University of Western Ontario: Western requires COVID-19 booster and masking in instructional spaces this fall

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Western University is implementing vaccine and masking requirements this September to safeguard the health of its community and provide the best in-person learning experience for the coming school year.

Measures include requiring students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and to have received one booster, and to be masked in classrooms and seminar rooms.

“We will soon be welcoming students to campus from across the country and around the world,” said Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice-president (academic). “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. We want to do everything we can to offer our students a great on-campus experience throughout the academic year.”

Updated vaccination policy: Booster shot required

After extensive consultation with its science experts and its community, Western has updated its COVID-19 vaccination policy effective Aug. 22, 2022. At a minimum, all students, faculty, staff and some visitors to campus are required to have been vaccinated and have one booster shot (generally, three doses in total) of any combination of COVID-19 vaccines recognized by Health Canada. 

The updated policy requires all students, faculty, and staff to submit current proof of vaccination to the university by Oct. 1, 2022.

Students living in residence will need to get their booster dose before moving in. However, Western will offer a two-week grace period – and easy access to the campus vaccination clinic – for those students unable to get a booster before they arrive.

International students and others arriving from outside Canada must follow federal vaccination requirements for entry to Canada.

Last year, Western was the first university in Canada to require vaccination for students in residence and among the first requiring vaccination for all students and employees, resulting in a 99 per cent vaccination rate on campus.

“This decision supports the safety of our students, employees and our community with the goal of preserving our in-person experience,” said Dr. Sonya Malone, Western’s occupational health physician. “The last school year showed us that our campus community was on board with the masking and vaccination policy, which was the key to successfully completing the fall and winter terms in person.”

Mandatory masks in instructional spaces

Effective September 1, 2022, Western requires the use of medical-grade (ASTM level 3) masks indoors in instructional spaces for degree credit courses such as classrooms, labs and seminar rooms. Those presenting, performing, facilitating, or speaking to a group may remove their masks. The university will reassess the need for masking beyond the Thanksgiving weekend, with the goal to lift the mask mandate as soon as possible.

In 2020, Western was among the first universities in the country to require mask-wearing, when infectious disease experts determined it was an effective way to slow transmission of the virus.

“Universities are in a unique position as they welcome back thousands of people from different countries around the world, many with varying rates of vaccination,” said Dr. Saverio Stranges, public health physician and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and co-author of “Global Vaccine Equity to End the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Canadian Perspective and Call to Action”, recently published in the International Journal of Public Health.

“Mitigating the risk of transmission of COVID-19 as well as of severe outcomes from the infection can be effectively achieved with a combination of masking and vaccination,” said Stranges. “This also reduces severity of symptoms and protects those immunocompromised individuals in our community. There is no doubt that this approach will help keep people out of hospitals and preserve on-campus teaching and learning.”

A comprehensive approach

Western is continuing to take additional health measures to keep the community safe, including:

High ventilation standards: Western meets or exceeds industry recommendations for ventilation in all buildings and classrooms and extra measures continue to ensure ventilation systems are maintained and optimized to maximize health and safety.
On-campus testing: Western continues to operate an on-campus testing and vaccination clinic, with extended hours starting the week of Aug. 22.
Daily health screening: All those coming to campus are encouraged to complete the province’s COVID-19 self-assessment tool each day.
Enhanced cleaning: Western remains focused on enhanced cleaning and sanitization efforts in dining, washrooms and high-traffic areas.
Wastewater testing: Western will continue its early detection system to monitor the presence of COVID-19 through regular wastewater sample testing across campus.
“Together, these measures will help us deliver on our academic and research missions and proceed with plans for in-person classes and events this fall,” said Strzelczyk. “As always, we will continue to monitor COVID-19 transmission and adjust our plans as needed.”

Strzelczyk acknowledged that each university is taking an approach that makes sense for their unique community. “At Western, we believe – and our experts agree – that our approach this fall is the best route to supporting a healthy community and providing a consistent, engaging on-campus experience for our students.”

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