COVID-19 Update – July 26, 2021
I hope that all is well with you all, and that you are having some time to relax and enjoy the summer weather.
I wanted to give you an update about the campus reopening, specifically about Step 3 of BC’s Restart Plan, so that you are aware of what COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations are currently in effect on campus. In this email I will also address some of the University’s plans for the fall, and the Association’s responses to them. Finally, I will also provide some information about UVic’s Expedited Process for Temporary COVID-19 Medical Accommodations.
First, I am pleased to inform you that our newest staff member, Nathan Todd, who joined us last fall, has now taken on some membership services responsibilities, working with current membership services officers Reuben Kellen and Ben Johnson. Nathan was President of his CUPE local in Hamilton, serving sessional lecturers, postdocs and TAs at McMaster, and so has considerable experience in membership services work in an academic context. We’re very pleased that more of our members are turning to the Association when they need support, and I know that Nathan will be a great addition to our membership services team.
Current Restart Plans
In my last COVID-19 update on June 2, I indicated that the safe work plans and health and safety protocols in effect at that time would change in the near future. This has now happened. Step 3 of BC’s Restart Plan (July 1 – Sept 7) can be characterized as a transition period where there is a gradual reduction of COVID-specific restrictions on campus.
As such, the COVID-19 Safe Work Plan (SWP) – Addendum (April 27, 2021) is no longer in effect. As of July 1, 2021, the province entered Step 3 of BC’s Restart Plan.
In Step 3, employers are no longer required to maintain a COVID-19 Safety Plan, and can instead transition to communicable disease prevention guidance from WorkSafeBC. UVic made this transition on July 15.
The mask mandate order under the Emergency Program Act was also lifted on July 1.
In accordance with current guidance from the PHO, WorkSafe BC, and the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guidelines, UVic has also developed the following plans and guidelines:
- restart plan,
- communicable disease plan,
- transitional safety measures, and
- return to campus info for faculty & staff.
If you have any concerns about the current guidelines and how they impact or could potentially impact your working conditions, please feel free to contact one of our Membership Services Advisors:
Reuben Kellen [email protected]
Ben Johnson [email protected]
Nathan Todd [email protected]
The Association recently collaborated with the GSS, CUPE 951, CUPE 4163, and the PEA on a letter to the Administration which expressed our shared concerns about some elements of UVic’s re-opening plans for the fall.
Our shared concerns were centred around upgraded ventilation, mask mandates, proper resources to support student absences and accommodations, and clarity around delivering instruction to upper level undergraduate and graduate international students who are unable to leave their home countries due to travel restrictions.
In response, the University informed us that the filter upgrade project for UVic buildings will be completed ahead of September with greater than 90% of the primary filters in HVAC systems that recirculate air having the high COVID-virus filter rating (e.g. MERV 13). While promising news, we still do not know which buildings cannot be upgraded, and therefore in which buildings it would be advisable to wear a mask due to the lower quality ventilation. The University’s response indicated that they would follow the PHO guidelines.
In regard to mask mandates in classrooms or other situations where faculty are required to work in close quarters with others, the University has stated that they are expected to defer to the BC Public Health Office (PHO) guidance. When asked, they state that current PHO guidelines mean that both currently and in the fall, while individuals can choose to wear a mask, faculty members will not be able require students in their classes to wear masks, and for privacy reasons they also cannot survey their classes about the vaccination status of students.
An increasing number of universities in Ontario are requiring that students who enter residence this fall provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, and Seneca College in Toronto will now require proof of vaccination of all students attending in person classes in the fall. Many American universities are now requiring proof of vaccination for students returning to campus. In British Columbia post-secondary institutions are expected to follow more government direction than is the case in Ontario, and the BC PHO does not appear to be supportive of mandatory vaccinations in BC post-secondary institutions. Nonetheless, the UBC student society (the AMS) is calling on the UBC administration to require proof of vaccination for all students entering residence and to mandate masks in lecture halls.
As September approaches, and with growing legitimate concerns about the spread of the Delta variant, and with well over 20 percent of 20-30 year olds remaining unvaccinated, I have been contacted by an increasing number of members who are concerned that current UVic plans for the fall will not ensure their safety and that of their families and their students. These are reasonable concerns, given the number of people (including all children under 12) who remain unvaccinated, as well as the possibility of breakthrough infections and the significant implications of “long COVID” faced by some of those infected.
The Faculty Association will shortly be sending out a survey to members to determine member perspectives on mandatory proof of vaccinations for all members of the university community who will be working or studying on campus, as well as their opinions regarding mask mandates, and whether instructors should be permitted to require that students wear masks in their classrooms.
We are currently asking the University to seek assurances from the government that instructors would be within their rights to ask students to wear masks in their classrooms in the fall. This level of autonomy for instructors seems a minimum assurance that the government can provide to our members. We know that the University has a shared interest with the Association in the safety of our members and all members of the broader university community. We urge the University to seek assurances from the government that University instructors can have the autonomy to require that students wear masks in their classrooms, and to advocate for the University having the autonomy to set standards they consider necessary to ensure the safety of the university community.
The PHO’s standards are intended to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID cases. This is a desirable goal. But the University should be permitted to set higher standards, using basic common sense methods that can keep members of its community safe from the serious and potentially life-threatening impact of COVID.
Those Members who face higher risks from COVID due to medical or other personal factors may require accommodations that would allow them to teach online. 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.
For those who are wondering whether any other practitioner other than a physician can fill out the COVID accommodation form, we have received a response from the administration which indicates that at present medical documentation for an accommodation is to be completed by a physician or medical specialist (e.g. an oncologist, immunologist etc). A non-medical care provider can provide evidence to a physician or medical specialist should they not be aware of care plans (i.e. a clinical counsellor or nurse practitioner could write to the physician). The University is apparently initiating a project to look at the possible use of nurse practitioners in filling out the medical documentation form, but that is not currently an option.
If you have any questions about the accommodation process, or need support on an active accommodation request, please feel free to contact one of our Membership Services Advisors:
Reuben Kellen [email protected]
Ben Johnson [email protected]
Nathan Todd [email protected]
You should also be aware that if your accommodation is not approved, 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.
Thanks to Ben Johnson for his work on this communication.
I hope that COVID-19 news becomes more positive over the next few weeks, and that if it does not, that the University will advocate with the government and work with the Association to ensure that our members, their families and the entire university community are safe as possible as we return to face to face instruction in September.
All the very best,