Quebec’s move to tighten COVID-19 restrictions in post-secondary institutions is prompting mixed reactions, ranging from relief about the new measures to concerns that they don’t go far enough as the start of the school year looms.
Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that masks will be mandatory while seated in the classrooms of universities and CEGEPs, the province’s junior colleges.
The new directive comes as novel coronavirus cases continue to climb and officials are concerned about students heading back to class as the pandemic continues. The reopening plan had previously only required students to wear masks in common areas.
Diane Gauvin, director general of Dawson College in Montreal, said the administration is ready and excited to welcome back students and staff — but she is also happy about the mask mandate.
“I do believe that this was the right thing to do with the variant,” Gauvin said.
“I think that all of the colleges are relieved to see that this has been implemented. I think that it will reassure the students and the teachers in this environment.”
The Regroupement des cégeps de Montréal, which represents 12 English and French-language CEGEPs on the island, says it is prioritizing safety as students head back to class.
The organization notes that all of its member CEGEPs “will ensure throughout the semester the implementation of sanitary measures required by the Public Health Department and the Ministry of Higher Education, particularly with regard to the mandatory mask wearing.”
The Quebec government’s decision to make masks mandatory is also in line with the additional rules already announced by universities like McGill, Concordia and Bishops. Those universities had stricter precautions than the province’s initial reopening plan.
What about a vaccine mandate?
The McGill Association of University Teachers has expressed concerns, though. It sent a letter asking the university to implement a vaccine mandate as part of its COVID-19 measures.
“It’s hard to enact a vaccine mandate at any good time,” said Renee Sieber, president-elect of the association. “So why not now? Especially when the province is finally contemplating vaccine passports.”
A vaccine mandate would help protect students and staff during an evolving pandemic, she added.
McGill, for its part, said in a statement to Global News that it encourages its community to follow the vaccination directives set out by the province.
“At this point in time, our view is that unless the government mandates vaccination, in the Quebec context, we cannot legally require it,” the university said.
Quebec is implementing a COVID-19 vaccine passport system in September, but only to access certain non-essential services like restaurants and bars.
The province has not made proof of vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for its education system, except for students who are doing clinical trials in hospitals. It is also obligatory in high schools for older students to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports.
Some universities in Ontario have already implemented a vaccine mandate ahead of the new school year — including the University of Ottawa.
In the meantime, some CEGEPs will be hosting pop-up vaccination events as an additional measure to fight the pandemic.
“We want to send a very clear message to our communities, that vaccination is extremely important,” Gauvin from Dawson College said. “We will do everything in our power to support vaccination.”
—With files from The Canadian Press