B.C., UVic clarify return-to-campus plans

Campus News Provincial

Vaccines are not mandatory, masks are a “personal choice”

David Strong Building with COVID-19 notices on the doors
COVID-19 notices at the entrance of the David Strong Building. The campus remains mostly deserted after UVic discontinued in-person classes in March. Photo by Michael John Lo.

After a full year of predominantly online learning, UVic students are going to be heading back to campus in the fall. B.C.’s new Return-to-Campus Guidelines clarify some of the key details about the return. Although the implementation of these guidelines depends on the spread of COVID-19, they are very different from those in place last year. 

According to the guidelines, students will not need to socially distance in class. Lecture halls of 150 students can be filled with 150 students, for example. Masks will be a “personal choice” and vaccines will not be mandatory. Social events, including parties, club events, and nightclubs, can go ahead. 

Everyone coming to UVic is expected to check themselves daily for COVID-19 symptoms. People who are sick should stay home. The province has asked that institutions ensure students are not disadvantaged if they have to miss class for illness. 

Residence will also be able to house more students. In the 2020-2021 academic year, just 700 of the usual 2 300 students lived in residence. This year, residence will be back to full capacity or close to it. The province is asking universities to set aside one to two per cent of beds in case students need to self-isolate. 

In the fall, student events like the UVSS’s Campus Kick-Off can take place. Parties and nightclubs can return, with no limits on capacity. Limits on spectators at sporting events will also be lifted. 

All post-secondary institutions will be required to create a communicable disease plan, which will detail how they will respond to diseases like COVID-19 and maintain health and safety measures. Over the next two months, restrictions on room capacity and in offices at UVic will gradually be lifted. 

“The goal for the fall is to transition from highly prescriptive COVID-19 specific orders and protocols back to normal institutional policies and guidance on occupational health and safety,” the guideline’s introduction reads. 

B.C. health officials held two town halls on the return-to-campus plans before the new guidelines were announced. In the town halls, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, noted that everyone over the age of 18 will be eligible to receive their second dose by September, including international students. 

Henry added that she is mindful of students’ mental health and the challenges of online learning.

“I know there’s a wide variety of anxieties and confidence that people have about how we’re going to move through the next few months,” Henry said. “Our plan is to support you in every way that we can to make sure that it is a safe environment as we move into the fall.”

There aren’t many students on campus just yet but changes are starting. At present, B.C. is in the third stage of its reopening plan. Masks are no longer required in indoor spaces at UVic. Indoor and outdoor sports are back on, with some limitations on spectators. Restrictions have also been lifted for food services. 

B.C. has reported a steep decline in cases and deaths, with the most recent data indicating 602 active cases and 22 people in intensive care. As of July 7, there are three active COVID-19 cases in the south Vancouver Island area. There are 14 active cases in Island Health.