Province announces partial mask and vaccine mandate on post-secondary campuses

After weeks of advocacy, masks and vaccines will now be required in some spaces at UBC.

Starting tomorrow, masks will be mandatory in indoor spaces across BC, including areas on campus. Meanwhile, vaccines will be required for students living in residence starting September 7 — the first day of classes — and for indoor events (sporting events, club meetings, etc.), gyms and restaurants. Vaccines will also be required for students in the health sciences.

Masks will be required in classrooms, labs, lobbies, hallways, elevators and stairwells and any other indoor public spaces.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang announced the new measures at a press conference earlier this morning.

“The pandemic has been difficult on students, faculty and staff at B.C.’s colleges, institutes and universities, and with these added measures we can continue to move forward and come back together safely,” Kang wrote in a follow up press release.

While vaccines will not be required in classrooms by the province, Kang emphasized that the mask mandate should keep students, staff and faculty safe in those settings. Henry affirmed that the classroom is not a “risky” setting in terms of COVID-19 transmission, the reason the province has mandated vaccines in residence and not classrooms.

“It’s incredibly important that we don’t put barriers in place for people receiving education, and that includes post-secondary education,” Henry said.

At the conference, Kang made it clear that universities can go beyond the vaccine mandates instituted by the public health order.

"Colleges and universities may choose to adopt their own vaccine policies, or ask for proof of vaccination that go beyond those set out in the provincial health order,” Kang said. “Those that do so should work with public health and will be responsible for doing their own due diligence."

UBC has not yet announced any further measures.

Henry clarified that while universities have autonomy to extend vaccination orders in certain spaces, they cannot institute broad vaccination requirements for all students.

However, UBC and other post-secondary institutions could require vaccinations for staff and faculty.

“As an employer, that is where they have some leeway to do that on their own, with advice from public health,” Henry said.

The announcement comes as calls for stricter mask and vaccine measures on campus from students, faculty and staff have grown.

In July, the AMS sent UBC and the Board of Governors two letters criticizing their failure to engage with student concerns and unwillingness to go beyond public health measures. Faculty groups released similar letters to both UBC and the provincial government.

UBC rejected these calls, citing its lack of legal power to go beyond the province’s public health measures, a point Kang contradicted today. Both President Santa Ono and the Board of Governors recently affirmed their support for stronger mask and vaccine measures, however.

In a press release published on Tuesday afternoon, the AMS applauded the changes, but questioned the consistency of the public health guidelines.

“Gatherings and events with less capacity than UBC’s largest lecture halls will see vaccine requirements, yet none seem to be currently planned for similarly sized lecture and classroom settings,” the AMS wrote in its release, asking for more clarity and transparency.

In-person classes start in 14 days.