University of Waterloo brings back mask mandate in indoor instructional areas

A group of Western University students hold a protest against the school's COVID-19 mandates on Saturday Aug. 27, 2022. The University of Waterloo is returning to required masking for indoor activities that are part of academic instruction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nicole Osborne

The University of Waterloo is reinstating a mask requirement for classes, saying Tuesday that it was making the move to avoid potential disruption to the exam season as cases of respiratory illnesses rise.

The southern Ontario university said masks will be required starting Wednesday in lectures, seminars, labs, tests, exams and all other forms of indoor classes.

“Recently, we have seen increases in local COVID-19 hospitalizations, and there are emerging trends from test positivity and wastewater that suggest increasing levels of COVID in the community now and in the near future,” university leaders wrote in a message to students.

“These trends mean we need to act now to minimize disruption to the end-of-term exam season and to protect the most vulnerable people in our community.”

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In a similar note sent to instructors, the university noted that recent data pointed to increased levels of both COVID-19 and other airborne diseases.

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Students may also be required to wear masks in other settings, like when meeting with an instructor, the university said. Masks can be removed when teaching or presenting if physical distancing is maintained, it added.

The masking requirement does not apply in non-instructional settings like food courts or residences, though the university is strongly encouraging masking in all indoor settings.

“If you are not sure what to do: wear a mask,” the university told students.

Many universities in the province suspended their COVID-19 masking policies before heading into the new academic year in September, but several said that could change in the future depending on recommendations from public health authorities.

A few universities still have previous mask requirements in place.

Western University has said its mask mandate will be in place until the end of the fall term.

Click to play video: 'Quebec public health director advises people with symptoms to wear mask, stay home'
Quebec public health director advises people with symptoms to wear mask, stay home

Seneca College, which said last month that it would drop its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy in the new year, also has a mask requirement in effect until further notice.

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Ontario’s top doctor said recently that the province is expected to see a “triple threat” of a bad flu season, COVID-19 and the resurgence of a childhood viral illness this fall and winter.

Dr. Kieran Moore said people who are particularly vulnerable to respiratory viruses should be masking again.

Moore has also said that if COVID-19 starts affecting the ability to reduce the surgical backlog, he would suggest the government make a recommendation on masking in certain indoor settings, and if there are further effects he would recommend reinstating mask mandates.

As of Nov. 2, there were 1,796 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the province, Moore said, with 138 in intensive care.

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