The City of Kamloops has been short-staffed due to the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, with about 100 staff calling in sick last Friday, according the city.
In a council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Ken Christian said the city is “for sure” short-staffed.
“We are tracking absenteeism within our staff on a daily basis, and we have seen some of the highest absentee rates because of essentially three reasons,” Christian said.
“People are sick with COVID, people are quarantined because they’ve been exposed to someone who was sick with COVID, or people are off because their childcare arrangements have fallen through because of COVID.”
The comments came after Coun. Denis Walsh asked if the city would be reconsidering its vaccine mandate as the Omicron variant spreads.
The city’s Human Resources department told Castanet Kamloops in late December that while the number changes seasonally, about 750 people were working for the city at that time, 96 per cent of whom are fully vaccinated.
“I’ve been asked to bring up the issue of mandates due to the transmissibility of this new Omicron virus and how contagious it is equally between the double, triple-vaxxed, natural immunity or the unvaxxed,” Walsh said.
“The policy now is questionable on these mandates because it doesn’t seem to be too choosy on who is going to be transmitting it. I would like the city to consider possibly releasing that order that our employees need to be mandated to work and to bring some people back into our fold because I know we’re short staffed in a number of areas.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, recently presented data showing the Omicron variant presents a negligible risk of serious illness and hospitalization among those vaccinated for COVID-19, while those who are unvaccinated remain vulnerable.
Dr. Henry also said the data shows vaccination reduces the risk of virus transmission.
Dr. Carol Fenton, medical health officer with Interior Health, said vaccination remains the "most important" step individuals can take to protect themselves from severe illness and avoid overwhelming hospitals as Omicron spreads.
Dr. Fenton said people need to continue to limit social contacts, wear masks indoors, stay home if sick, and get vaccinated if they haven't already done so.
“There are still really strong reasons that we need to do everything we can to limit the spread,” Fenton told Castanet Kamloops.
Christian told council city staff are assessing the COVID-19 situation daily, and are responding to changes in direction from provincial health and WorkSafeBC.
“I suspect that while we have likely seen the peak in terms of numbers of cases, we have yet to see the peak in terms of hospitalization. I was on the phone as recently as yesterday [Monday] with Interior Health Authority with respect to the situation at Royal Inland Hospital. And again, they are well over capacity,” Christian told council.
“Most of the COVID cases hospitalized are people who are unvaccinated and as a result are taking up hospital space. So until that changes, I don't think there'll be much change in terms of mandates. But please be assured that our staff are assessing the situation on a daily basis.”
David Trawin, the city CAO, told council the city plans to continue with the vaccine mandate, but would review it as the COVID-19 situation and provincial health orders change.
“Yes, if you're vaccinated you can still get Omicron, that’s not disputable in my mind, but if you are unvaccinated, you have a greater chance of getting Omicron. The more likelihood of getting it still puts more burden on our staff,” Trawin said.
He said while about 100 staff were off last Friday, the numbers were down to 57 absent staff as of Tuesday.
“That’s falling in the right direction on that. So we still believe we still need to put the policy in place that we have, that is a policy where those that aren't vaccinated are tested every 72 hours on that and we'll review it as we move forward.”