In-person classes resume at UVic with mandatory masks, vaccine declaration

The fall term at the University of Victoria began Wednesday with a return to in-person classes after a year of predominantly distance learning, and a requirement that anyone who wants to be on campus declare their vaccine status, or submit to weekly testing.

More than 22,000 students are registered at UVic for the 2021-22 academic year — 87 per cent undergraduates and 13 per cent graduate students.

Students, faculty and staff are required to wear masks indoors, with masks provided free, and proof of vaccination will be required beginning Monday on campus for such things as dining and attending events, as per provincial rules. Vaccines are available at on-campus clinics.

Also in place is a “self-declaration system” in which students and UVic employees who plan to be on campus or attend an off-campus facility or event are required to declare their vaccination status by Sept. 26 in order to be exempt from rapid testing for COVID.

To avoid the testing, people must declare they have been fully vaccinated and provide documentation if required by the university. The list of acceptable vaccines includes those approved by Health Canada and the World Health Organization.

A website for self-declaration is accessible from a desktop computer or smartphone.

Students, faculty and staff who are not fully vaccinated or don’t complete the declaration must get weekly rapid nasal-swab screening tests at a testing station in the Continuing Studies Building on campus, according to UVic’s website. Tests are to be done on an appointment basis, with each appointment expected to take at least half an hour. The station is set to open on Monday.

The policy posted on UVic’s website says failure to adhere to the testing procedure, or providing a false declaration of vaccine status, “may result in discipline, loss of the ability to access UVic services or premises, or the loss of other privileges.”

Those who can’t be tested based on medical or other human-rights protected grounds can request an accommodation.

Test results will be provided to the university and those who test positive for COVID-19 will have to follow the university’s protocol, the website says.

UVic Faculty Association president Lynne Marks, whose group has 860 members, applauded the process for testing but said it took too long for the provincial government to approve it, which has left the university scrambling to put the system in place. She also said it’s good to see a “fairly clear” mask mandate, although some details are still being finalized.

The association launched a provincewide petition in August calling for masks and vaccinations to be mandatory at post-secondary institutions.

UVic president Kevin Hall said in statement the university will provide support for those with medical exemptions for masking and vaccination.

A UVic vaccination clinic continues Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the BiblioCafe, on the ground floor of the McPherson Library.

Third-year biology student Kaela Whittingham said most people at UVic have had two vaccinations, and the first day of classes appeared to go well in terms of mask use and distancing.

“Everyone’s been quite compliant with masks indoors,” she said. “Where possible, they tried to space things out.”

Robin Pollard, director of campaigns and community relations for the UVic Students’ Society, said lack of housing continues to be an issue for many students, despite a recent effort to get more people in the community to offer accommodation.

She said there has been talk of a student demonstration to bring attention to the need for places to stay.

Jim Dunsdon, UVic’s associate vice-president of student affairs, has called this year the most difficult for off-campus housing in his 13 years with the university, due in part to homeowners’ concerns about opening their homes to students, despite high rates of COVID-19 vaccination in that group.

Among first-year students, 2,100 had found places in university residences as of late August and 400 to 500 had not.

Approximately 750 more beds are expected to be added when new student housing opens in September 2022 and September 2023.

The UVic Students’ Society kicked off the first day back on campus with a pancake breakfast and will continue tonight with an outdoor showing of the movie Raya and the Last Dragon.

Activities for returning students continue Friday with a series of bands playing on the roof of the Student Union Building from noon to 4 p.m.

“We’re definitely trying to run all the events that we usually do, but then taking extra COVID precautions and definitely following COVID measures,” said Pollard, adding that includes masks and physical distancing.

On Friday, varsity sports will also kick off for the year with men’s and women’s soccer games.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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