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Some universities across Ontario have reinstated mask mandates in response to local indicators such as wastewater signals, test positivity rates and hospitalizations — all of which point to an increased risk of COVID-19 which could disrupt upcoming examinations.
Waterloo announced on Tuesday that mask mandates would be reintroduced in academic settings such as lecture halls, labs and exam rooms for the remainder of the term. While masks are not required in places where people dine or play sports, the university firmly advises wearing them whenever people are indoors.
Meanwhile, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) has made no policy changes, although it’s currently reviewing its mask policies in case public health guidelines change. On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford went so far as to urge people to wear masks whenever they are in a less safe environment, but he stopped short of pledging to renew mandates.
University spokesperson Jessica Leach says the university will continue to monitor how COVID-19 is affecting the city and province and quickly adapt as necessary.
This is in keeping with what president Mohamed Lachemi told On The Record last week. At the time, he said “the university may reinstate requirements for vaccinations and masks in indoor settings.”
Some TMU students believe wearing a mask is a safer option as COVID-19 case counts rise.
“I don’t think [masks] are bad,” said Haley Davis, a third-year sociology student. “I think they’re important for protecting us, like immunocompromised people and vulnerable populations. I don’t have a problem with [masks] in general.”.
Psychology student Amelia Cole says that although masks have benefits, she also “respects people who don’t wear them.” She believes the school should offer free masks and make them accessible to get more students to wear them.
The density of the community surrounding the university puts students at a higher risk of getting sick this coming flu season, said James Tiessen, director of TMU’s Master of Health Administration.
“It’s interesting how Laurier, Waterloo and Western University have mandated masks already,” he said. “Those schools can have more success containing it due to their environment than we would in Toronto.”
According to a recent Nanos Research survey conducted on behalf of CTV News, the majority of Canadians say they would support or somewhat support reinstating mask mandates in indoor public spaces this fall if necessary.
Timothy Sly, a public health expert and professor emeritus at TMU, believes that mask mandates will help students stay safe on campus.
“Wearing a mask and preventing close contact in and out of the classroom are simple, cheap and relatively effective solutions compared to closing down classes and returning…online,” he said.
“[Virtual learning] may become necessary if things get out of hand again, but I am optimistic that masking, staying away when ill and keeping your vaccination up to date can enable everything to proceed as planned.”