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Municipal staff shortage problem on the mend, vaccination rate jumps

Omicron-fuelled staffing shortages are improving and 99 per cent of city staff are either fully vaccinated or intend to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Tom Davies Square. (File)

Although the city continues to grapple with staffing shortages as a result of the current Omicron variant-fuelled wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, things appear to be improving. 

The issue was worse earlier this month, when curbside collection in certain neighbourhoods wasn’t being completed on schedule, but this problem hasn’t continued in recent days.

So described city general manager of corporate services Kevin Fowke, who said he hopes improvements in certain areas will indicate a greater stability moving forward.

“There are so many people who went through mild symptoms or testing positive, and you hope that means it’s running its course and there are fewer people able to be affected by it,” he said, adding that there’s still a great deal of uncertainty and that the city would have to remain nimble.

In the event waste collection staff levels affect service again, city director of environmental services Renee Brownlee said residents will be notified via the city’s Facebook page. If material isn’t collected by 9 p.m., she said it’s likely to be picked up the following day instead.

People can also phone the city’s customer service line at 311 for the latest information. 

Although there was some concern additional bus routes would have to be cancelled due to staffing shortages, only one GOVA Transit route remains suspended, with Route 4 Laurentian University via Paris Street taken off the streets until more drivers return to work. 

While these are among the most visible areas of municipal staff disruption, city CAO Ed Archer noted that there are currently 53 employees from various departments redeployed to assist at Pioneer Manor, a long-term care home the city operates.

“They’re doing the back office stuff, so they are mostly assisting with food services – that’s meal delivery and feeding residents; that’s where the greatest need is,” he said, adding that they’re also assisting with laundry, maintenance, housekeeping, screening people at the front door and administrative work. 

Most of these staff have been redeployed from leisure services, whose operations have been largely shut down during the ongoing latest round of province-imposed COVID restrictions. 

Many of these employees will be returning to their regular jobs on Monday as the province loosens restrictions and recreational facilities begin to reopen, but Fowke said Pioneer Manor will remain well served due to more regular staff returning to work after being on leave due to quarantine requirements.

Also of benefit to municipal staff levels is that more employees returning to work after getting vaccinated.

When the city’s vaccine mandate took effect on Nov. 15, 139 city employees were put on unpaid leave until such time as they complied and received COVID-19 jabs. 

As of Jan. 20, this number had dwindled to 46 employees, of whom 20 have indicated they are in the process of becoming compliant. 

Of the 26 people who have indicated they have no intention to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, Fowke said the “vast majority” are volunteer firefighters. Working against the drop in firefighters was last year’s onboarding of 64 new volunteer firefighters

With only 26 employees indicating their intention to remain unvaccinated, the city’s projected non-compliance with the vaccine mandate is approximately one per cent against a total staffing complement of about 2,500 full-time equivalent positions.

As of Wednesday, Public Health Sudbury and Districts noted that 82.2 per cent of residents five years of age and older are fully vaccinated, meaning the municipality’s 99-per-cent compliance rate is much greater than that of the general population.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for