Mask and vaccine mandates to be lifted May 1 at post-secondary schools in Waterloo region, Guelph

University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph will require face coverings and people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 until May 1 while Conestoga College will lift its mandates April 30.

University of Waterloo says it can't offer virtual or hybrid learning options for students in future terms

Leonardo Melo, left, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at the University of Guelph, gets a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at the school on Jan. 5, 2022. Are universities and colleges will keep their mask and vaccine mandates in place until May 1. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Face covering and COVID-19 vaccine mandates will remain in place at the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph until May 1.

Conestoga College says it will lift the mandates at the end of the winter semester on April 30. Daily screenings using phone apps to attend campus will also be paused at that time, the schools said.

"As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the evolution of the virus and the course of disease activity are difficult to predict, so this decision is contingent on current public health conditions and directions continuing," University of Waterloo (UW) officials said in a memo to staff and students, which was posted to the school's website Tuesday.

In a statement made Tuesday on Laurier's website, officials said the school will continue to provide masks to students and staff free of charge until May 1.

"We recognize that comfort levels around masking will vary. Please demonstrate consideration and care for each other during this transition," the school said.

The announcement isn't a surprise as the Council of Ontario Universities put out a statement on March 11 saying all universities would maintain mask and vaccine mandates until May 1 "to minimize uncertainty and disruption and to continue to support our students, staff, faculty and university communities."

Universities, colleges 'separate legal entities'

Ontario lifted its mask mandate for most settings on Monday. People will still be required to wear masks on transit, in hospitals and long-term care homes, and congregate settings until the end of April.

Masks are no longer required in elementary and high schools, even though some school boards including Hamilton and Waterloo region tried to get the province to extend the mask mandate for the two weeks after March break.

The reason why universities and colleges can keep their own mandates in place is because they are separate legal entities and they must develop their own policies and procedures, which includes health and safety measures on their campuses, a spokesperson for Jill Dunlop, Ontario's Minister of Colleges and Universities, says.

While Ontario's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore has revoked instructions to universities and colleges in terms of vaccine requirements, "the minister does not direct or intervene in institution decisions related to their vaccination policies," Liz Tuomi said in an email.

Tuomi noted that as of Feb. 14 of this year, 98 per cent of students, faculty and staff who were on college and university campuses were vaccinated while private career colleges had a 94 per cent vaccination rate.

UW won't offer virtual or hybrid learning in future terms

Conestoga College said on its website that COVID-19 plans for the spring semester have not yet been finalized.

UW said the changes will mean students who have not been able to register for classes that require them to attend in person because of their vaccine status will now be able to and the school said going forward, "we cannot offer virtual or hybrid learning options for those who are unable to attend campus in future terms."

"Be aware that if we need to reinstate our proof of vaccination requirement, students who do not keep their vaccination status up to date could find their in-person studies interrupted and may not be able to get necessary vaccinations in time to be able to return to campus to finish their term," the school's memo said.

The University of Guelph also noted the "evolving nature of the pandemic" and said public health measures may return in the future without much notice.

"We strongly encourage all students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated and to keep up with their booster doses," the school said.