University rethinks mask policy, now mandating use indoors

Starting September 16, UBC will be mandating non-medical masks indoors on campus, President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono announced in a broadcast email on September 11.

The mandate applies to shared indoor spaces in UBC buildings, such as “hallways, stairways, building entryways, washrooms and study spaces, classrooms, common areas in residences and other high-traffic areas.”

This announcement follows the university’s decision in recent months not to mandate masks on campus and comes on the heels of the AMS announcing Nest visitors will be required to wear masks.

In an August interview with The Ubyssey, Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said that the university would be focusing on reinforcing physical distancing and cleaning high-touch points on campus to limit the transmission of COVID-19 among members of the UBC community instead of mandating the use of masks.

The university said it was following the direction of Vancouver Coastal Health and provincial health authorities. In the province’s July 31 COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines for post-secondary institutions, it defined the usage of a non-medical mask as “a matter of personal choice.”

In today’s broadcast, Ono continued to emphasize the importance of physical distancing, but wrote that “wearing a non-medical mask is one step you can take to protect yourself, your friends, your colleagues and your community.”

Ono told CBC yesterday morning that UBC was changing its mask policy after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced increasing active COVID-19 case numbers over the past week.

Some exceptions apply. Ono wrote that people with “underlying medical conditions that inhibit their ability to wear masks” will be eligible for an exemption.

“Masks may also be removed when taking part in certain athletic or fitness activities and in situations where wearing a mask impedes delivery and receiving of services,” Ono wrote.