Saskatchewan Polytechnic has joined the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina in requiring students, employees and visitors on campus to be fully vaccinated by against COVID-19.
First doses are required by Sept. 18, with second doses required by Oct. 22. Sask. Polytech has campuses in four Saskatchewan cities, including one in Prince Albert.
“We are following the pattern that you are seeing with other post-secondary institutions, (but) we made the decisions separate from those,” Barb Gustafson, Special Advisor to the Provost and based in Prince Albert said.
“We just strongly encourage everyone to be vaccinated before they come back to campus.”
Gustafson said Sask Polytech took similar steps other universities took before making their decisions. That included looking at the size of lecture halls, classrooms, and how many people can reasonably fit within them.
“We have smaller groups of students, but they are clustered (together) in shops and labs,” she explained.
“(It’s) just to protect them. That has been our primary concern right from the start of this situation and we felt that asking people to be vaccinated in order to be on campus was a reasonable choice to make.”
Gustafson said the school has been monitoring vaccine uptake statistics. While they don’t have specific stats, the generally low uptake among the younger age groups was part of the decision.
“Nationally, it is clear that the younger group has been less eager to pick up on vaccinations and that generally is our age group of students (starting) from about 20 to—(and) Sask Polytech may be a little bit older maybe—up to age 40. That's an age group that hasn't been vaccinated to the same extent as an older population,” she said.
The rise in cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 was also a factor.
To comply with Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, exemptions will be considered. Regular and frequent negative COVID-19 testing and daily health checks will be required for those who are not fully vaccinated to be on campus.
Staff at Sask Polytech are working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to host vaccination clinics on all campuses during Welcome Week, August 30 to September 3. Times are subject to change, but the Prince Albert campus will host one on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a location to be determined.
Gustafson said they are trying to make getting a vaccination as simple as possible by making it available on campus. Encouraging people to take advantage of other clinics or pharmacies before school begins is also another step.
“Tthe message is out there to go to a regular clinic or a pharmacy and be vaccinated well before they are on campus. That would be perfect. If they haven't been able to, then we will have it there during Welcome Week,” she said.
They are also attempting to be flexible by allowing students to have their second vaccination completed by Oct. 22.
“And we are trying to give enough time so that people have that flexibility. We are asking that the second vaccination be done by October 22 so there should be enough time in there for the first vaccine, the wait time and then the second vaccine,” Gustafson explained.
Currently, masking on campus will also continue. The current guideline states that masks are required indoors at all campus locations. Masks should be worn anytime you are interacting with another person on campus. Masks can be removed temporarily when eating or drinking.
“We will be monitoring and continuing to monitor the situation and if cases were to rise precipitously then we may take further action. We have a Pandemic Emergency Response Team that is constantly staying up to date on this and makes recommendations to senior management on the protection that's needed for our students and staff and that is really the top priority for sure,” she said.
“We want to protect our students they are the most important thing to us.”
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald