UW president at odds with political science department over mask mandates


The University of Waterloo’s political science department is currently leading the charge to reinstate mask mandates across campus, and the response has not been sympathetic. After implementing a mask policy on Nov. 8, 2022, UW announced on Jan. 5 that they would be lifting the requirement for a second time. The announcement informed students and staff that as of Jan. 9, masks would no longer be mandatory in indoor spaces or during academic assessments. 

Masks remain highly encouraged, with posters hung around campus that encourage students and staff to cover up. Nearly half of the political science department has banded together in an attempt to reinstate a mandate for the remainder of the winter term, claiming the actions the university has taken are not enough . 

The push for a mask mandate is strongly advocated for by assistant professor Anna Drake, who has disagreed with the university’s current management of the COVID-19 virus on several occasions. After the university announced that the temporary masking requirements would be lifted, Drake contacted fellow department faculty, asking them to sign an open letter in support of reinstating mandatory masking on campus. “With the university telling us a couple days before…that they were dropping the mask mandate, I wanted to do something about it,” she said. 

Drake claims that the move to drop the mandate at the start of term was a mistake, and that the university is not doing enough to protect students and faculty. When asked how she felt about UW president Vivek Goel’s response to the open letter, Drake was disappointed. “[The response] pointed to a number of things that we had mentioned in the open letter, but in ways that didn’t take the substantive concerns seriously,” she said. 

Several nearby post-secondary institutions, such as Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College, have seen similar trends of indecision regarding masks. This is another point of concern for Drake, who believes the universities are ignoring the science behind transmission, reinfection, and long-COVID. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, protection against severe COVID-19 cases decreases to 90 per cent two months after the last booster shot, though numbers vary between different vaccines. At four months, this immunity decreases to 80 per cent. At six months, immunity decreases to 60 per cent. While health professionals, including infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, state that 80-90 per cent protection is still a safe area to be in, it is highly recommended that booster doses are received at least every six months by health professionals. However, Drake states that “only a quarter of the population has received a booster dose within the last six months,” and the immunity of students and staff is weak. 

The majority of students on campus, outdoors and indoors, have not been wearing their masks since the start of the school year; many went mask-less while the mandate was in place during exams, with professors frequently reminding students that it was no longer an option to enter without a face covering. In its present condition, the future of UW’s mask policy is unclear, but Drake claims that further actions will “hopefully soon” be conducted by her department.