Eganville -- Hesitancy over implementing a vaccine policy continues at Bonnechere Valley council and as the County of Renfrew deliberates on their policy today (Wednesday), councillors are waiting to see what is implemented there.
However, the draft description of the county plan did not meet with much approval at the lower-tier municipality.
“There is no way I am ever going to be in favour of forcing someone to take a vaccination because I’ve known people that have lost their jobs because they did not vaccinate and I don’t agree with it,” Councillor Jack Roesner said at a committee meeting of council. “It is a vaccine. You can still get sick. You can still spread it.”
“It is egregious that people are losing their jobs,” agreed Mayor Jennifer Murphy.
Council heard while the county has not approved a vaccine policy, it has passed the committee level and will be discussed by all members of Renfrew County council. One provision was for testing for the unvaccinated, but they will have to pay for testing.
“This to me is crap,” Councillor Roesner said. “Just because the person is not double-vaxxed they have to get tested; they have to pay the cost. I’m not in agreement with that at all. I don’t care what the county says.”
Councillor Tim Schison said there are people who are scared they will be forced to be vaccinated.
“I do not believe in an employer or government forcing people to do something they are very uncomfortable with,” he said. “We are at 90 percent now so those who were comfortable taking it have taken it. Here on in, it is a forced deal.
“God forbid one should have a bad side effect from the vaccination and I don’t want that being on me,” he said.
Allowing employees to have a test if they are not feeling well is a good option, he said.
“Let it go on for the way society has operated for the last number of years,” he said. “If you are not feeling good, don’t come in and if you are feeling good, we expect you at work.”
Strong-arming people into doing things from a government or corporate perspective is not good, he said.
“I would much rather have a little bit back of freedom of choice with our employees being able to make their own call,” he said.
Mayor Murphy pointed out there was “a bit of debate” on the issue at the committee level at the county and the issue would be discussed in full at county council for approval of the draft policy.
“It is an interesting policy. It allows for different things, but I want to be clear it has not been ratified,” she said, adding the issue at BV could be tabled until the county brings in a policy.
As well, the township is under no obligation to bring in the county policy, she stressed.
Vaccinated or unvaccinated should be treated the same, Councillor Brent Patrick said. There should be an option for rapid testing, he said. Some people are vaccinated but do not want to disclose it because it is confidential health information, he added.
“I don’t think we should discriminate against people because of their status,” he said.
If people who are vaccinated can spread the virus, then all employees should be protected, he said. Rapid testing could be a good option, he said. People who are vaccinated can also spread COVID, he noted.
“How can we safely have people around with doing an antigen test?” he asked.
He said there is a shortage of workers in the area, whether they are health care workers or fast-food workers. Having a testing policy would make better sense for the township, he said.
“I think every single person is entitled to their own viewpoint,” he said.
High Staff Turnover
One of the challenges for BV is the high staff turnover recently, Mayor Murphy said. She pointed out of the 10 works employees, three are new and bringing in a policy where some might quit would just make things worse.
“At a time when we have labour shortages, we need these people to come to work,” she said.
“Is there a way to have the province flow these rapid tests to us through the health teams?” she questioned.
Coun. Schison said there have been COVID cases come and go and people have been able to fight it off prior to the vaccine.
“I know of at least 100 individuals who have tested positive for COVID and they are alive without a vaccine,” he said.
“We are already at almost 90 percent vaccinated, why the push now to our employees?” he asked. “I don’t like it and I don’t think we should be doing it and I don’t want to take any part in it.”
He said he was not an anti-vaxxer.
“In no way in any shape or form am I anti-anything,” Coun. Schison said. “I have all my inoculations up to par but there hasn’t been enough straight information and we have been right at the core of this from day one. You have seen what has happened right from March when everything was shut down to today.”
People are going to have to get used to living with COVID, he said.
“I think we have to still balance our general freedom and way of life and we still have to live,” he said.
Mayor Murphy pointed out if staff are laid off, workers will not be there to plough roads as quickly and services will be affected. She also said there is a misunderstanding in the public of the policy.
“I believe these people are thinking that we are demanding that our employees get vaccinated and if you read the county policy, that is not what the policy of the county is saying. They are giving options so we don’t lose employees,” she said.
CAO Annette Gilchrist had brought up the topic of a vaccine policy, pointing out the township had received a letter from the Renfrew County District Health Unit encouraging a vaccine policy. The County of Renfrew had been suggesting having testing for the unvaccinated at this point, she noted.
“Other places are discussing whether or not you are on unpaid leave,” she said, adding some municipalities have a masking policy for those who are not vaccinated.
“There are a few different ones floating around out there,” she said.
“We are still trying to be cautious,” she noted. “I know sometimes people get a little complacent because this has been going on for so long.”
Mrs. Gilchrist was actually meeting with council via ZOOM since she had not been feeling well so she was self-isolating until she received a result from her COVID-19 test.
Mayor Murphy said having a hybrid way of working with people having the option to work at home with ZOOM makes sense.
“We have adapted over the last almost two years,” she said. “We have figured things out. I could not agree more. If you don’t feel well, stay home.”
Council agreed they will discuss the vaccine policy again after county council has met.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader