By Prapti Bamaniya
The new proof of vaccination mandate at Ryerson University has some community members visiting campus feeling safer while others say more needs to be done to improve social distancing and air purification policies.
As of Sept. 8, those who wish to come to campus will be required to provide proof of their vaccination status through the RyersonSafe app, as reported by The Eyeopener. Those who are not fully vaccinated or who do not wish to disclose their vaccination status will have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to come to campus. Students who are not fully vaccinated or who have not received an approved exemption from the university will not be allowed on campus or able to access in-person university activities off campus as of Oct. 18.
Mandating vaccines isn’t new for Ontario or school systems according to Mario Estable, a biology and chemistry professor at Ryerson and expert in molecular virology, biochemistry and microbiology.
“For example, children are required to have received injections of vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and Rubella in order to attend classes,” he said.
Under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, the medical officer of health will issue suspension orders to any student who has failed to become immunized and is not exempt, or does not have up to date immunizations.
Although there’s an option for Ryerson students to apply for vaccine exemption, Estable said “it would be best if absolutely nobody was allowed on campus unless they are vaccinated.”
Nevertheless, Estable also said the university could offer accommodations to students who are unvaccinated, like the ability to work and study from home, as opposed to mandatory testing.
Ali Patel, a third-year biomedical sciences student, said he agrees with the mandate. “I’m in support of this…most of Ontario’s population is vaccinated anyway, so it won’t impact too many people,” he said.
As of Sept. 10, about 74 per cent of all people in Ontario have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 68 per cent of everyone in the province is fully vaccinated, according to the Government of Canada’s vaccine data.
“Although there’s an option for Ryerson students to apply for vaccine exemption, Estable said “it would be best if absolutely nobody was allowed on campus unless they are vaccinated”
Krista Shoebridge is a third-year collaborative nursing student who was a frontline worker at a hospital this past summer. Shoebridge said she’s glad the vaccines were mandated, and that vaccination would be most effective if everyone did their part to get one.
“I see what COVID does to people. It doesn’t matter how young or how healthy you are,” said Shoebridge. “It’s totally preventable now with the vaccine…it’s a collaborative issue.”
When looking toward her next placement in a hospital, Shoebridge said she is worried about how students are behaving during the pandemic.
“There’s nothing more nerve-wracking as I prepare to go to my clinical placements and pray to God that a viral load of COVID, if I happen to come in contact with it, isn’t high enough to transmit to my friends or my family or to my patients,” she said.
More safety measures needed
While Shoebridge said she thinks the mandate is a step in the right direction, she also expects Ryerson to do more to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus by enforcing social distancing and mask coverings.
“I don’t think this is going to be the one band-aid thing that’s going to make everything safer and drive down infection, or get rid of people who are hesitant…but it certainly works,” Shoebridge said.
Patel said social distancing wasn’t in full effect on campus when he visited during his first week of school. “Getting into campus through their security screening causes a massive line to form. You’re really close to a bunch of random people,” he said. “If they could optimize that system, that would probably be a good idea.”
Estable also said he hopes that along with mandatory vaccinations, other precautions are in effect at Ryerson. “I hope ventilation is in not just classrooms and offices, but also shared bathrooms are addressed [by Ryerson] before an anticipated return for everyone to in-class learning in January.”
“Vaccines are arguably the greatest invention of humankind, having saved hundreds of millions of lives throughout history”
He added that if he is on campus this semester, he would avoid shared washrooms because of their potential to spread the virus. Since there are shared bathrooms with no lids on the toilets on campus, he said, aerosols get into the air in the bathroom when toilets are flushed. Estable said COVID-19 can infect cells within the intestine, so it’s possible for stool to contain the virus and contaminate others.
A study from last December suggests alternative routes of transmission like public bathrooms, and toilet flushing can be a route of transmission for COVID-19.
Ryerson currently has ventilation and air purification protocols that the university says follow the industry best practices for filter replacement. The school added that the air in classrooms is thoroughly ventilated and the filters “meet or exceed the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating recommendations by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).”
“In preparation for the increase in activity on campus this fall, the university is working with a consultant to ensure best practices and standards for [heating, ventilation, air conditioning] and filtration with regards to COVID-19 have been implemented,” reads a statement from the university.
Ryerson has also administered a cleaning protocol, including deep cleans of high-touch and high traffic places in addition to a weekly and nightly disinfection plan.
Ontario’s Vaccine Passport
With Ontario Premier Doug Ford planning to mandate a vaccine passport as of Sept. 22, Estable, Patel and Shoebridge all feel that the move is a step in the right direction.
“It’s a great way to keep people safe in the service and teaching industries so they are not exposed to viruses from those who are unvaccinated,” said Estable. “And it encourages vaccination.”
“It’s such a small thing to roll a sleeve up and get vaccinated, that it really surprises me how vocal some people are against this,” he said. “They are truly uninformed or hungry for attention.”
Shoebridge said with the province’s COVID-19 passport, educating others about vaccines would make a big difference in keeping cases down in the province. “Making it easily readable to our demographic to engage people in our age group, even having nursing student organizations reach out to other students at Ryerson would be a good thing to do as well,” she said.
Estable encourages students to stay away from the rhetoric of anti-vaxxers and get the shot.
“Vaccines are arguably the greatest invention of humankind, having saved hundreds of millions of lives throughout history,” he said. “The less people are vaccinated, the longer this pandemic will last and more people will die.”