By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Published Oct 14, 2021
School gymnasiums and board offices across the province are being transformed into rapid-testing sites as divisions prepare for an influx of unvaccinated employees who will soon be subject to frequent COVID-19 checks.
School administrators are fine-tuning protocols to distribute Abbott PanBio or BD Veritor antigen test kits ahead of Oct. 18 — the day on which the testing policy takes effect for teachers, educational assistants, and other employees who do not provide their supervisors with proof of full immunization against the novel coronavirus.
“This is a significant undertaking for school divisions and it’s being taken very seriously. We want to make sure that it’s being done in a way that is as successful as possible, mindful that there are a lot of sensitivities and in some communities, tensions around it,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.
Be they educators or bus drivers, division staffers who do not show their vaccine card or equivalent document by Monday will need to submit a negative test result that was taken within 48 hours of the start of their shift.
A minimum of one test must be self-administered under observation every week, while others can be taken at home.
Should any employee refuse the above options, they will have to go on an unpaid leave or face disciplinary action that could result in termination, said Brian O’Leary, superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division.
O’Leary said a couple of staff members in his division have already chosen the former option, while 35 people have opted to participate in ongoing rapid testing; the overwhelming majority of the roster — nearly 98 per cent of 1,500 employees — is fully immunized.
Not all divisions have released data on their respective immunized populations and many are waiting for final figures in the coming days. Both Louis Riel and River East Transcona have reported 97 per cent vaccination rates.
Around 88 per cent of division staff in Hanover, much of which is located in a health district where community uptake of two doses among eligible residents is under 50 per cent, had provided proof of full immunization status as of Thursday.
The logistics of testing, ranging from designated supervision staff to testing schedules, varies by division. Many will rely on the honour system and staff declarations that indicate they have taken tests that yielded negative results at home.
In St. James-Assiniboia, workers are to drive to a confidential parking lot to self-administer a test under supervision before shifts start on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
A central board office is the go-to site for once-a-week supervised testing in Hanover. That is also the case in Louis Riel, which has had a rotation of staff, including a new hire and senior administrators, tasked with observing tests in southeast Winnipeg for a month already.
In River East Transcona, the unvaccinated must show up once a week to a student services building to take their tests.
Meantime, Winnipeg and Seven Oaks have contracted external health-care providers to observe tests at their sites. The former has sites at Grant Park and Technical Vocational high schools. The latter’s venues are a board office and maintenance building.
For now, employees do not have to pay for rapid tests.
WSD spokeswoman Radean Carter indicated Manitoba’s largest school division will hand out kits next week during each staff member’s initial supervised appointment. There are 30 tests in every kit so they are expected to last 10 weeks, said Carter, noting employees who lose or damage a kit will have to foot the $200 bill to replace it.
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