Post-secondary students and staff will be returning to classrooms and dormitories across British Columbia this fall, according to the provincial government's new return-to-campus guidelines.
Released Monday, the guidelines are built around the province's four-step restart plan, which aims to lift virtually all COVID-19 restrictions by September.
As of July 1, B.C. has entered the third step, with plans to move on to the fourth and final stage by Sept. 7, which coincides with the start of the fall semester.
According to the guidelines, post-secondary institutions will no longer be required to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place by then. Instead, schools are developing communicable disease plans to reduce the risk of all respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.
Campus student housing providers can plan for close-to-full occupancy for the fall, but schools are "strongly encouraged" to hold back one to two per cent of of total beds for isolation and quarantine use in case of a future outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Masks will not be mandatory, lectures and lessons will be held in person, cleaning protocols will return to pre-pandemic levels and individuals coming to campus will be responsible for daily self-health checks to make sure they are not coming to school sick.
"We are back to pre-pandemic normalcy," said Matt Milovick, chair of the committee that created the guidelines and vice-president of administration and finance at Thompson Rivers University.
He said September 2021 on B.C. campuses "could look a lot like they did in fall 2019."
Immunization key to success
Milovick said the guidelines were created with experts from the public post-secondary sector, including Indigenous organizations and student associations, working "hand-in-hand" with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"The key to this being successful, of course, is people getting vaccinated," said Milovick.
As of Monday, 5,288,644 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., including 1,668,268 second doses.
By June 29, before the province transitioned to the third step of its restart plan on July 1, almost 80 per cent of British Columbians had had at least one dose of vaccine. About 36 per cent of the province's population have been fully immunized.
British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
By calling 1-833-838-2323. Translators are available in 140 languages.
Sherri Bell, president of Camosun College and chair of the British Columbia Colleges association, acknowledged there may be some nerves around the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic conditions on campus.
"While some people may be a little nervous as well as excited, the health, safety and well-being of employees, students and campus visitors remains the priority," said Bell in a statement.
LISTEN | Matt Milovick speaks to On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko about B.C.'s return-to-campus guidelines: