Nova Scotia

Some CBU faculty worry about ending mask mandates on campus

Some faculty members at Cape Breton University are concerned with the university's decision to remove its mask mandate on March 21.

Cape Breton University has chosen to end COVID-19 restrictions on March 21

Some faculty members at Cape Breton University say they don't understand why mask mandates are ending March 21 instead of being maintained until the end of April. (CBC)

Some faculty members at Cape Breton University are worried about the university's decision to end its mask mandate on March 21 when Nova Scotia enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

The university is one of the few post-secondary institutions in the province to end its mask mandate before the end of the semester in late April. The move has worried and confused some staff who feel it's too soon.

"My own opinion and that of others is we're a little worried that lifting all the restrictions, including the mask restrictions two weeks before exams begin is unwise," said philosophy professor Andrew Reynolds.

"There is still a lot of COVID going around through the student population."

The provincial government will also end most COVID-19 restrictions on March 21, meaning no gathering limits, physical distancing or mask restrictions.

While CBU will end its on-campus masking requirements, most other universities in the province will maintain them until the end of the regular academic term. The Nova Scotia Community College will also end masking mandates on March 21.

No consultation on health issues, says faculty association

CBU is encouraging students and staff to continue to use masks, but the university's faculty association says its members are frustrated by both the decision to end the mandate, and a lack of consultation on the issue.

"[Staff] don't understand why the mandate cannot be extended until the end of the term. It's only a matter of two to three weeks," said Calvin Howley, president of the Cape Breton University Faculty Association.

"There is no genuine or meaningful consultation with faculty on health and safety issues like the mask mandate. And that is one of the bigger problems in terms of why we don't understand why it's being lifted two weeks before the term ends."

Calvin Howley, president of the Cape Breton University Faculty Association, said there's been no 'meaningful consultation' with faculty about health issues like the mask mandate. (Cape Breton University Faculty Association)

School is following provincial guidelines: administration

University administrators said they understand the concerns of staff and students who don't want to see the mandate end, but the school is following provincial guidelines, as it has since the start of the pandemic.

"Whatever was lifted through the province is no longer a requirement at CBU," said Tanya Brann-Barrett, the chair of CBU's return to campus committee.

She said people are "strongly encouraged" to practise health protocols, recognizing that COVID-19  has not been eradicated.

"We're learning how to live with it. So we've spent a lot of time over the last two years learning and educating ourselves to understand what we can do to help protect ourselves," she said.

Brann-Barrett said the university will also have testing available, and anybody who wants a home test kit will be able to get one. 

"We're going to continue to tell people, 'If you are sick, stay home, even if it's not COVID 19,'" she said.

Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, said all schools in the province have handled COVID-19 well since the pandemic started.

Regardless of when any individual school ends its mask mandate, he said the goal moving forward is to maintain the safety of, and respect for, the students and staff.

"Everybody is also anxious to move on or normalize campus activities," he said. "And so I think that there's widespread recognition that we have to learn to live with COVID, and all of our universities are continuing to proactively communicate the importance of taking personal responsibility for health."