By Gordon Lambie
After weeks of holding firm to an October 15 deadline for all healthcare workers in the province to be vaccinated, Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé announced a 30-day extension on Wednesday morning.
“I have the responsibility to protect the health network,” Dubé said, explaining that the decision to extend the deadline to November 15 was made late in the evening on Tuesday night in light of the fact that under even the most lenient versions of the plan as many as 12,000 workers would be suspended on Friday. In a situation where the province permitted partial vaccination he said that number increased to 14,000, and with full-vaccination only it ballooned to more than 20,000. “The consequences were too dire.”
Dubé framed the decision within the recent move to improve working conditions within the healthcare network and attract more workers. He pointed out that it was at the height of the first wave of the pandemic that many of the measures that he is now trying to eliminate, such as mandatory overtime, were first put in place to respond to a lack of about 12,000 workers. Making a decision to intentionally cut that many workers or more from the system just after promising to make things better would be, at best, irresponsible.
The extension is not entirely without consequences for those workers who remain unvaccinated. The Health Minister shared, for example, that staff members in the public system who have contact with patients but are not fully vaccinated will need to be tested for COVID-19 three times per week. These staff members will also lose their COVID-19 premiums and be given lower priority in scheduling.
“We want to give a last chance to the unvaccinated,” Dubé said, noting that significant progress was made in vaccination coverage between August and October and arguing that much more could happen in the next month if people continue the trend.
The health minister also acknowledged that this decision might be frustrating to hospital users or staff members who already got the vaccine, but simply responded that, “there is no perfect solution.”
“If we continue like this we will run into a wall,” he said.
The province reported 512 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people infected to 417,188 with 4,982 active cases. There were seven new deaths, for a total of 11,429 since the start of the pandemic.
Overall hospitalizations increased by seven compared to the previous day, with 21 new entries and 14 new discharges for a total of 298. Of that total 75 people were in intensive care; an increase of three compared to the previous day following seven new entries and four new discharges.
According to the provincial institute of public health, the INSPQ, there were 248 active cases in the Eastern Townships on Wednesday, spread across all sectors. The highest case numbers were in Sherbrooke, which had 69, and the Haute Yamaska, with 66, followed by the Des Sources region with 28.
There were 10 people hospitalized due to the virus in the region on Wednesday, one of whom was in intensive care.