By: Susan McNeil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald

Members of the public and City of Prince Albert staff working at city facilities will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test effective Oct. 25.

The primary incentive for the policy was the request of the North Central Medical Officer of Health Dr. Khami Chokani, who asked council in September to adopt a policy stronger than the measures taken by the province.

“Doctor Chokani came to council with an extensive Power Point presentation about the risks and what is happening in our hospital and our community,” said Coun. Tara Lennox-Zepp, one of eight councillors who voted in favour of the policy. “He encouraged us as a City council to look at measures that were more than what the province was then – and now – implementing.”

Chokani had two goals, she said, and one was to save lives from preventable death.

“As City councillors, it is very persuasive to hear when the medical officer for our city asks you, will you help us save lives?” Lennox-Zepp said. “That’s pretty impactful.”

The second goal was to prevent collapse of the health care system in the city.

“That is something we also need to take very seriously. I want to state that I do find it very concerning that a municipality is even in this situation. This is something the provincial government has—the ability to create and consider further measures,” she said. “The province has not implemented these measures that we’re talking about and they’ve left us, city council, in a very difficult position of trying to do the right thing.”

Council included itself in the requirements but with no test option as all councillors must provide proof of vaccination to the City Clerk by the same deadline as staff.

Some members of staff through the CUPE union spoke out against portions of the policy, specifically the requirement to pay for their own tests on their own time and said the policy is not worded well.

“We are neither oblivious nor are we opposed to public safety,” union member Leslie Mourot-Bartley said. “We are opposed to turning decent people who are valuable long term employees into villains.”

“This policy is very poorly written. The purpose of the policy should be to keep the employees safe,” she added. “All of them. The fact is that there is a whole world of information. People have the right to make choices for themselves. I may be wrong but it seems that the purpose is to keep COVID out of the workplace.”

She proposed having the unvaccinated employees tested at work, but council did not modify the policy as presented by administration.