COVID-19 UPDATE – AUGUST 25, 2021

COVID-19 UPDATE – AUGUST 25, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you may be aware, we received some positive news yesterday about government guidelines for the fall term.  The government has now introduced a mask mandate, so that masks will now be required in all indoor public spaces in the province. As the government statement notes “The mask order will apply in all indoor public areas on campus including lobbies, hallways, stairwells, elevators, classrooms and labs.”

For those who have asked about lecturing while masked, the Association will be asking for further guidance from the administration on this issue.

For the full government statement see:

https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021AEST0053-001664

As the statement above notes,  government has also introduced a partial vaccination mandate. Vaccination passports will be required for students in university residences, and everyone visiting restaurants, pubs, movie theatres, sporting events, gyms, concerts and other non-essential activities.​ For further information on vaccination requirements and mask mandates see UVic’s statement at:

https://www.uvic.ca/news/topics/2021+notice-mask-vaccine-updates+notice

The Association is pleased that there is now more certainty about safety plans for the rapidly approaching fall term.  However, we are very disappointed that the government does not permit the university to mandate vaccinations, or rapid testing, for all members of the university community, including students. Although the government’s statement (and Minister Kang’s statement at the press briefing yesterday) noted that “post-secondary institutions may implement their own proof of vaccine requirement as a part of these plans,” Dr. Bonnie Henry states that this only applies to employees, and that students cannot be required to be vaccinated to attend university classes. The Association has a number of concerns with this approach.  Dr. Henry’s ruling here means that BC universities are not allowed to follow the very sensible policy of requiring vaccinations (or rapid testing as an alternative) of all members of the university community, a policy that has now been put in place in almost all all universities across Canada.

The Association expresses its concern with this government policy in the following press release, developed in collaboration with other UVic unions: CUPE 4163, CUPE 951 and the Professional Employees Association, (PEA), UVic chapter.

https://www.uvicfa.ca/member-bulletins/news-release-august-24-2021/

The Association has also expressed its critique of the government’s policy in various media interviews, and will continue to advocate for a change in this policy, so that BC universities have the autonomy to decide for themselves how best to protect their employees and students.

Other issues related to fall teaching

Stage 3 and universities — The PHO has noted that, given rising case counts, the province will not be moving to Stage 4 of reopening on September 7, as previously planned.  While some members have noted that Stage 3 only allows 50 people or 50% capacity (whichever is greater) for indoor gatherings, it appears that this rule does not apply to university classrooms. We are seeking further clarification on this matter from the government, but it does currently seem that classes of 300 or more can still be held face to face in Stage 3. If we hear otherwise, we will let you know as soon as possible.

Pivot online? —  Some members have expressed concern that some members of the administration have encouraged faculty to prepare for a possible pivot online. We have asked for more information about this.  At this point, however, we seem to be in the same situation we have been for a few months — that we will continue teaching face to face, but that if case counts rise too high, then the Public Health Office may require a pivot online. This has been part of the administration’s planning for some time, but given higher case counts it has become more of a possibility than earlier in the summer.  We hope that

the increased safety measures now in place will prevent this from happening.

We’re aware that increased student absences for COVID-related reasons over the fall term will increase faculty workload, although the university has assured the Association that faculty will not be expected to teach both online and face to face. The university has also assured us that increased TA and sessional funding will be provided if extra work is needed. If you are told that no extra TA funding is available in such cases, don’t hesitate to let the Association know.

Ventilation–We had told you earlier in the summer that the university had upgraded most buildings to MERV 13, a level of filtration that can block most virus particles.  The Association had expressed concerns about the “naturally ventilated classrooms” that were only ventilated by doors and windows. I’m pleased to inform you that the university has told us that within two weeks the university “will have wall mounted HEPA Air Purifiers for the centrally booked naturally ventilated classrooms. Air purifiers will also be put in the 9 unit-managed classrooms in THEA and DTB that will have classes running.”  I’d like to thank Terri Lacourse for her strong advocacy regarding ventilation and other faculty safety issues as our rep on the University Safety Committee.

I’m aware that there are still many unanswered questions out there about the fall term. University representatives are meeting with the government to try and get more clarity and further details on a number of issues. The Association will do our best to keep you informed as we receive further information.

We will also hope that UVic students are sufficiently fun-loving and social that they will be motivated to get vaccinated, as they will be required to be if they want to involved in almost any facet of university life beyond the classroom. I would not advocate that you hold your classes in the grad pub, as one cynical tweeter suggested, but we can hope that requiring vaccination for all non-essential services will dramatically increase vaccination rates. And in the meantime, the Association will continue to advocate that BC universities be given the autonomy to set their own health and safety standards, something taken for granted in the rest of Canada.

I hope to have further details soon.

All the very best as you prepare for the coming term,

Lynne

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