Petition calling on UTM to mandate masks for staff, students currently working in university
More than 300 people have signed the petition in support of making masks mandatory
UPDATED: On Tuesday, July 7, the University of Toronto announced it will make non-medical masks mandatory in public spaces, including hallways, lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms, and other common use facilities. Exceptions will be made for those with an underlying medical condition which inhibits their ability to wear a mask, individuals in areas that are not intended for public use, those who are behind a physical barrier and children under the age of two. The policy takes effect immediately on all of the school's campuses.
A graduate student at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus (UTM) has launched a petition calling on the school to take stronger measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"It doesn't seem to be running very differently compared to pre-pandemic," said Rebecca Rooke, a PhD candidate with the university's biology department, who started the petition. "My biggest concern is the lack of mask-wearing and the lack of social distancing on campus."
Since the Phase 1 reopenings in Ontario, which allowed for labs and experimental facilities to run again, Rooke has been back at the university one to two times per week to progress her research.
But since she's returned, Rooke says she has been limiting her visits to the lab because she doesn't feel safe.
She says the only changes she's seen are one new hand-sanitizing station in the building she works in and signs outlining what to do if you feel sick. She says she hasn't seen much physical distancing or mask-wearing from others in the building.
"I feel very worried, actually. It's really concerning going in."
With the petition, Rooke is hoping UTM will mandate masks in common areas and do more to encourage physical distancing in place.
"I would want everyone who is walking through a hallway or in a communal area to be wearing a mask ... and also to have social distance being in place," she said. "I think those two things would go a long way in preventing the spread of COVID."
Rooke, who is hoping to collect 500 signatures on the petition, has been pleased with the feedback so far. More than 300 people have signed it, including staff, students, and community members.
"It's an important issue for the community at UTM. I'm not the only one that's concerned," she said.
Departments handing out masks, visors
Some of the university's departments — including biology, where Rooke works — have started handing out masks and visors.
"It would make a huge difference in terms of morale," said Joel Levine, chair of the biology department at UTM. "The fact that [the students] don't feel safe when they show up for work is a problem."
Levine says the chairs are also working together to create a uniform code of conduct for all departments outlining how students should act in the school.
"I think it's important to remind people how to behave and suggest that they take care of themselves."
The pandemic shutdown forced many graduate students and candidates to pause their research and experiments, some of which required consistent monitoring.
It's also left some researchers worried about incurring a financial hit.
"This stoppage of work involves the loss of money to the individual investigators. We're all paying for our research using grants from the government. That's basically the money of the people of Canada," Levine said.
"So right now, we're in a holding pattern where we're spending that money but we're not getting the research return for our dollars because there's so little work going on."
UTM says school is following public health advice
In a statement, UTM told CBC News they are following the advice of public health authorities and "have put in place a phased and planned process for individuals to access research labs."
They also said they have "increased frequency of cleaning, including high-touch areas," and that "additional hand sanitizer stations have been put in place."
As far as mandating masks, the university said they "are reviewing the recent directives from municipal authorities regarding the use of non-medical masks in public places and are developing plans for implementation in the unique university environment."
However, there is no word on when or if the university will make masks mandatory.
With files from Angelina King