Burnaby post-secondary students, unions, and faculty are calling on the B.C. government to implement “stronger” campus public health measures in advance of September.
In an open letter sent to Advanced Education Minister, and Burnaby MLA, Anne Kang, the organizations are calling on the ministry to “address deficiencies” in the post-secondary guidelines released on July 5.
The open letter, initiated and endorsed by the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, has also been endorsed by the CUPE 3338 Executive Committee at SFU, the Simon Fraser Student Society Executive Committee, the University of Victoria Faculty Association Executive Committee, the CUPE 4163 Executive Committee at the University of Victoria, and the CUPE
2278 Executive Committee at the University of British Columbia and the University of Northern British Columbia.
“The BC COVID-19 Return-to-Campus guidelines are not consistent with the best-available evidence and disregard the layers of protection that could prevent COVID-19 transmission in post-secondary environments. We are requesting that the Ministry publish new guidelines that correct these deficiencies so that students, teaching and support staff, and faculty have safer places of work and learning,” said TSSU Chief Steward Katie Gravestock.
“Even in highly vaccinated countries, the extremely infectious Delta variant has proven to be a game-changer. We need both vaccination and public health measures in order to protect campus communities and the broader public from infection. The Central Okanagan outbreak, leading to hundreds of cases, should be a wake-up call that the current post-secondary guidelines are entirely inadequate,” said Andrew Longhurst, a PhD student researching comparative health policy.
The letter calls on the Ministry to issue revised guidelines based on the following measures:
- Improve ventilation and establish provincial ventilation and HVAC standards;
- Mandate masks for classrooms and indoor settings;
- Set occupancy limits for shared spaces and classrooms;
- Maintain classroom configurations that enable minimum of two-metre physical distancing, which will likely require reducing class sizes in many cases; and,
- Provide access to routine community and on-campus symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.
“It is unconscionable for universities to ‘return to normal’ under the present threat of a significant, variant-driven fourth wave,” said UBC health policy professor Dr. Steve Morgan. “Given the availability of mitigation tools, such as mandates and vaccine requirements, knowledge that members of our community are at elevated risk of infection or live with those who are, and the fact that we simply do not know the long-term sequelae of COVID-19, universities can and must do more.”
The post-secondary unions and faculty associations are concerned that the July 5th guidance issued by the Ministry of Advanced Education and post-secondary institutions, upon the advice of the Provincial Health Officer, makes inaccurate assumptions that introduce preventable risk:
- COVID-19 is not like other seasonal ailments such as influenza (and cannot be managed like the flu).
- The guidelines fail to acknowledge aerosol transmission and implement measures to prevent aerosol transmission in indoor settings.
- Masks will not be required in the classroom or any indoor settings.
- Proof of full vaccination is not required for enrolment in in-person courses.
- The transition from WorkSafeBC COVID-19 safety plans to communicable disease plans minimizes the need for stringent occupational health and safety measures when highly transmissible variants continue to spread in B.C.