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UBC student union calls for mandatory masks in classrooms, vaccines in residences

Click to play video: 'UBC student union calls for mandatory masks in classrooms, vaccines in residences' UBC student union calls for mandatory masks in classrooms, vaccines in residences
UBC's student union is calling on the university to make masks mandatory in lecture halls and vaccines mandatory in residences this fall - due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Kristen Robinson reports – Jul 25, 2021

UBC’s student union is calling on the university to make masks mandatory in lectures and vaccines mandatory in residences due to concern over COVID-19 spread.

The Alma Mater Society (AMS) recently commissioned a survey of students, which it says found strong support for both measures.

Read more: Vax up and mask up: How experts say B.C. can counter rising COVID-19 case numbers

According to Eshana Bhangu, AMS vice-president of academic and university affairs, more than 60 per cent of the nearly 8,000 respondents said they were concerned about exposure to COVID-19 in crowded lecture halls.

“Students just don’t want to be sitting in 200 to 300 person lecture halls side-by-side without masks. Quite frankly, faculty don’t feel safe teaching in them either,” she said.

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Masks have been recommended but are voluntary in indoor public places in B.C. since July 1.

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The survey found even stronger support for mandatory vaccinations for students living in residence, with 82 per cent backing the idea.

Read more: Delta variant of COVID-19 now makes up nearly 4 in 10 cases in B.C., data shows

Bhangu pointed to other Canadian universities such as Ryerson and the University of Toronto, both of which have mandated immunization for students living in residence and masks in lecture halls.

“There’s just one resounding message we’re hearing at the AMS, and that’s that UBC needs to do more,” she said.

In a letter responding to the student union, UBC’s vice-president for students Ainsley Carry said it was following the province’s COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Guidelines.

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“The (guidelines) state that post-secondary institutions should not introduce COVID-19 prevention measures into their work and learning areas that are different from those supported by public health professionals,” he wrote.

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“These guidelines are not a minimum standard as referred to in your letter, but a high standard that has been set by the Provincial Health Officer.”

The university said it was following those guidelines in not requiring vaccination or disclosure of vaccine status.

Read more: 96% of COVID-19 cases are among those not fully vaccinated, B.C. health officials say

It added that there had been “very few issues” with COVID in residences over the past 18 months and that the university was working to facilitate vaccine access for students and international students.

But Bhangu argues that the return-to-campus guidelines are just that, guidelines.

She said the university showed leadership earlier in the pandemic when it required students to wear masks a month before the province made them mandatory.

“I’m not sure why we’re not doing it now,” she said.

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