Sask. post-secondary institutions will start fall semester without mask or COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan are encouraging people who will be on campus this fall to mask and stay up to date with vaccinations, but they are not imposing COVID-19 related mandates.

Public health measures to reduce virus transmission encouraged, but remain optional

Saskatchewan universities and other post-secondary institutions are strongly encouraging people on campus to mask, but they are not mandating it for the fall semester. (Germain Wilson/CBC)

Saskatchewan's main post-secondary institutions will not require people to wear masks or provide proof of vaccination when they head back to campus this fall.

However, people are still being encouraged to use these tools to limit transmission and policies at these institutions could be subject to change.

"The mask mandate could be brought back," said Dr. Darcy Marciniuk who chairs the University of Saskatchewan's pandemic response and recovery team, in an interview. "The pandemic is not over and we do have evidence of COVID activity and transmission."

Marciniuk said the level of COVID-19 activity hasn't reached the threshold needed to trigger a mask mandate at the university. He said a mandate implemented too early could actually erode trust among people, making them less likely to comply with public health measures.

"If we, for instance, bring in a mandate too early or without the evidence in support of that, adherence of that mandate would be less optimistic." 

The university's pandemic response and recovery team will consider wastewater data, hospitalizations, infection modelling and levels of disruptions caused by COVID-19 into the fall semester. They're also encouraging vaccinations and asking people to stay home when sick. 

Post-secondary institutions like Saskatchewan Polytechnic are well-positioned to adapt and change COVID-19 policy if needed, said Cheryl Schmitz, that school's vice president of administrative services and chief financial officer. 

"Given the fluid nature of COVID-19, we may have to update our pandemic guidelines in the future, but that will be done through assessing the COVID-19 landscape, and continuing to follow the guidelines of the provincial government, the chief medical health officer and our health authority," she said, noting they also follow the advice of their internal pandemic emergency response team. 

Saskatchewan Polytechnic runs campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon. Schmitz said they are also encouraging students and staff to get up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations before returning to campus. 

"We know it's the single most effective public health measure to reduce the spread of harms of COVID-19. We're encouraging our students and employees to be fully vaccinated and to get their booster shots when eligible." 

She also acknowledged some people may still prefer to wear a mask and asked others to respect that choice. 

Both the University of Regina and First Nations University of Canada are encouraging masks, vaccinations and other public health measures — but like the other institutions, no measures will be mandated.

The no-mandate policies follow suit with other institutions like the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. But some universities in Canada will have mandates, at least for the start of the semester. 

Some Nova Scotia universities will require masks this fall. Recently Western University in London, Ont., announced it would be implementing vaccine and masking requirements this September. 

This university is requiring those returning to campus to be vaccinated for COVID-19 twice with an additional booster. There is also a mask mandate in place in classrooms and seminar rooms for the first five weeks of class followed by a reassessment. 

with files from David Shield