Santa Ono affirms support for mask, vaccine mandate on campus

After weeks of UBC saying it would not institute a mask or vaccine mandate, President Santa Ono has come out in support of the two policies.

The AMS, the Faculty Association and the Association of Administrative and Professional Staff have all demanded mask and vaccine mandates on campus in recent weeks, and have asked for more transparency from the university in regards to reopening and the university’s relationship with public health.

In a blog post on August 13, Ono wrote that he was in favour of mandatory indoor masking and vaccination.

“First, I believe that instituting both will be critical to allow us to start the term with the confidence of our community,” Ono wrote. “Second, just as the Provincial Health Officer has mandated vaccination for all working in long term care facilities, I think we should do the same, at least in high-density residences and high contact circumstances such as Varsity athletics and theatre/music, in light of the surge in cases driven by the delta variant of SARS-CoV2.”

Ono and the Board of Governors have faced criticism about their responses — or lack thereof — to community concerns about the return to campus. Ono wrote that he has been listening.

“I want to assure you that we understand your concerns and, supported by the Board of Governors, we are engaging with the provincial government on these issues,” he said.

During an August 12 press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that the Public Health Office (PHO) would have more information regarding vaccine and mask policies at post-secondary institutions next week.

“These are questions we are addressing with our provincial committee … we’ve always had a collaborative approach," Henry said.

Ono addressed several concerns that have been expressed by students, faculty and staff over the past few weeks. This includes improving ventilation systems within classrooms — “we are doubling our efforts to ensure university spaces meet or exceed guidelines” — and better access to testing and vaccinations.

“We are taking every step possible to ensure the health and safety of every member of our community,” he wrote.

Members of the UBC community welcomed the announcement online, but some wished Ono had gone further.

“What I’m not clear on is why UBC cannot take those measures and why we need permission from the province to do so,” tweeted AMS VP Academic & University Affairs Eshana Bhangu.

In an update released Friday afternoon, the Board of Governors announced the body had passed a resolution on August 12 expressing its support for “vaccination approaches and mandatory masks, as appropriate.”

The Board also requested that the university continue to engage with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training and PHO regarding these measures.

“The Board of Governors appreciates and supports the UBC Administration’s ongoing efforts to relay the community’s concerns regarding masks, vaccination, and other COVID-19 safety protocols,” the resolution reads.

This piece has been corrected to say that the Board of Governors supports ‘vaccination approaches and mandatory masks, as appropriate,’ instead of a vaccine and mask mandate.