Starting Friday, staff at long-term and community care facilities across the Island will have to be fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
Long-term care centres are applauding the decision, saying it's all helping keep vulnerable residents safe.
Rapid tests started arriving at care centres Thursday, and will be used to test partially-vaccinated or unvaccinated staff. They'll be self-administered by staff at each facility. They're called antigen rapid tests, and they're different from the molecular tests used at P.E.I.'s points of entry.
"We just got our testing kits. We're really excited, they just arrived to our front door," said Lindsay Dickieson, administrator at The Mount Continuing Care Community.
"It looks like it's going to be very straightforward and we'll be able to put everything in place very quickly."
Dickieson said she's not surprised to see regular testing for unvaccinated staff, and that it'll provide "another sense of security" for residents, family and staff. Staff who can't be vaccinated or choose not to be will be tested up to three times per week.
Unvaccinated staff used to be regularly tested until the Island's vaccination rates reached around 85 per cent, Dickieson said.
Right now, around 90 per cent of staff at The Mount are fully vaccinated. Others are still waiting for their second appointment, she said.
I do think that people that choose not to would understand that there are certain consequences with that decision. — Cecil Villard
"We're very pleased with the uptake from the staff," Dickieson said, adding there are 130 staff at the care facility.
"It took us a little bit of time to get to the 90 per cent. Just people getting their appointments, new staff being hired that maybe hadn't booked an appointment yet and I think that has been similar across other homes as well."
Positive cases to be confirmed by provincial lab
Cecil Villard, the executive director of the Community Association of Long Term Care, said he supports the public health policies.
The association represents 37 community care facilities across P.E.I., which house around 1,050 residents. He said staff understand the new protocols and having them is necessary to protect the residents as well as staff and visitors.
"We all have enough experience with this pandemic now to realize that one does, or should be, encouraged to take certain precautions and obviously one is being fully vaccinated," he said.
"And I do think that people that choose not to would understand that there are certain consequences with that decision — particularly if you are going to work in the health-care field, where you are interacting with patients or residents every day."
The cost of the testing kits is covered by the province. Staff at care centres underwent training to learn how to use them, and there will be witnesses each time they do so.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said any positive cases will still be confirmed by the provincial lab, and the frequent testing may motivate some who can be vaccinated to do so.
"The majority of residents are fully vaccinated and, in the some of the facilities, the rates just aren't high enough," she said. "Hopefully this will either increase the rate of vaccination, but, in the interim, provide a little bit more protection for the residents."
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