More than 90 per cent of Manitoba's public-sector workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, 10 days after they were required to show proof of vaccination to continue working in the health, education and civil service categories, hundreds have instead chosen to undergo regular testing or go on unpaid leave.
Roughly 99.8 per cent of civil servants, 89 per cent of education staff and 86 per cent of health-care workers are fully vaccinated, according to figures released by the province Wednesday.
Deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal announced the data during a virtual news conference, saying he was encouraged by the numbers and taking them as a sign of the "great work" individuals and organizations are doing to protect themselves and others.
He said the province will be drilling down to understand why those unvaccinated workers still haven't gotten the shot.
"I think it opens our eyes a little bit. (We'll be able to) create a little bit of a dialogue here with some of these sectors and with some of these individuals to try and encourage and promote vaccine uptake and to look at what is preventing one from getting vaccinated," Atwal said.
"We'll work one-on-one if we have to, to find out what is the issue and try to work through those issues."
In the civil service, 429 employees had opted for regular testing rather than having to disclose their vaccination status or provide proof of vaccination.
The same is true for 3,129 workers in the public and independent schools systems, including substitute teachers and casual staff. There are 143 school staff on unpaid administrative leave — 97 per cent of whom are from public schools.
In health care, 36,269 of 42,000 direct-care professionals have said they're fully vaccinated and validation of disclosure forms is still underway (33,541 employees have already been validated as fully vaccinated). There are 1,788 health-care workers opting for testing; 184 refused testing and are either unvaccinated or refusing to disclose their status.
While the eventual goal is to lift all public health restrictions, including vaccination requirements, that won't happen anytime soon, Atwal said Wednesday, when asked if he can foresee circumstances in which unvaccinated public-sector employees will be allowed to return to work without getting the shot or submitting to testing.
"The plan right now is to protect Manitoba, is to protect the acute care system, is to prevent deaths and hospitalizations. So everything we're doing from a public health perspective is trying to do that. There are no plans to deviate from that in the short term," he said.
"For the next few months, for sure, nothing will change. We see this continuing for sure into the new year at this point."
On Wednesday, the province recorded 130 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. The provincial test positivity rate is creeping up, currently at 4.2 per cent.
Public health officials are still concerned many ill Manitobans are not getting tested for COVID-19.
About half of pandemic patients now admitted to hospital are only being tested upon arrival, Atwal emphasized. That's especially worrying, he said, because health officials know people are sick for 10 days, on average, before they need to go to hospital.
"That poses risk where we're missing out on contacts," Atwal said.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
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