Western University mandating booster dose, masks in return to campus

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press
Western University mandating booster dose, masks in return to campus

LONDON, Ont. — Western University announced Monday staff and students who return to campus next month will be required to have at least one booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and wear masks in classrooms. 

The London, Ont., university’s updated vaccine policy requires a booster dose — usually equivalent to a third shot — for students, employees, and some visitors to its campus. 

“While we can’t predict when the next wave of COVID-19 might come, we believe these measures will help us protect the in-person experience that Western is known for,” said provost Florentine Strzelczyk, in a statement posted to the university’s website announcing the updated policy. 

The university said proof of vaccination documents must be submitted by Oct. 1. 

Students living in residence who do not have a booster before they arrive will be offered a two-week “grace period” and “easy access” to a campus vaccination clinic, the university said. 

Third-dose uptake in the 18-29 age group is currently about 39 per cent in Ontario, lower than any other adult age group. By comparison, roughly 85 per cent in that young adult cohort have two vaccine doses.

The updated policies come after University of Toronto announced last month it would require those living in residence to have a booster shot, and recommended all others keep their vaccinations up to date. 

Toronto Metropolitan University said last week in a post to its website its vaccine and mask mandates would remain suspended for the fall semester, although it noted it may need to reinstate the requirements, should public health indicators change. 

The president of the University Students’ Council at Western, which represents undergraduate students, said he was “aware of students’ concerns about the recent COVID updates” shared by the university. 

“We are in the process of collecting feedback and elevating student voices to decision makers,” said president Ethan Gardner, in an emailed statement. 

Some visitors are exempt from the university’s updated vaccine requirements, including visiting athletes, prospective students and patients receiving care at a university-operated clinic. 

Staff and students granted a medical or Ontario Human Rights Code accommodation to the vaccine requirements will have to take regular rapid COVID-19 tests to attend campus this fall, according to an FAQ posted on the university website. 

People who recently received a second dose and are waiting to be eligible for a third dose are considered compliant with the policy. Under the policy, they must get a booster within two weeks of becoming eligible.

Western will also require people to wear medical-grade masks in instructional space, except while presenting, performing, facilitating or speaking to a group. The announcement said the university would reassess after the Thanksgiving weekend, “with the goal to lift the mask mandate as soon as possible.”

In a post to its website last week, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association called on the university to confirm its health protocols for the upcoming semester and advocated for mandatory indoor masking.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2022.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version based on information on Western’s website said that people would be exempted from its requirement to wear medical-grade masks in instructional spaces if they could remain two metres apart. The university has since corrected that to say the exemption to wearing medical-grade masks is for when people are presenting, performing, facilitating, or speaking to a group.

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