Visitor vaccination requirement coming to B.C. health-care settings, starting with care homes

Full vaccination against COVID-19 will soon be mandatory for visitors in health-care settings across British Columbia, beginning with long-term care homes and assisted living facilities.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new requirement will take effect later this month, bringing facilities such as care homes and hospitals in line with restaurants, movie theatres and other non-essential businesses that already require proof-of-vaccination for entry.

"This supports and protects our health-care workers and the people receiving care and living in these higher-risk settings," Henry said.

"Those who are not fully vaccinated will not be able to visit in health-care settings as we go into this time of increased respiratory illness and challenges (relating to COVID-19)."

The visitor vaccination requirement in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities will take effect Oct. 12, the day before full immunization is becoming mandatory for employees and volunteers in those settings.

It will expand to acute care and community care visitors on Oct. 26, as the vaccination mandate expands to workers in those settings as well.

Henry said members of the public will be asked to show the same B.C. Vaccine Card they use while dining out and attending sporting events.

Some worried family members of seniors in care have been urging the government to implement such a requirement, with the backing of the BC Care Providers Association, which said the rise of the Delta variant has made the risk of visitors introducing COVID-19 into those facilities a legitimate concern.

"We have not seen visitors as a source of infection to date," CEO Terry Lake told CTV News on Monday. "But with the Delta variant, we know it's so easily transmissible, we think this is a possibility."

There will be limited exceptions to the visitor vaccination requirement, Henry said, including in palliative care and end-of-life care.

The provincial health officer also provided an update on the mandate for workers in long-term care and assisted living. While current employees must have received both shots by Oct. 13, or they will be forced to begin unpaid leave, those hired between Oct. 12 and 26 can begin work with only one dose of vaccine while taking additional COVID-19 precautions.

They also must be committed to receiving their second dose within 35 days of their first, Henry said.

Unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave will be under similar terms if they change their mind and agree to get immunized.

"If you do decide to get your first dose, it will be seven days before you're able to return to work with additional precautions in place," Henry said.

Workers who have asked for a medical exemption to the vaccine requirement will also be required to take additional COVID-19 precautions while they wait for their application to be assessed.

Earlier in the day, the B.C. Public Service Agency announced that all employees – including correctional officers, wildfire fighters, social workers and more – will need to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by Nov. 22, a move that was applauded by the provincial health officer.

"We need to be showing the way and setting an example in our province," she said. "I commend these efforts and encourage businesses to consider this well-considered approach."