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No mask requirements for Greater Victoria post-secondary schools as semester returns

Schools say they’re following provincial guidance, but some on campus worry it will lead to more COVID-19 infections

By Martin Bauman
September 1, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

No mask requirements for Greater Victoria post-secondary schools as semester returns

Schools say they’re following provincial guidance, but some on campus worry it will lead to more COVID-19 infections

By Martin Bauman
Sep 1, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

No mask requirements for Greater Victoria post-secondary schools as semester returns

Schools say they’re following provincial guidance, but some on campus worry it will lead to more COVID-19 infections

By Martin Bauman
September 1, 2022
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No mask requirements for Greater Victoria post-secondary schools as semester returns
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

None of Greater Victoria’s three largest post-secondary institutions will require staff or students to wear masks when classes begin next week.

The University of Victoria, Royal Roads University, and Camosun College have all dropped indoor mask mandates since the province lifted its requirements for masking in indoor public spaces on Mar. 11.

But the union representing UVic’s faculty and librarians feels the move was premature—and it wants the masks back.

“We know that for many people COVID is debilitating,” said Lynne Marks, president of the UVic Faculty Association.

Only the faculty association faces an uphill battle with UVic’s board of governors, who voted down a senate recommendation for masking earlier this year, along with some students who see the lifting of restrictions as a return to normalcy.

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‘A real fear’

Marks said the union’s concerns about a lack of masking come from a “vast majority” of its 850 members, who include teaching faculty, librarians, archivists, lecturers, researchers, administrators, and artists-in-residence.

Some of the union’s members are already suffering from long COVID, she told Capital Daily. She worries what a fall semester without masks—which studies have shown to be effective in reducing infection—would mean for spreading the virus further to staff and students. A recent Lancet study found people who’d survived COVID were at greater risk of developing cognitive deficits, dementia, psychotic disorders, and epilepsy or seizures, even after two years.

“This is a real fear,” she told Capital Daily.

Asking people to wear masks indoors “just [doesn’t] seem like that big a problem… to protect the whole community,” she adds.

Most of the local post-secondary COVID-19 policies toe a line of encouraging masking without requiring it.

Royal Roads’s website describes its approach as “mask-friendly, respecting personal choice and conditions.” Camosun advises students and staff to wear a mask “based on personal choice and in consideration of others.” UVic “strongly encourage[s]” staff and students to wear a mask where they “may be close to others or feel more comfortable doing so.”

In announcing its change to on-campus masking requirements in March, UVic noted it would “continue to adhere to all public health orders.”

Marks argues the university is passing the buck to the province instead of setting its own safety standards.

“I think the university would say that there aren't major mask mandates in other places in Victoria. But I think that doesn't justify not trying to protect people,” she said.

Senate recommendation voted down

Last fall, the UVic faculty association petitioned for a mask mandate, calling it “reckless” to “eschew protections” that would reduce the spread of infections at the university.

That push lasted through to the spring, when combined calls from faculty and students convinced the university’s senate to recommend to the president and board of governors that mask mandates return until the end of exams. But the board of governors voted down the recommendation in a special meeting less than three days later. 

Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

The university told Capital Daily that it continues to encourage people to wear masks indoors, and that of the 25 post-secondary institutions in BC, only two decided at the time to continue the mandate to the end of the academic term.

Mask policies, opinions vary across campuses

While Marks and her colleagues advocate for a return to masking, some students are welcoming the lifting of restrictions.

Aly, a third-year biochemistry student at UVic who asked that her last name not be used, said the absence of mask mandates will make life easier for her on campus. She has a medical exemption to wearing a mask—and that led to occasional friction last year on campus, she told Capital Daily.

“I have had fellow students verbally assault me in the classroom for coming to class without a mask. I have less anxiety about attending class with the mask mandate not being present,” she said. “I am looking forward to seeing people’s smiling faces on campus and being able to read lips and facial expressions as that is very important for my communicational abilities.”

Mask policies at post-secondary schools vary widely across the country. A recent Canadian Press survey of 83 universities found 14 of them planned on requiring staff and students to wear masks in different settings.

London, Ont.’s Western University has made headlines in recent weeks after announcing that students and staff will be required to have at least one booster shot and be masked in classrooms. The decision brought a wave of backlash against the university from some, who argued it infringes on students’ rights, and applause from others, who commended the university for its commitment to disease prevention.

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Martin Bauman
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