By Anna Maria Moubayed
Universities need to be able to bring back health mandates due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Ryerson epidemiologist.
The university announced on March 28 that it would be suspending mask and vaccination requirements for the spring and summer semesters, a week after the provincial government lifted mask mandates.
The university will also no longer require daily health screenings for those coming to campus, but advises community members to monitor their health for COVID-19 symptoms and not come to campus if they are feeling unwell, according to the statement.
Tim Sly, a professor at the School of Occupational and Public Health, said all institutions should be monitoring the information from national and provincial health departments and “be prepared to bring back precautions should the situation become worse.”
“Being slightly over-protected is always better than being under-protected,” said Sly. “Increases [in cases] are already happening in Canada and around the world due to early relaxing of the precautions and general fatigue.” He added the rise in cases is driven by the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, which spreads in ways that have rarely been seen.
“Being slightly over-protected is always better than being under-protected”
Masking and vaccine mandates will be kept in place by the university until the end of the winter semester.
The university stated that it supports those who choose to continue to wear a face covering, and strongly encourages community members to wear masks in crowded settings or when working closely with others.
As a result of lifting mandates, students who have not been able to register for classes with in-person requirements due to their vaccination status will now be able to do so.
Ryerson stated that they would take the uncertainties of the pandemic into consideration and that there is the possibility of sudden changes in the university’s health and safety guidelines.
While the university said it is confident that the pausing of these policies is a safe next step for the community, plans for the fall semester—including health and safety practices on campus—are still underway, the announcement reads.
“I expect that many people like professors, instructors, staff and students will feel more comfortable still wearing their masks when in a crowded place, mall, subway, classroom or arena. It will be voluntary, but a wise move,” said Sly.
“Increases in cases are already happening in Canada and around the world due to early relaxing of the precautions and general fatigue”
Prior to the Omicron variant, two-dose vaccination was essential to limiting the spread of COVID-19. However, Sly said three doses are needed to protect against the BA.2 subvariant.
“Given the resurgence of cases in the last week in many countries, my preference would be to increase the availability of the third dose, at least until the warmer weather, and we should be watching the data carefully every day before each important decision,” Sly said.
“I’m comfortable with the health mandates being lifted because I believe masks have been used ineffectively by students anyways,” said Meghety Gosdanian, a second-year graphic communications management student.
Gosdanian said she has witnessed many students put masks on only halfway, or refuse to put masks on in general.
Lara Artinian, a second-year professional communications student, said she agrees with the decision to lift health and safety mandates.
“Especially coming from an institution of higher education, it’s as if we can’t question the mandate and why it’s necessary, when education is all about questioning things around us,” said Artinian.