As the virus slowly fades from the public consciousness, York University has shifted its response. York’s Better Together website contains the university’s updates on their COVID-19 response.
In mid-2022, York University dropped its vaccine and mask mandates. But, on Nov. 18, 2022, York called upon all students, staff, and faculty to “immediately resume masking indoors as part of the provincial efforts to protect children and the most vulnerable in our society.”
According to the website, the announcement came as a response to the increasing number of hospital cases, especially that of young Ontario children. The administration advised wearing N95 masks/ level three masks and getting a full series of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as a flu shot, while urging people to complete the YU Screen self-assessment tool before entering campus.
Although these recommendations were not mandatory, they were conveyed as strong suggestions. However, it appeared the announcement had little influence on the student body. Individuals who were wearing masks prior to the Nov. 18 announcement continued to do so, while those who were not wearing masks did not change their behaviour.
On Feb. 15, 2023, YU announced its broader approach toward managing their COVID-19 response.
When reading the post, it seems nothing has changed with their recommendations. The announcement contains the same emphasis on getting boosted and mask-wearing — the only difference lies with York adjusting their YU screening self-assessment tool. Now, Individuals are now directed to the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Self-Assessment Tool. These changes parallel the current decreasing infection fatality rate of the virus.
Professor Jane Hefferan is the director of the Center of Disease Modeling (CDM) at York University, whose research focuses on the spread of infectious diseases. She states that “the infection fatality rate (IFR) has decreased over the pandemic, but this will occur as population immunity increases. It still poses a risk, and infection can instigate long-COVID in some individuals.”
In spite of the changes, some students were frustrated by York’s past COVID-19 response. An anonymous, third-year computer science student argues that “Canadians shouldn’t be concerned about COVID-19 more than diabetes. We need to just leave things alone and keep decisions rooted in science. This pandemic was horrible and our response was not worth it.”
On Oct. 19, 2021, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated students were not permitted to attend in-person courses or enter YU campuses (unless they had approved exemption). The university had urged these students to enroll in online courses/ remote courses, as stated on the Better Together website.
The decision caused controversy, as the anonymous source highlights that some “people couldn’t finish their degrees because they weren’t comfortable with getting vaccinated.” It is important to note that this policy is no longer in place.
Others, including an anonymous York alum, notes how York’s response to COVID-19 reflects the broader social consensus. As society moves forward from COVID-19, it makes sense why restrictions get lifted. “Yes, York is a university, but more essentially, it is a place of work,” the York alum states. “Most workplaces are relaxing their COVID-19 rules. Masks are optional, but not banned.”
Despite York University removing the mask mandate on June 28, 2022, some argue that masks are still important. “Masks are great — people should be allowed to wear masks in lecture halls, on campus, etc. You don’t have to wear a mask in a public library, but maybe you should,” says the anonymous alum.
If students or staff want to stay up to date with York’s response, they can go on York’s Better Together site.
For more information on the province’s pandemic response, Ontario’s COVID-19 website provides more information.