Student perspectives on campus COVID policy￼
Return to campus fraught
The Winter 2022 term at the University of Regina started with remote learning. Course add/drop deadlines were updated to allow students to make necessary changes to their plans, and students were also asked to provide evidence of having received a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe took to social media to state his feeling that it is time to get on with life, that COVID-19 is now a part of the rest of our lives, and we must find ways to live with it.
Towards this end, on February 14, Saskatchewan became the first province in Canada to revoke the vaccine requirement in public spaces, the need for self-isolation and monitoring of symptoms by anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, and also announced a date for the removal of the mask mandate. Strictly speaking, private businesses are still allowed to have their own health and safety measures; most have been happy to drop their vaccine requirement and are potentially going to drop the masking requirement as soon as the province does.
Soon after the announcement of relaxation of public health measures by the province, the University of Regina announced their own policies. The university is still going to ask for proof of vaccination from regular visitors to campus such as faculty, staff, and students enrolled in courses. Masking requirement stays in place until further notice. All individuals who are going to be on campus were also urged to regularly self-administer rapid antigen tests.
On February 24, an email to the student body announced that the Spring/Summer 2022 semester will see a full return to university facilities and operations, with all health requirements revoked. While the official email says students who wish to wear a mask are welcome to do so, it seems likely that many will hesitate to do so. We reached out to a few students to find out their thoughts on the evolving situation in the province and on campus.
What are your thoughts on the removal of vaccine requirements in the city, and the upcoming removal of the masking requirement?
N: “I don’t really know. I think that the city believes they are doing what is best. I think that the removal of the mask mandate is premature, as COVID cases are still on the rise, but if the government thinks this is the best course of action then what can we do?”
Gillian: “I am frustrated with the removal of vaccine requirements. I feel like we have folded to peer pressure. It makes no sense to remove masks, the transmission rates will skyrocket and the healthcare system will crumble.”
Nathan: “I believe the removal of the vaccination and masking requirements is an impulsive decision done to appease a very vocal minority. I believe this increases the risk to the already vulnerable population. It has already been shown that there is an increase in deaths since the announcement so it will probably continue to rise until more people in Regina catch COVID and overwhelm our already overwhelmed hospitals.”
Tayef: “As the vaccine requirement comes from the provincial government, I blame the provincial government. While I agree to a return to normal, ignoring current public health data is not a clever approach to dealing with the pandemic. The U of R is not a big university, and with the classes being held in cramped rooms, we are likely to see outbreaks of COVID-19 cases. There is no way to be safe on campus. I hope at least the mask requirement stays and test kits be made available for students.
The campus continues to have a vaccine requirement for regular visitors, but not infrequent visitors. What are your thoughts on this?
Gillian: “As a person who lives in residence, I no longer feel safe in my own home with the fact that there will be unvaccinated infrequent visitors. If students hold a dorm party (…) we could have a massive outbreak on campus.”
Nathan: “I think they should keep it consistent and still require everyone to have their vaccinations, but I do understand that since the government is removing all requirements it puts the university in a tougher position to have a tougher mandate on who is allowed to visit.”
Tayef: “I believe that vaccination is the way to get out of the pandemic. I hope the U of R community believes in vaccination, and gets vaccinated before returning to campus. Adapting to the truth and ditching the conspiracy theories around vaccination is crucial.”
Sameer: “Although statistically, the infrequent visitors have a much lower risk to spread the virus, I feel there should still be a vaccination requirement.”
It appears that the campus will have a masking requirement in place for the rest of the Winter 2022 semester. Do you feel this is adequate and/or fair to the student body in general?
N: “I think that having the mask mandate is good because with people coming back on campus, I want to make sure that it is as safe as can possibly be on campus, which includes wearing masks when indoors.”
Tayef: “At this point, it is hard to know what is adequate, but wearing masks is the least we can do. However, if there is any new variant or the spread becomes uncontrollable, I would expect the government and university to take measures to protect everyone, instead of believing the rhetoric of “Learn to live with the virus.” There is no learning to live with something that kills fellow citizens, we cannot be that selfish and ignorant.”
Sameer: “I feel this is a crucial step to ensuring the safety of everyone on campus. COVID is a global pandemic that is taking lives, affecting economies, and causing crises. Considering all that, I don’t think having a mandatory masking requirement is a big issue.”
Once the masking requirement is lifted in the city/province and campus, do you think you will continue to wear a mask? Why or why not?
N: “I think I will continue to wear a mask in crowded places such as the university, grocery stores, etc. I have gotten used to wearing a mask and feeling safe with it on and it is going to be a big change when people have the option of whether or not they want to wear a mask. I will continue to wear one so I can be as safe as possible.”
Gillian: “I think that I will continue to wear a mask because I do not want to get sick, have to miss class, get behind on class, fail because I missed class, and then cry because I failed and have crippling student debt.”
Nathan: “Once the mandate is lifted, I feel I would still continue to wear my mask as I see it as an extra protection for myself and others, at least until COVID becomes more endemic in nature.”
Tayef: “As long as COVID is here, I will wear masks in public spaces. There will be some changes to our surroundings, but we remain responsible to act logically and fairly.”
Sameer: “I will continue to wear a mask until the cases in the city have dropped substantially. The mask does not restrict my freedom in any way, but provides safety against the virus. Arguments such as “not all masks are 100% effective” can be made, but something is better than nothing.”
Tayef added “I am devastated that the university administration has continuously avoided questions and made last-minute changes. Students had to fight for many things when they should have been focusing on their studies and mental health. I also stand in solidarity with the faculty members who have done everything they can to provide proper education. I know COVID has been stressful for everybody, and we actively cooperated with everything initially. The decision to come back to campus led to the loss of thousands of dollars for students who had to pay for accommodation and move from different countries. Many international students would have come here in Fall if classes remained online for this semester. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Students are always the victim.”
Sameer also added a message for his fellow students: “Please get your vaccines. Please wear a mask when out in a public space. We can all get through this tough time, but only if we all come together as a society and do our part: take precautions.”