Territorial government employees are being encouraged to get vaccinated and check their vaccination status after scores of COVID cases were reported across the NWT this week.

But there’s currently no mandatory requirement to get the jab, according to a mass letter sent by GNWT top brass, Aug. 17.

Sandy Kalgutkar, deputy minister of Finance, sent the email to GNWT staff after chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola reported 34 confirmed and six probable cases in in several NWT communities, including Yellowknife.

“If you haven’t already, please make an appointment to get vaccinated,” Kalgutkar advised. “Vaccination clinics continue to be held in communities across the territory. Getting vaccinated is one of the key things we can all do to prevent or reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 disease in ourselves and others. It is critical that as the fourth wave of COVID-19 begins in our territory we think of our friends, family, co-workers, Elders and children, and we take the necessary steps to protect them wherever possible.”

The comments come after the federal Treasury Board Secretariat announced on Aug. 13 that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated “as early as the end of September across the federal public service.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Aug. 17 that there would be “consequences” if federal civil servants chose not to get vaccinated or did not have a legitimate medical reason to get the shot.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the largest civil servant union in the country — endorses vaccinations, but added: “using discipline and termination to enforce them is unacceptable.

“PSAC has been in consultation with the federal government on their vaccination proposal, and our position is clear: employees with a valid medical reason for being unvaccinated, or for reasons protected by human rights legislation, must be offered a formal accommodation under the law,” the union’s Aug. 17 statement reads.

PSAC is also expecting the federal government to reassign workers to other roles or duties or allow them to fulfill their work obligations remotely, if they are unable to get the vaccine.

Regular screening and rapid testing should also be allowed where it is required, according to the union.

Restricting travel

Kalgutkar said in his letter that the territorial government is immediately putting in place some new preventative measures to reduce the risk of viral spread, including the limitation of government business travel.

“Effective immediately, the GNWT has decided to limit duty travel within the NWT to essential travel only,” the deputy minister stated. “Although there is no strict definition of essential, some examples include supporting pandemic efforts and ensuring that key infrastructure is functional.

“Management teams are asked to apply a risk management lens when assessing whether proposed travel into communities should be deemed essential and should be scheduled.”

GNWT staff should be considering how their vaccination status may affect the communities where they work, too, Kalgutkar suggested.

“One of the ways we can keep communities and employees safe, is by not sending unvaccinated employees into communities on duty travel,” he said. “As your department is planning essential travel, please consider whether your vaccination status may pose a risk to yourself, or to the community you are being asked to visit and discuss this with your supervisor.”

Working remotely

The letter states that staff, for the time being, will not be asked to work remotely, as occurred during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. However, staff are asked to wear protective masks in common areas in all GNWT buildings and work sites.

Meetings should also be held with great care, Kalgutkar added, including with social distancing measures in place and held electronically, if possible.

When symptomatic cases arise within a household, employees are expected to notify their supervisors as soon as possible, according to the letter.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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