Less than a month till move in day, and the start of the new school year, the University of Guelph announced to its community that whether you’re a student, faculty member or staff – both here in Guelph and at the Ridgetown campus – then you’re going to have be vaccinated if you’re coming to campus in September. The U of G joins several other universities in initiating a vaccine mandate, much of it at the instance of its own people.
“Today, I am writing to you to announce that the University will be mandating vaccinations for the University of Guelph community including faculty, staff and students at our Guelph and Ridgetown Campuses and indoors at all U of G-managed field stations,” U of G President and Vice-Chancellor Charlotte Yates wrote in a statement released this morning.
“This decision was made by the University’s Executive Team with strong support from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and Chatham-Kent Public Health as a measure to protect the University from outbreaks, to protect individuals from severe disease, hospitalization and death, and to continue to promote a healthy environment in which we learn, work and live,” Yates added.
The announcement from Yates comes one day after a petition was posted to Change.org demanding that the U of G put in place a mandatory vaccine requirement in order protect the university community, especially people young children under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated. It was previously announced by Yates that anyone wanting to stay on campus in residence would have to be vaccinated, but this announcement goes further.
At a virtual town hall on Thursday, Yates explained that the late call for a vaccine mandate at the U of G has a lot to do with the Government of Ontario. The U of G president said that she and other leaders from across Ontario’s post-secondary system have been asking for provincial leadership and direction on vaccine mandates and COVID monitoring efforts, but have so far been unsuccessful.
“As we’ve been monitoring, it’s now clear that we have to take action into our own hands,” Yates said. “We’re using this measure to urge, encourage, and really ask young people in particular – but also our staff and faculty who are not yet vaccinated – to get the vaccine. It is our greatest protection against the virus, including the variants.”
Yates added that the spread of the especially contagious Delta variant requires as many people as possible on campus to get vaccinated. She also noted that there is some lag in the in the rate of university-aged people getting their shots, which is borne out by the numbers from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph who note on their vaccine dashboard that young adults aged of 20 and 24 are fully vaccinated at a rate of 59.3 per cent. On Thursday, the region officially crossed the 75 per cent threshold for fully-vaccinated people among the eligible population.
How the vaccine mandate will be enforced is another question, but Yates said that that it will be a matter of education, not enforcement. “Like many regulations, we’re not going to be, except in egregious cases, actively enforcing; we are not going to become a carding campus,” Yates explained. “I am not asking TAs, graduate students, researchers, or faculty to enforce [the mandate], unless we can get an easy mechanism such as a vaccine passport.”
“For the moment, we are investigating all possible options, and we will be diving into the details in the days to come,” Yates added.
The U of G is also working on the details for campus visitors, who are not covered by the mandate, but are a regular part of campus life from friends and family to volunteers and outside vendors.
“We do know that we will be using the screening tool for visitors to indicate whether they’re vaccinated or not vaccinated, and we are expected all visitors on campus to complete those screening tools,” said vice-president of finance and operations Sharmilla Rasheed. “More details on whether this will be mandatory for visitors, especially coming indoors at our facilities, will be coming out later.”
The U of G will also continue to observe all COVID safety precautions including masking indoors and physical distancing. International students will have to observe any quarantine measures, and any student that arrives on campus needing a vaccine shot will be able to arrange one through Student Health Services.
In terms of the academics, there are still questions about how many people will be allowed in one class at one time. Big first year lectures with hundreds of students will likely stay online for now, while small class settings like labs and seminars will be more likely to be held in-person. Acting provost and vice-president academic Cate Dewey said that the goal is to make sure all students can take at least one in-person class this fall, but many students on the call observed that the class scheduling WebAdvisor system sometimes lacks key details about whether a certain class will be online or in-person.
“We are trying to give students a fulsome campus experience,” Dewey said. “In our discussions, this was particularly important for the first and second year students coming onto campus. As we know, the second year students had the remote learning experience last year, and the first year students will have had a lot of remote learning during high school.”
Despite the unanswered, or half-answered, questions, Yates is confident that the U of G is doing everything possible to make students, staff and faculty safe, with a near normal campus experience, when classes begin in just a few weeks.
“The university is mitigating risk, we can’t guarantee the elimination of all risks, we’ve never have been able to for any disease, but we’re trying our best to mitigate risk as much as possible,” she said. “We’re following public health guidelines, we are in many cases exceeding many of the steps of other institutions, but what we’re trying to do is keep our campus safe in the best way possible.”