COVID-19: Business owners warned to prepare for mass illness at work as Omicron takes control

“We haven’t seen everything Omicron is going to do,” said Jonathan Walker, owner of Vancouver-based paint company Lincor Enterprises.

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B.C. businesses have been warned to prepare for a third of their workforce to be sick on any given day, as the highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 Omicron takes over across the province .

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Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry said on Tuesday business owners should reactivate their COVID security plans to prevent business closures due to understaffing, but would not make a order.

“Given the rate of transmission, the short incubation period, and the high number of people who become ill, we now need all businesses to have contingency plans in place to keep businesses operating when the staff are sick, ”said Henry, as she reported 2,542 new cases of the disease over the past day, with 80 percent of all cases in BC maintaining the Omicron variant.

“At this point, given the number of people who get sick each day, we need to reactivate these COVID-19 safety plans. We should expect that at some point up to a third of your workforce will fall ill with COVID-19 and be unable to come to work. We need to adapt businesses to be able to operate with these reduced staff.

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“It’s not about public health orders and telling you what to do. It’s about activating all of these layers of protection available to your business in your situation so you don’t have to shut down because you don’t have enough people to operate.

Jonathan Walker, owner of Vancouver-based paint business Lincor Enterprises, said when COVID hit it became much harder to find workers. He said this has improved since September 2021, when federal and provincial aid programs ended.

However, the appearance of Omicron added a new layer of problems for its company which employs 25 people. One of Walker’s foremen was due to test positive on Tuesday after his wife fell ill over the weekend and tested positive. This means that the foreman could not work for at least five days if he did not have any symptoms.

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“We haven’t seen everything Omicron is going to do,” Walker said.

He said Lincor would follow Henry’s recommendation to reactivate his company’s COVID-19 security plan. In July 2021, Henry advised companies to reduce their COVID security plans to a more general and less stringent communicable disease plan.

Walker said for his company this would lead to stricter use of QR codes for workers to prove they are not sick with COVID.

Painters working for Lincor Enterprises inside 161 East 4th Ave in Vancouver, British Columbia.  January 4, 2022.
Painters working for Lincor Enterprises inside 161 East 4th Ave in Vancouver, British Columbia. January 4, 2022. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Henry would not commit to providing rapid COVID tests to businesses.

“This is not a quick test; it is not a mask that protects. It’s about doing everything we can, taking all of these steps to protect our employees, our customers, our family and friends, ”said Henry.

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She recommended that business owners stagger shifts, limit clients, and make sure staff don’t all eat breakfast in a small, unventilated dining room.

There are 12,876 active cases of COVID in British Columbia, of which 298 are being treated in hospital, of which 86 are in intensive care. Those numbers are rising as Omicron sweeps the province. Henry estimates the actual number of cases to be three or four times higher than those reported due to limitations in testing and numerous unreported rapid test results.

As of Tuesday, 12,876 tests were performed (about 7,000 less than capacity), with about 20% of those tests positive.

Henry said she hopes the current fifth wave of COVID in British Columbia will peak in the next four to six weeks.

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“It’s hard to know when we’re going to see a peak. I think with the shorter incubation period, the shorter duration of illness, we’re probably going to see a shorter peak than what we’ve seen with previous waves. But it’s day to day to look at what we see, ”she said.

“What we’re trying to do is flatten that out a bit, which will stretch it out a bit. But if we can straighten it out, then we can better protect our health care system, because even a small proportion of people in need of hospital care can have such a dramatic impact on the… system. I won’t venture to say it, but I hope it will be shorter than four to six weeks, that’s for sure.

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Maria D. Ervin