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Too fast and too soon: Ontario nurses group says hasty reopening not worth the risk

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario says the province should wait to start relaxing more restrictions until after winter
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CEO of the RNAO Doris Grinspun speaks in Guelph as part of the RNAO tour. Anam Khan/GuelphToday

The province is moving too fast, too soon.

That's the message from the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario Monday as the Ontario government loosens pandemic restrictions on restaurants and other businesses further. The province has also announced it hopes to shed all remaining restrictions through the winter.

"We think it's a very big gamble that the premier is doing," said RNAO CEO, Doris Grinspun. "At this time when we are doing so well and we are so close to vaccinating children it's a gamble that is unnecessary."

The RNAO says there is a light at the end of the tunnel but moving too soon could risk prolonging the fourth wave.The province says it would like to be able to start scrapping proof-of-vaccination rules as early as January, and be able to remove all remaining restrictions (including the mask mandate) in March.

Grinspun says the province should pump the breaks, adding March would be a better time to start getting rid of the restrictions instead of it being the target to have them gone so as to "not gamble Christmas, not gamble the holidays, not gamble the winter, and not gamble closing even at a regional level in some parts of the province."

"March would have been a perfect time, the winter would have been more or less behind us, windows can be opened in schools, and then we can talk," Grinspun said. "But leaving the [proof-of-vaccination] passports in January, in the beginning of winter really, it's just absurd."

Instead of focusing on setting dates to get rid of the rules, the RNAO says the province should keep its focus on continuing to increase the vaccination rate as well as make sure a plan is ready to be put in motion immediately as soon as Health Canada gives the go-ahead for kids aged five to 11 to be vaccinated. Grinspun is also renewing her call for the premier to mandate vaccination for all healthcare workers.

"The premier should mandate vaccination for healthcare professionals, we have been asking and begging for it," said Grinspun. "Our first, first, first priority always is to do no harm and a big layer of protection for that is vaccination so we ought to be fully vaccinated."

"Most health professionals understand the danger of having one unvaccinated far outweighs the danger of the mandate, the mandate is necessary."

As for concerns raised about already low staffing levels, Grinspun says losing unvaccinated workers to the mandate is better than losing vaccinated ones because they don't feel safe or comfortable.

"You're losing them anyway because, when there's an outbreak, you're losing many that cannot work and, when there's no outbreak but you know that the colleague has not been vaccinated, you don't want to work with that person so many have moved anyway because of that," she said.

She says if the province was really concerned about staffing levels it would also scrap Bill 124 which caps wage increases for nurses, adding that's what's learning to turnover more than anything else.

"We're not the union but we understand the severity of that bill and it's got to go, that's what needs to go, not the masks, not the passports, but Bill 124."