COVID-19 UPDATE – June 02, 2021

COVID-19 UPDATE – June 02, 2021

Message from Association President

Dear Colleagues,

As you are aware, in keeping with advice given by the Provincial Health Officer, the University is working towards a return to primarily on-campus and in-person activities in September. The plan is that this will be done safely through a combination of public immunization, and the implementation of appropriate health and safety protocols. This email provides further information on these issues, including information on how to request accommodations related to fall teaching.

 Ventilation

The Association has received a number of questions and concerns from members about return to face-to-face teaching in the fall. Some of the questions relate to the nature of ventilation in classrooms, given the current recognition of the central role of aerosols in the transmission of the virus. We have been told that many buildings on campus already have the higher efficiency filters (MERV 13) required to properly filter virus particles, and that the University is currently assessing which additional buildings can be equipped with these filters. For more information on efforts to improve ventilation in UVic buildings go to https://www.uvic.ca/ohse/covid-19/ventilation/index.php. The Association will continue to advocate on your behalf regarding ventilation issues.

 Masks

The Association has also received a number of questions about whether members will be able to wear masks in the classroom, and whether they will be able to require students to wear masks. The University has not provided definitive answers to such questions, as they will be guided on these matters by the Public Health Office directives. At this time it appears that the Public Health Office will not mandate masks in the fall. The Association will continue to advocate that members be able wear masks in the classroom and have the option to require masks of their students. This is particularly important in classrooms that cannot be brought up to adequate ventilation standards.

 Mandatory Vaccinations

Dr. Bonnie Henry is optimistic that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will have had access to two vaccinations by mid-August or earlier.  We have been asked if the University will mandate vaccinations for students and University employees.  While many American universities have mandated vaccinations for returning students, this has generally not been done in Canada. However, Western University has recently mandated vaccinations for students entering residence in the fall. We will monitor the situation to see if other Canadian universities follow Western’s lead here. We are aware that the province will be offering vaccinations to international students and their family members who arrive in Canada without having had access to vaccinations. 

There do not appear to be plans to have a vaccination clinic on campus in the fall, although plans may change in that regard. In terms of employees, it is our understanding that legal precedent makes it impossible for employers to require that employees be vaccinated. However, the Association very much encourages our members to seek vaccination unless health issues make this impossible for you. Vaccination protects us, our families and the broader community.

 Online teaching

While the Association was pleased that the University increased the number of exceptions possible to allow some online teaching for the fall (to include, for example, pedagogical reasons), we are concerned that there has not always been as much flexibility in this regard as we might have hoped, and as has been possible at other Canadian universities. If you have any concerns about this issue, the Association would be pleased to advocate on your behalf.  More generally, the Association is concerned that other universities leave the mode of course delivery to unit or decanal decision making whereas we have been told that at UVic Senate will play a role in these matters. This does not reflect past practice, and is an issue we will continue to address with the University.

 Requesting Accommodation

While it appears that the general plan and protocols should be sufficient to keep most Members safe and COVID-free, some Members may face higher risks due to medical or other personal factors and may therefore require accommodations beyond what is in the overall return to campus plan. The University has developed a set of tools to help expedite the process of requesting COVID-related accommodations based on physical and/or mental health and family status. Further information about how the University will process accommodation requests is available here.

The basic premise for a medical accommodation is that a Member may have functional limitations due to a diagnosed disability, including medical vulnerability to COVID-19 or adverse outcomes from COVID-19, and/or a mental health condition that impairs their ability to perform some or all of the activities required to teach face-to-face. A mental health condition may include an anxiety disorder, among other possible conditions. If you believe that any of the above possibilities might apply to you, you should prepare to consult with a physician and ask them to complete the COVID-specific physician’s form, available here. In addition to providing your physician with a copy of the form to complete we recommend that you collect the following documents and information:

It is very important that you be aware that these safe work plans are intended for the current situation, and will very likely not be in place in September.  While there will in all likelihood be some safety protocols still in place in September, the Public Health Office has made it clear that the assumption is that by September face to face teaching will not require any social distancing or the use of masks.

The form indicates that physicians should comment on measures that are necessary to enable you to undertake face-to-face duties that go beyond measures currently in place. We recommend that you also discuss what measures currently in place may need to be maintained in order to make it possible for you to teach face to face, given the Public Health Office’s assumptions that social distancing and masking will not be required by September. 

Once you have a form completed by a physician, you should submit that completed form to Kelly Simpson (kellysimpson@uvic.ca), Work Life Consultant for Faculty and Librarians. She will develop a proposed accommodation plan based on your physician’s recommendations. You are not required to share any personal medical details with any other University staff or management. The administration has indicated that they anticipate that most approved accommodations may take the form of converting a course (or courses) to online delivery. Your physician should also consider impacts to your research and service requirements.

The basic premise for a family status accommodation is that a Member may have family responsibilities that cannot be performed or discharged by others, and which would be significantly disrupted or present undue hazards to vulnerable relatives in a Member’s care by a return to in-person teaching in September. A Member seeking an accommodation on the basis of family status should be prepared to explain their present circumstances and responsibilities, the disruption that a return to face-to-face teaching in September will cause, and any alternatives to continued remote work or other accommodations that have been considered and dismissed. Family status accommodations will normally be requested through your Chair, Director or Supervising Librarian.

If you have any questions about your circumstances or the application process, please contact the Association’s Membership Services staff: Reuben Kellen (msofa@uvic.ca) and Ben Johnson (advisorfa@uvic.ca).  You should also be aware that if your accommodation is not approved, that you may be able to apply again at a later time as the situation develops and more information becomes available. You also have the right under the Collective Agreement to grieve a decision to not approve an accommodation request.  If you wished to file a grievance, you would need to contact one of our Membership Services staff.

 Refusing unsafe work

If your accommodation request is not accepted, or if you wish to take another route and believe that face to face teaching remains unsafe, you have the right to refuse unsafe work under s. 3.12(1) of WorkSafe BC, OH&S regulations – Refusal of Unsafe Work Process. See https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/create-manage/rights-responsibilities/refusing-unsafe-work and https://www.uvic.ca/ohse/assets/docs/refusalprocess.pdf. You should be aware, however, that if the University has put in place government mandated safety protocols, it is our understanding that your refusal may not be supported by the government inspector who would assess your claim.

We are optimistic that the situation will be much improved by the fall, but it is important that you are aware of your options. If you have any questions about these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me or our Membership Services Officers.

All the very best,

Lynne

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