RNAO says latest public health measures will help curb COVID-19 variants, urges greater utilization of nurses in vaccination rollout

In today’s report we first discuss the situation in Ontario, followed by an article about the global context of vaccination and what it means for all of us.

On April 1 the Ontario government enacted a “shutdown” that RNAO and other experts deemed weak and insufficient. RNAO issued a press release denouncing the measures and calling on the premier to enact stronger public health measures to control the runaway third wave of the pandemic. This release followed earlier calls from RNAO cautioning of the impending third wave driven by new variants (see here, here, here and here). RNAO also issued an Action Alert and within 24 hours over 4,000 nurses, other health professionals and persons from the public responded demanding robust public health measures. On April 7 the government finally heeded the calls and announced a provincial emergency and stay-at-home order. RNAO responded with a media release on April 8 that you can read next.

RNAO continues to monitor the expansion of variants of concern, in particular B.1.1.7 (originally identified in the UK), B.1.351 (originally identified in South Africa), and P.1 (originally identified in Brazil). B.1.1.7 is already dominant in Ontario and P.1 is expanding in BC, Alberta and Ontario. RNAO is watchful for public health measures that target people’s crowding and movement from region to region, as well as the speed and effectiveness of the vaccine rollout to vulnerable persons and regional/workplace hotspots.  Please take a moment to listen and RT an important and sobering interview.

Last minute addition (April 8, 9 pm): New government directive to maximize capacity and preserve resources needed to care for patients. See here.

Media release:

April 8, 2021

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) says the government’s new public health measures announced yesterday will help stop the spread of the virus’s variants. The announcement came on a day when officials reported another 3,215 cases of COVID-19 and more than 500 patients in hospital intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

The government’s province-wide emergency stay-at-home order is in effect for four weeks. Big box stores are restricted to selling groceries and pharmaceutical items only. While non-essential retail stores can remain open, they will be limited to curbside pick-up.

“The measures announced by the government are welcome, and we are glad our voices were heard,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun referring to the Action Alert issued by the association immediately preceding Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. In that call, RNAO asked for:

  • a lockdown of all non-essential services
  • the need to vaccinate all essential service workers
  • 10 paid sick days for all workers
  • re-instituting a moratorium on all residential and encampment evictions
  • restricting travel within Ontario and between Ontario and other provinces and countries to only essential travel

“We thank the 4,000 respondents who signed the Action Alert, and say to them your voices were heard,” says Grinspun. She adds that “the only measure the government didn’t respond to is the need for sick days for people in precarious employment. We heard Premier Ford’s explanation regarding the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) provided by the federal government, but as nurses we know that accessing those funds is not easy for the many people who lack this benefit and who may experience language and/or technology barriers.”

“This is not about politics. Expert after expert has said providing paid sick days is an important public health measure that would offer protection to thousands of workers who fear losing their jobs or have no choice but to show up for work because they have to provide for their families,” says Grinspun, adding that “many of these workers are the ones who have ended up in hospital ICUs and have succumbed to the virus.”

RNAO urges the province and local public health units to move swiftly to on-site vaccination of workers in warehouses, food processing plants and other large workplaces that will be allowed to operate under the stay-at-home order. Bringing vaccines on site to such workplaces and also to high-risk neighbourhoods is essential to protect workers, their families and entire communities

To succeed in stepping up the vaccination program, RNAO says the government and public health units must make use of untapped infrastructures and human resources. RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth says the government should fully utilize the more than 20,000 nurses who work in primary care and home care. “These are nurses who work in organizations such as community health centres, nurse-practitioner led clinics, family health teams, aboriginal health centres and home care agencies that have highly efficient and effective vaccine distributions networks – and while used every year are yet to be fully utilized during this pandemic. We have written to Premier Ford and Minister Elliott – imploring them to get all hands on deck to beat this virus. Nurses and their employers are eager and ready to rollout vaccines.”

RNAO agrees with the government’s decision to support public health units to make their own decisions regarding school closures. “We were pleased to hear the premier say that teachers – starting with those in special education, and then all education workers – are being prioritized for vaccination, says Hoffarth adding that “we urge the province to also utilize nurses to rollout vaccines 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week to get the job done.”

As the virus continues to play havoc with the economy and the livelihoods of thousands of people, RNAO is also pleased that the government heard its plea to re-institute a moratorium on tenant evictions.

“This pandemic is testing all of us and affecting people of all ages. During the next four weeks, RNAO will watch and continue its strong advocacy on behalf of nurses across this province. We need to remember this as we go about our lives. Think about your family, your friends, your neighbours and your work colleagues. We all need to watch out for each other and rely on one another to stay strong,” says Hoffarth.