Ontario universities to keep mask mandates in place until end of term

As Ontario prepares to lift its mask mandate on March 21, universities in the province are opting to keep them in place until the end of the winter term.

In a statement released Fridaythe Council of Ontario Universities said campuses will maintain their COVID-19 policies until at least the end of the semester, “in order to minimize uncertainty and disruption and to continue to support our students, staff, faculty.”

The council’s membership includes major post-secondary schools like the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, Ryerson University and McMaster University. the University of Western Ontario and the University of Waterloo have already come out with statements saying they also plan to keep mask and vaccine mandates for the rest of the term. For most universities, the winter term ends in mid- to late-April.

“There are many places across campus where physical distancing is simply not possible… so this is the best option to ensure the health and safety of our campus,” a statement by Western University said.

Ontario announced earlier this week plans to lift the mask mandate, put in place to reduce transmission of COVID-19 nearly two years ago, in most indoor settings on March 21. This means wearing masks will no longer be required in schools, restaurants and bars , gyms and movie theatres. Masks, however, will still be required in public transit, long-term-care homes, health-care settings and shelters until April 27.

The province’s top physician, Dr. Kieran Moore, said the decision is about learning how to live with the virus and manage it for the long-term, as hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to decline.

“This needs a shift to a more balanced response to the pandemic,” Moore said.

The choice to lift mandates has been met with pushback by some, including trustees of the Toronto District School Board, who have asked the province for more time before lifting COVID-19 restrictions in schools after hearing from concerned parents. Meanwhile, the Hamilton-Wentworth public school board said it will keep its mandate until April 15.

This prompted a response from Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who, in a statement, asked Ontario school boards to stick to provincial guidance on masking. Premier Doug Ford said the decision to continue wearing a mask beyond March 21 will be up to individuals to make.

In response to the decision to keep mask and vaccine mandates in place on university campuses, the Ministry of Colleges Universities said publicly-assisted post-secondary schools in Ontario are legally autonomous and have the discretion to maintain policies on their campuses.

“However, as indicated in the minister’s memo to the sector on March 1, the vaccination policy is no longer required,” said Bethany Osborne, a spokesperson for Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop.

Osborne added that as of mid-February, the vaccination rate for students, staff and faculty at publicly funded Ontario campuses was around 98 per cent. With restrictions easing across the province, the ministry said it advises people to get their booster doses before they return to campus.

In its decision to keep mask and vaccine mandates in place, Western University in London, Ont., said it consulted with the Middlesex-London Health Unit and with its workplace health and wellness physicians, who advised the virus is still spreading in the community.

The University of Waterloo said it will keep masking rules in place “in all indoor spaces where you cannot maintain two meters of physical distancing,” adding students and staff can access appropriate face-coverings free of charge on campus.

COVID-19 cases continue to decline in Ontario, though testing has been limited to high-risk individuals like hospital patients, and people who work in high-risk settings like long-term care. As of March 12, there are 722 patients with COVID-19 in hospital, a 9.3 per cent decline from last week.


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