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New measures announced Friday for Ontario long-term care homes also include random testing of fully-vaccinated staff and residents, as well as 'rigorous inspections' of homes’ infection, prevent and control measuresFrank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all staff working directly in long-term care homes by November 15, and will no longer offer regular testing as an alternative, the government announced on Friday.

The new mandatory vaccine mandate applies to all in-home staff, support workers, students and volunteers. Those who refuse to get vaccinated, or who do not provide a valid medical exemption, “will not be able to enter a long-term care home to work,” the government said.

It was not immediately clear if staff would be suspended or put on leave if they refused to get vaccinated.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips made the announcement on Friday. The new measures also include random testing of fully vaccinated staff and residents to help detect possible breakthrough infections of COVID-19, as well as “rigorous inspections” of infection, prevent and control measures at long-term care homes.

As of Aug. 31, about 44 per cent of Ontario’s long-term care homes had staff vaccination rates below 90 per cent. The government said staff vaccination rates are not high enough in the face of the risk posed by the Delta variant.

Only three provinces – British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec – have made vaccination a condition of employment for health care workers, meaning those who are not immunized against COVID-19 by October will be suspended without pay. Other provinces with high rates of community transmission, including Saskatchewan and Ontario, are giving health care workers the option to either get vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19.

B.C. was the first province to roll out a vaccine policy for everyone working in long-term care and seniors’ assisted-living facilities. Citing a changing level of risk driven by an increase in cases among unvaccinated and partly vaccinated people, the province announced on Aug. 12 that employees must be fully immunized by Oct. 12.

Ontario officials followed on Aug. 17, announcing that health care workers must be either fully vaccinated, have a medical exemption, or complete educational sessions and regular antigen testing. The policy came into effect on Sept. 7.

In August, the country’s five largest for-profit long-term care home companies – Chartwell, Extendicare, Responsive Group, Revera and Sienna – announced that COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for long-term care and retirement-home staff across Canada.

As of Oct. 12, staff who are not fully vaccinated will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. Full vaccination is also required for all new hires, students and agency personnel.

With a report from Karen Howlett in Toronto.

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