.
Proof of vaccination is also not required to be shown by workers and volunteers, including coaches and officials, at recreation facilities.
See the full press release from Prince Edward County below:
Rural schools close as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine passport system begins – Powell River Peak
EDMONTON — Two schools in rural Alberta closed their classrooms Monday over the number of students not attending because of COVID-19 infections as Edmonton police introduced tough new vaccine requirements on the first day of the province’s new proof-of-vaccination program.
The Big Valley and Donalda schools, both in central Alberta’s Clearview Public School Division, announced that too many students are away from school to continue in-person classes.
“The percentage of students away continues to be over 10 per cent with reported cases of COVID-19,” the division said in a release.
The two schools are closed to in-person learning for students in Grades 1 through 9 until Oct. 1. Kindergarten and playschool classes will continue.
“Instruction and learning opportunities will be offered using a combination of online and paper-based materials,” the release said. “Classroom teachers will provide a detailed schedule so that students will have direct access to them at specified times during the day.”
Alberta Education spokeswoman Nicole Sparrow said the province received the request from the school division, which must be approved before a school can actually close.
“Approval from the Minister of Education is required for a short-term shift of one or more schools or an entire school authority to at-home/online learning,” she wrote in an email.
“A decision for a school authority request will be based on the ability of a school to have staff available to operate in-school classes.”
The Edmonton Police Service said it will give its members three choices on immunization: vaccinate, pay for their own rapid COVID-19 tests or stay home without pay until the situation changes or one of the first two conditions is met.
“(Police) volunteers and contractors will also be required to either indicate they have been fully vaccinated or submit to rapid testing to engage in their duties,” the service said in a release.
Police spokeswoman Chery Sheppard said more than 86 per cent of the service’s sworn and civilian employees have been fully vaccinated.
Alberta averaged about 1,500 new cases daily over the weekend, recording 4,633 cases between Friday and Sunday. The province had 954 people with COVID-19 in hospital, 216 of them in intensive care.
The province recorded 22 deaths over the three days.
Earlier Monday, the government released more details about which businesses and institutions come under its restriction exemption plan, allowing eligible public organizations to function more normally.
Retail stores, libraries, hotels and post-secondary institutions will not be required to take part in the program, nor will worshippers at a church, employees on a work site or students on a school trip.
Some restrictions will still apply.
Stores must limit shoppers to one-third of normal capacity, for example, and people in indoor public spaces must still be masked.
Entertainment facilities from restaurants to nightclubs to art galleries are all eligible to participate in the program, allowing them to operate with fewer restrictions as long as they require patrons to show proof of vaccination.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the program last week. Retail stores and libraries were initially on the list of eligible organizations but were removed on the weekend.
Kenney had previously opposed a vaccine passport over what he said were privacy concerns. He switched to support for passports as Alberta’s hospitals faced the prospect of being overwhelmed in the pandemic’s fourth wave.
Starting Sunday, immunized Albertans could download proof-of-vaccination cards, but some pointed out they could be easily altered.
A health ministry spokeswoman said work continues on a more secure QR code that would be available in the coming weeks. Starting Tuesday, Albertans will be able to request a free, printed version of their vaccination records from a registry agent.
Over the weekend, the province’s four largest health-care unions asked Kenney to request help from the military, the Red Cross and any other available medical resources able to assist hospitals caring for an increasing number of patients.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press
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