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Temporary testing options given to health-care workers

Unimmunized health care staff allowed to return to work to deal with surging Omicron cases, reports AHS.
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Need for health care workers to handle surging Omicron cases means temporary back-to-work measures for the unvaccinated. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Amid skyrocketing Omicron-positive COVID-19 cases, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is providing all unimmunized physicians and staff the option of temporary frequent COVID-19 testing to ensure the anticipated demand on the health-care system can be met.

The testing option, which was previously available to a small number of unimmunized AHS workers at specific work locations, will now be available to any unimmunized staff member who wants to return to work, as part of the Immunization or Testing of Workers for COVID-19 Policy, which will be reviewed by the end of March 2022.

As of Dec. 23, approximately 1,400 full- and part-time staff not fully immunized have been placed on unpaid leave. The testing option allows those staff to return to work if they accept the option.

Testing will be available at their expense, and unimmunized staff will be required to provide proof of a negative Health Canada-approved COVID-19 test that was completed no more than 48 hours before each of their working shifts. A positive rapid antigen test would require a PCR test.

"In light of the risk posed by the Omicron variant, we need to adjust the policy to maximize capacity and avoid losing any staff if we can while still keeping patients safe. The immunization policy is about putting patients first," said Minister of Health Jason Copping.

To date, more than 97 per cent of full-time and part-time AHS staff have had at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, reports AHS.