UBC leadership answer student questions around masks, vaccines at second Return to Campus webinar

With UBC’s two campuses set to return to in-person classes in two weeks, the university hosted another Return the to Campus webinar for students yesterday.

Like the previous event, yesterday’s webinar featured a slew of panelists who provided information around the prospects of returning to campus for students in Canada and internationally. This included Vice-President Academic Andrew Szeri, Associate Vice-President of Student Housing & Community Services Andrew Parr, Vice Provost and Associate VP Faculty Planning Pam Ratner and Associate Provost Teaching and Learning Simon Bates.

Much of the conversation centred around the recent changes to BC’s health restrictions regarding masks and vaccines announced earlier this week.

“The most important thing that [students] can do to protect [themselves] and [their] community is to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible,” Szeri said. A one-day vaccine clinic will be held on August 26 at the Life Sciences Centre on campus.

Among the questions regarding the new mask and vaccine mandates, Chief Student Health Officer Noorjean Hassam made clear that a three-layered, non-medical cloth mask would suffice in indoor spaces, including classrooms and hallways, as well as during club meetings. She added vaccine passports will not be needed for attending classes, but will be required for other activities such as working out in an on-campus gym and eating at a restaurant.

The indoor mask mandate went into effect yesterday, while the vaccine mandate is set to begin on September 7 — the day classes start.

Hassam and Ratner also answered questions about vaccines not yet approved by the Canadian government, directing individuals to call Service BC at 1.268.4319 or at 604.412.0957 if they are outside Canada.

“If you’re fully-vaccinated with a [World Health Organization]-approved vaccine in another country, that may be enough. But if not, [Service BC] will be able to inform you and then you will be able to get a vaccine here,” Hassam said.

Students who were vaccinated outside of BC will need to register into the BC Get Vaccinated system, as well as the Provincial Immunization Registry before the vaccine mandate becomes effective in September.

Ratner added that ventilation and air conditioning were being monitored and mended to ensure the best possible increase of air flow.

In regards to student housing, Parr said that there would be a different location for self-isolation in the case of COVID-19 contraction in residence. He added that arriving late to campus is “not a problem.”

“You arrive at the airport, you find your way to campus, you go to the front desk of the residence that you're living in, and we will check you in and make sure you're comfortable in your room as quickly as possible, with some caveats around the self-isolation quarantine,” he said.

UBC will also be in constant communication with the PHO throughout the transition. There is no real guarantee for the future, but “at the moment we take guidance and advice from provincial health colleagues,” Bates said.

Vice-President Students Ainsley Carry sought to reassure student concerns by making it clear that these are unprecedented times for everyone.

“We will make mistakes,” he said. “Someone may not wear a mask where they should be wearing a mask. Someone may be rude and obnoxious. Someone will say something offensive. We need this community to not tolerate those behaviours. We need a community that will focus on kindness.”

This article has been updated. A quote from Vice Provost Pam Ratner has been replaced by a quote from Chief Student Health Officer Noorjean Hassam to make it more clear what students should do if they weren’t vaccinated with a Canadian government-approved vaccine.