Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer announced on March 9 the decision to phase out all COVID-19 restrictions and policies currently in place throughout the province by April 27.
The Ford government’s timeline began on March 14 with the end of mandatory vaccination policies, followed by the removal of mandatory mask mandates on March 21. The lifting of the mask mandate allows the province to shift back to a pre-pandemic state, meaning businesses will no longer be required to screen for COVID-19, nor will they require a COVID-19 safety plan.
Many Canadians have been calling for this reduction of preventative measures as demonstrated by the recent freedom convoy protests. However, some students have expressed concerns about the ramifications that lifting these mandates may have on their education.
In a voluntary survey of 11 students for this article, respondents were divided over whether they wanted the university to require masks through the spring term. However, even students who stated that they agreed with the lifting of the mask mandate, expressed concerns over the possibility of students exhibiting COVID-19 like symptoms, failing to wear masks and distance themselves from their classmates.
The University of Waterloo has introduced numerous initiatives to protect student health over the past two years. Some of these safety measures have differed from government recommendations, such as the university stating that contrary to the Provincial Roadmap to Reopening Plan, access to campus will be limited to fully vaccinated individuals until the end of the Winter 2022 term. Additionally, masking is still required in all indoor spaces and encouraged outdoors when students are unable to keep a safe distance from their peers.
As the university eases their requirements and aligns more closely with the Roadmap to Reopening come May 1, students worry that there may be serious repercussions.
Students have voiced concerns that lifting the mask mandate may lead to outbreaks on campus and increase the risk of being exposed to the virus while in class. With classes going fully in-person, and the university currently unwilling to require professors to provide remote learning options, contracting COVID-19 could make it very difficult for students to continue their studies.
Second-year accounting and financial management student Hanna Wei stated that she feels nervous about “unvaccinated students spreading COVID” around campus during the spring term when the university drops the masking and vaccine requirements.
Sophie Valleteau, a second-year environment and business student, expressed fear of “harassment towards students who still want to wear a mask voluntarily” despite wanting the university to drop the mask mandates for the spring 2022 term.
With all of the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, students are divided in terms of how they want the university to respond.
Second-year physics student Ariana Kolenda feels that mandates should be lifted on campus for the Spring 2022 term and has no concerns about the effects this could have on student life.
Though opinions differ on whether the university’s plan to lift mandates come May 1 is the right approach, students have displayed a mutual understanding that those who choose to protect themselves by wearing masks past this point should have their decisions met with respect and should not face harassment from their peers for their choice.