Memorial University will introduce a mandatory mask and COVID-19 vaccination mandate on campus for students, faculty and staff in indoor spaces, beginning Monday.
In an announcement, provost and academic vice-president Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk said the school made the decision as part of a commitment to keep students, staff and extended family members safe during the upcoming school year.
"Memorial University is excited to soon welcome all students, faculty and staff back to its campuses," Strzelczyk said in a statement posted to the university online newspaper, the Gazette.
"This cannot happen without collaboration, consultation and action to live up to the aspirations of our strategic plan … to prioritize care, well-being and support for students, faculty and staff."
Strzelczyk said more details on the announcement will be shared as soon as possible, including deadlines for first and second doses and an exemption process for those unwilling to be vaccinated for medical, cultural or religious reasons.
Vaccinations will also be available on campus, according to the release.
Masks will be required in all indoor public spaces, including classrooms and washrooms, and common areas where two metres of physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Masks are not required in student residences, offices, cubicles, or while seated to eat or drink.
Instructors who are able to maintain two metres of space will be able to teach with a mask off.
The mask mandate will also include an exemption process, similar to the vaccination process.
Newfoundland and Labrador has 14 active cases of COVID-19, most of them related to travel. Thirteen are in the Eastern Health region.
A cluster of four cases, also travel-related, has emerged in the St. John's area, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
Nearly 71 per cent of the province's eligible population had received two doses of vaccine as of Wednesday, according to public health, while 85 per cent has received at least one.
'I'm so relieved,' says faculty member
Amanda Bittner, a political scientist at the university, said she and colleagues she's heard from are excited to see leadership take a stance to protect the wellbeing of people on campus.
"I'm so relieved," she said. "And really grateful to leadership for considering the various voices that were concerned with the delta variant … and how it's spreading around the world."
Bittner said the news grants peace of mind for those on campus, who on a daily basis contend with a large of body of people moving in relatively tight quarters.
"We're not out of it yet, despite the fact that we're all really sick of it. I think it's really important that we are able to do our best to protect in particular the most vulnerable," she said.
When asked about what the university could additionally do to add further layers of protection, Bittner pointed to aging infrastructure that sometimes lacks proper ventilation against biohazards like COVID-19.
"I think that with crumbling infrastructure come many challenges for that. Folks are keeping their windows open, which is great, but a lot of rooms don't have windows that open," she said.
"This is one of those moments where it's really exciting when administration takes a leadership role like this, and it hopefully gives us the encouragement we need to follow suit and do that same thing in the schools for our kids and also across the province."