Businesses keep testing for COVID
By Local Journalism Initiative
By Sandi Krasowski
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce is ramping up the distribution of antigen test kits amid the province dealing with a seventh wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The wave is being driven by the BA.5 sub-variant of Omicron, which appears to be more transmissible than previous Omicron variants, and comparably severe.
Dr. Janet DeMille, Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health, is advising residents to consider increasing their protection against infection by using a mask while in indoor spaces, ensuring vaccination is current and staying home if sick.
Rapid antigen testing is a tool that can help businesses mitigate staff shortages by reducing the spread of COVID-19 between co-workers.
In June of last year, the Chamber of Commerce began distributing more than 7,400 rapid test kits free of charge to participating businesses.
“And we have not stopped issuing them,” said Charla Robinson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce.
“With the recognition by the province and by Thunder Bay that we are into a seventh wave of COVID, we’re just reminding members that rapid test kits are available. We are really encouraging employers to continue to use them in their workplace as a way to help to reduce the employee absenteeism that comes from people getting sick.”
There are currently 850 businesses relying on the program and using the chamber’s test kits in their workplaces.
Robinson says they are monitoring some cases of a broad workplace spread and insists that rapid testing should be a regular part of workplace activities.
“It’s one way to try to help to reduce the number of folks coming to work if they’re infectious. Maybe they don’t know they’re infectious,” she said.
Warren Moshonsky, vice-president of Venshore Mechanical Ltd., says their company services critical infrastructure clients in Northwestern Ontario as well as industries such as pulp and paper mills with power, water, and sewer issues.
“What we do to support those clients is definitely critical and it has to happen,” he said.
“We end up with shutdowns with lots of manpower on-site at a time and being able to have those test kits to know whether somebody has symptoms is crucial to our work.
“We need to make sure that our guys are clear (of infection) and our guys are comfortable to work and that our clients are comfortable too. We’ve definitely had a few instances on jobs where there have potentially been a COVID scare, and the test kits have helped us know whether we are safe or have to take further action to quarantine people. They’ve definitely been a huge help in keeping things going for us for sure.”
The provincial testing frequency recommendation has increased to testing three or more times per week.