Vaccines, masks required at universities despite broader relaxing of restrictions
By Maan Alhmidi
TORONTO — Several Canadian universities are maintaining COVID-19 precautions such as vaccine mandates and masking for in-person classes even as governments roll back pandemic restrictions.
Ontario is ending its vaccine certificate system on March 1, when capacity limits in public settings and restrictions on social gathering sizes will fully lift as well, though masking requirements will remain for now.
Ontario’s top doctor said last week that vaccine policies at post-secondary institutions have served their purpose and should be dropped, saying their removal should align with the end of the province’s vaccine certificate system next week.
But several Ontario universities said they are keeping their vaccination policies in effect.
Western University in London, Ont., said it will uphold its vaccine mandate until at least the end of the current winter semester. A spokeswoman said the school will review later this year whether COVID-19 vaccination will be required for students who will attend on-campus classes in the fall.
“We will continue to work with the Middlesex-London Health Unit and our internal workplace health and wellness physicians and medical leads to inform our subsequent approach, including a planned review of our policy no later than September 1,” Roxanne Beaubien said.
York University in Toronto also said it won’t drop its vaccination and masking requirements.
Lucy Fromowitz, vice-provost of York University, said the school’s vaccination mandate will remain in place until the end of the winter term.
“In light of changes to the province’s phased re-opening plan, I’m writing to share that the university has determined that there will be no change to York’s health and safety protocols, processes, or approach at this time,” Fromowitz wrote in a letter to the university community.
The University of Guelph said it intends to uphold its vaccine mandate until the end of the winter semester, but will review the policy soon and provide an update next month.
Other schools in Ontario, including the University of Toronto, said they aren’t making changes to their COVID-19 vaccine policies and continue to consult with the government and public health officials on the issue.
In Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta said they’re suspending their vaccination mandates when on-campus learning resumes next week.
But the two largest post-secondary schools in Alberta will keep their masking requirements in place despite the province’s plan to drop that measure as of March 1.
Bill Flanagan, the president of the University of Alberta, said the school’s vaccination policy has worked as 97 per cent of students and more than 99 per cent of faculty and staff members are fully vaccinated.
“When many of us return in-person on February 28, … proof of vaccination will no longer be required on campuses or to access services or events.,” Flanagan said in a letter to students.
“Masks will continue to be required across all (University of Alberta) campuses until the end of the Winter 2022 semester.”
Ed McCauley, the president of the University of Calgary, also said proof of vaccination will no longer be required from students.
“This shift is consistent with the direction from the province,” McCauley said in a message to students. “Masking remains required until the end of the Winter Term. At that time, masking will become optional at the University of Calgary.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he’ll announce “a final decision” this Saturday on whether to proceed with the second phase of the province’s pandemic reopening plan, which includes the end of masking requirements.