Edmonton

Mask mandates to remain at University of Alberta and University of Calgary

The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary have announced that students will return to campus on Feb. 28 as planned and masking will remain mandatory for the time being. 

Advanced education minister directed universities to align policies with provincial plan

The University of Calgary and the University of Alberta plan to keep mask mandates in place when they open for in-person learning on Feb. 28. (David Bell/CBC/University of Alberta)

The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary have announced that students will return to campus on Feb. 28 as planned and masking will remain mandatory for the time being. 

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said on Wednesday that as of March 1, post-secondary institutions will be able to return to pre-pandemic delivery without physical distancing, masking and vaccine mandates.

"It is my expectation that all of Alberta's universities, colleges and polytechnics will align their COVID-19 policies and practices with that of Alberta's Government," he wrote in a letter to board chairs.

If hospitalizations continue to decrease, the provincial mask mandate will be removed on March 1.

In the U of A's Thursday update, the school said masks will continue to be required in all university indoor shared spaces. Academic accommodations are available for immunocompromised students, the university said.

The University of Calgary announced on Thursday that it would be removing its vaccine mandate for future semesters. Masking will still be required indoors until the end of the winter term and while the City of Calgary maintains a mask bylaw. 

SAIT announced Thursday that students and employees no longer need to be fully vaccinated to attend class in person and as of March 1, masking will become recommended, not mandatory.

MacEwan University is expected to announce its plans Friday and Concordia University of Edmonton, the King's University, Mount Royal University and NAIT are reviewing their policies and future plans. 

What do students think?

Nicole Schmidt, president of the students' union at the University of Calgary, said there has been a mixed response from students over Thursday's announcement, with some expressing concern over the vaccine mandate going away.

"We obviously want students to feel safe and to feel protected attending in-person classes once they are able to do so," Schmidt said. 

Austin Ashbaugh, a third-year U of C masters student who is also a teaching assistant, said students are tired of being thrown back and forth between in-person and online learning.

"If we immediately throw students back to in-person, there is going to be a level of social anxiety that is so astronomically high," he said. 

Ashbaugh said he is also concerned about disappearing vaccine and mask mandates because that could create "the perfect playground" for COVID to adapt and spread.

Rowan Ley, president of the students' union at the U of A, said about 500 students responded to a survey about Nicolaides' letter to board chairs.

He said 80 per cent were opposed to the minister's letter, but there is some appetite among students for removing restrictions.

"The broad consensus is that the mask and vaccine mandates are popular — gathering restrictions less so," he said.

Trevor Liu, a fourth-year software engineering student, said he would support a hybrid model, where students choose between learning online and in-person. 

The U of A has not yet announced whether its vaccine mandate will stand.

Liu, who is vaccinated, said he hopes the school gets rid of it.

"I know some people who do not prefer to get vaccinated because of personal reasons or personal choice," he said. 

Amber Mckenzie, a third-year nursing student at MacEwan, said she wants to feel safe knowing everyone around her at school is vaccinated and masked. 

"Every other restriction could be lifted, but leave the vaccination requirement and masking in public spaces," she told CBC.

Mickey Tidsbury, a fifth-year anthropology student in her last semester at the U of A, said she thinks schools moving back to in-person learning is reckless.

"Getting hospitalized and dying from COVID is not the only serious thing about COVID," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news and files for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.

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