With the Ford government holding the line on forcing no one to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the University of Toronto has joined a growing list of academic institutions saying those coming to campus next semester must be vaccinated or tested often.
The university, which has more than 60,000 students enrolled at sites in downtown Toronto, Scarborough and Mississauga, said late Wednesday that the requirement was necessary because the provincial government had not moved on it.
“A provincial policy would help to remove confusion and ambiguity about the requirements for everyone in the post-secondary sector,” the university’s primary COVID-19 adviser, Prof. Salvatore Spadafora, said in a statement announcing the update.
Seneca College was the first post-secondary institution in Ontario to mandate vaccines, saying in June it would require proof of vaccination from anyone coming to its campuses, which are sprinkled across the Greater Toronto Area and in Peterborough.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario has doubled over the past month as some start to speak of a fourth wave of infections, with most cases occurring in those who are unvaccinated. But the Progressive Conservatives have declined to make education or health-care workers prove they’ve gotten a jab, despite both jobs putting staff in close contact with vulnerable people.
The latest policy update means anyone visiting a U of T campus will be required to first declare their vaccination status, and those who say no or decline to answer will need to take rapid-screening tests twice a week that produce a negative result within 72 hours of heading to campus.
“In the absence of a government mandate, we developed our policies using the tools available to us, including the advice of local public health authorities,” Spadafora said.
Students planning to live in campus residences were already required to get vaccinated, and the university had expanded that rule to those playing music or sports or taking placements last month.
But not requiring proof of vaccination status was a disappointment for a faculty union, which called the update “misleading and inadequate.”
“The communication was nothing more than a repackaging of the same policy that had been acknowledged by the administration as late as last week not to constitute a vaccine mandate,” said Terezia Zoric, the president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA).
“A provincial policy would help to remove confusion and ambiguity about the requirements for everyone in the post-secondary sector,” the university’s primary COVID-19 adviser, Prof. Salvatore Spadafora, said in a statement. #COVID #UofT #Ontario
“This is disappointing,” she said. “It is especially so because there is already a mechanism in place for U of T students living in residence to upload proof of vaccination.”
Student unions said they supported the policy, but more needed to be done, while the umbrella group of provincial faculty associations said the government should be enforcing stricter rules.
“I hope that in addition to such policies, the institution can provide vaccine clinics, PPE for students to use, and avoid overcrowded classrooms,” said Kayla Weiler, a national executive representative for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Students.
The university has hosted vaccine clinics and released a 12-step plan for the return to campus earlier in the summer.
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, of which UTFA is a member, said it wants the provincial government to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for in-person activities at all Ontario universities, with accommodations provided by institutions to those with valid reasons for requesting an exemption to the policy.
“With the rising concerns regarding the spread of the Delta variant and the other emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus, ensuring a high vaccination rate remains one of the most important and effective ways of protecting public health,” its executive said in a statement after the U of T announcement.
“It is essential to note that required vaccination is only part of what is needed for a safe return to campus,” it said, noting the need for public spending to deliver ventilation and air-quality measures dictated by public and occupational health authorities.
Students living at U of T residences (and nearby Ryerson University) and U of T community members engaging in certain activities were already required to be vaccinated.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer