Message from the University regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and U of T's response

Latest message: March 28, 2020, 11.30am EDT

A message from U of T President Meric Gertler regarding convocation

To our graduating students, and to all members of the U of T community:

Over the past two weeks, members of the University of Toronto community have risen to the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic with remarkable generosity, patience and creativity, as we have faced one difficult decision after another. Our students, in particular, have shown tremendous resolve in completing their courses under extremely stressful circumstances.

From the beginning of this crisis, we had hoped that one particular decision would not be necessary. Convocation is that special time of year when our academic community comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating students. We all cherish this great U of T tradition, when we witness first-hand the excitement of our graduating students – and the pride of their families – as they cross the stage in Convocation Hall.

We have consistently relied on the guidance from public health authorities as we have navigated our way through the pandemic. Unfortunately, the latest guidance indicates that the need for physical distancing to limit or slow the spread of the virus will continue for some time. It is for this reason that we have taken the difficult decision to cancel all Convocation ceremonies for the Spring 2020 season, previously scheduled to take place from June 2-19.

Students who complete their degree requirements will still graduate and receive their degrees and parchments. We are currently exploring possible alternative means of celebrating your graduation, and we will be back in touch with you as soon as possible with more information. In the meantime, I invite you to consult our COVID-19 website for the latest updates.

We appreciate that this decision will come as a huge disappointment to our graduating students, their families, friends, teachers and mentors. While many other universities have come to a similar decision, this does little to diminish our shared disappointment. We take enormous pride in your accomplishments, and we want to give you the send-off you deserve.

You have learned and achieved so much during your years at U of T. And your presence has strengthened our academic community through your countless contributions inside and outside the classroom. Receiving your degree is one of the most important milestones in your life. We are so sorry that we cannot celebrate this achievement in the traditional way.

Convocation is an occasion to look back with pride and to look forward with hope. Even though we cannot gather in person, we remain tremendously proud of the Class of 2T0. And from what I have seen and heard of your leadership in this most difficult time, we have all the more reason to hope – both for your own success in the years to come, and for the future of our society.

Sincerely,

Meric S. Gertler
President
University of Toronto

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Frequently asked questions

Last updated: March 27, 2020, 5:45pm EDT (Updated question 1.10)

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1. Campus life, classes and events

As part of Canada’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Premier of Ontario has declared a state of emergency and the Prime Minister has encouraged all Canadians to stay home wherever possible. 

If you are a student living off-campus: All students who live off-campus should remain at home.

If you are a student living in residence: We will continue to provide residences for those students who cannot return home at this point. The University is working on ways to support students who will not be able to return home when the term ends. 

More information for students living in residences will be available on the Office of the Vice-Provost Students website.

If you are a faculty or staff member: For the University to deliver on our commitments to teaching, residences and critical research, some employees will be required to come to our campuses, and we remain committed to their health and safety. More information on who is required to come to campus is available on the HR & Equity COVID-19 website.

Everyone should stay home, not work, and self-isolate if they have flu-like symptoms.

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g. fever, cough, difficulty breathing), you should use this Ontario Ministry of Health self-assessment tool.

A number of dedicated assessment centres have been established across the Greater Toronto Region to facilitate assessment and testing.  Information on locations is available on local public health websites including Toronto and Peel Region.

If you are advised by a public health authority that you have tested positive for COVID-19, please contact ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca immediately. 

The University has made the difficult decision not to hold Convocation ceremonies in June 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the directives of public health authorities regarding social distancing and against large gatherings. Students who complete their degree requirements will still graduate and receive their degrees and parchments. We are currently exploring possible alternative means of celebrating graduation. Please visit the Office of Convocation website for further information and updates.

Our caretaking staff is increasing the frequency of cleaning of high touch-points areas such as handrails, door handles, elevator buttons and public counters.

We also are using the cancellation of in-person instruction as an opportunity to clean and disinfect all classrooms.

Based on the guidance of public health officials, the University is directing all members of our community and visitors to our three campuses and our off-campus sites to do the following: 

If you have travelled from anywhere outside Canada, including the United States, please self-isolate for 14 days. If you travelled internationally and returned to Canada prior to March 13, you do NOT need to self-isolate unless you travelled from areas designated by government travel advisories as affected areas prior to March 13 (China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore and S. Korea). 

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g. fever, cough, difficulty breathing), you should use this Ontario Ministry of Health self-assessment tool.

Faculty, librarians and staff who are self-isolating should contact their Manager, Chair, or Division Head per normal practice and complete the Employee Absence Self-Declaration form, available in the HR Service Centre and linked below:

Though many employees will be working from home, it is important to record absences to support public health tracking efforts.

COVID-19 Temporary Special Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guideline is available on the HR & Equity website as a resource for any employees who can work from home while self-isolating. See FAQ #3.6.

Students are not required to have a doctor’s note or medical certificate for cold or flu-related absences or self-isolation. 

In order to receive academic considerations, students need to record all cold or flu-related absences or absences for self-isolation through ACORN. Some Faculties have alternate or supplementary requirements when reporting absences, so please contact your Registrar’s Office if you have questions. Student absences for other illnesses or reasons should continue to be documented through the Verification of Illness (VOI) form and normal Faculty processes.

Students in residence should inform residence staff.

Starting on Monday, March 16 and continuing until April 3, all in-person undergraduate and graduate courses across U of T’s three campuses are cancelled. Teaching will continue through other means (which may include existing online platforms).

The Deans of each professional program have taken into consideration the specific requirements of individual programs as well as professional and accreditation bodies and have communicated to students as well as faculty members, other instructors and staff about their plans. 

Students registered with Accessibility Services should continue to contact Accessibility Services to receive accommodations and supports.

As of March 16, 2020, public health authorities are advising against gatherings of more than 50 people. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is advising all bars and restaurants to close, except for take-out service.

The University recommends the postponement or cancellation of all discretionary events taking place in March or April, and the consistent use of the following language for communications on postponements or cancellations:

“The health, safety and well-being of our community members is very important to us. We regret to inform you that owing to the current situation with COVID-19, _________________- event has been postponed/cancelled until further notice.”

If you choose to postpone the event, you may wish to add the following:

“Once conditions permit, we will be in touch with further information about the possible rescheduling of this event. In the meantime, please accept our apologies and our best wishes for your continued health and wellbeing.”

We are also recommending that all communications, invitations or reminders for events in May and beyond are put on hold until March 30. We will be assessing the need to extend the postponement and cancellation period daily, as the situation unfolds.

Communications about events scheduled in May that must be sent prior to March 30 should contain the following language:

“Please note that while planning for this event continues, the current pandemic conditions may require cancellation or postponement on short notice. We are actively monitoring the situation and will advise of changes as soon as we are able.”

There will be no in-person exams. Students should consult Quercus for details on individual course assessments. 

The University of Toronto has asked students to move out of residence if they are able. 

More information is available on the Vice-Provost, Students website.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, summer session courses that start in May (i.e., F and Y Summer courses) will be delivered though a method other than in-person instruction (including online platforms) for the term. Please check with individual Faculties for additional details. A final determination of delivery mode will be made by June 13 for S courses. Decisions regarding courses that cannot be accommodated online or that are to be cancelled will be communicated to students who have registered in those courses.

The University remains open, but with various measures in place to protect the health and safety of community members. We remain committed to the three core activities of teaching, residences and critical research, and the services to support these activities.

All in-person undergraduate and research-stream masters and doctoral courses across the three campuses are cancelled until April 3. Teaching will continue through other means (which may include existing online platforms).

All libraries are closed as of 6pm, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Plans are being made on all three campuses to assist students who were using libraries to access their courses. Students with individual concerns should use the Contact Us button located at the top of these FAQs, indicating their campus, in order to receive additional information.

All university buildings are closed to the general public as of 11:59pm, March 17, 2020. Members of the University community will need key or fob access to enter them or present appropriate identification to campus security. 

U of T daycares and athletic and recreation services are closed.

For our students who do some learning in health-care settings, the leaders of our health science Faculties and OISE are aware of the steps needed to protect our students, should it become necessary. Learners, faculty and staff in a health science setting, should follow the directions of the administration of the facility.

2. Travel

All employees are advised to consult Global Affairs Canada for travel guidance. The University is continually monitoring this evolving situation.

Upon return to Canada from abroad, please follow public health guidance for 14 days of self-isolation.

Information on Green Shield Canada heath insurance coverage for faculty, librarians, and staff who are traveling is available on the HR & Equity COVID-19 website

Based on the guidance of public health officials, the University is advising all members of its community to avoid all travel abroad and to avoid all cruise ship travel. Additionally, Green Shield Canada has provided an update on health insurance coverage while travelling. It is recommended that you review your travel insurance before travelling internationally. If you choose to travel, please consult the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 travel advisory website.

As of March 12, 2020, the University of Toronto has cancelled future University activity to international locations for all students until June 1, 2020.

The University continues to monitor the Canadian government’s latest advisory related to COVID-19 and the Safety Abroad Office is in contact with its registered students. U of T has specific information related COVID-19 that is regularly updated. Find out more about emergency resources or email safety.abroad@utoronto.ca for more information. 

We understand that students will have questions about academic activities abroad and how an early return will impact them. U of T is working to offer as much flexibility as possible to minimize impacts on students. 

Upon return to Canada from abroad, please follow public health guidance for 14 days of self-isolation.

On March 20, the Government of Canada announced that foreign nationals will be allowed to return to Canada if they have valid study or work permits or had been approved for a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020. 

Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 16, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada, will also be permitted to travel to Canada.  These travel exemptions are effective as of March 26.

Those affected by these exemptions are now eligible to be allowed to board a flight to Canada as long as there are not restrictions in place in the country from which you are travelling (as long as you have no symptoms that could be related to COVID-19). Please do the following as you prepare to return:

  • Review the Federal Government information for travellers returning to Canada so you’re aware of the limitations and expectations for those returning   
  • Review travel restrictions for any country you’d be passing through on your way to Canada.  
  • When you arrive in Canada your health will be assessed before you leave the port of entry.  You must isolate for 14 days even if you have no symptoms. This is mandatory under a federal Quarantine Act order.

3. Faculty, librarians and staff

If you have HR-related questions about COVID-19, please visit the HR & Equity COVID-19 website.

If you are concerned about someone in the workplace who is ill and exhibiting flu-like symptoms or have concerns about safety in your workplace, speak to your Manager, Chair, or Department Head. Managers, Chairs or Department Heads are advised to contact environmental health & safety.

Employees in the workplace who are ill with flu-like symptoms should advise their Manager, Chair, or Department Head, stay home, complete the Employee Absence Self-Declaration form, and seek out medical advice accordingly (see FAQ #1.2).

There have been reports of discriminatory behaviours towards some members of our community. Behaviours and comments that perpetuate stereotypes are harmful and should not be tolerated or condoned. Assessment of risk should be based on exposure history and not on race or ethnicity. We encourage members to reinforce messaging of the University’s commitment to human rights and our values of diversity, inclusion, respect and civility.

Coronaviruses do not generally survive for long on surfaces so there is likely very low risk of them spread from products or packaging. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often through direct contact with those who are ill coughing or sneezing.

If you have research questions related to COVID-19, please visit the Research & Innovation COVID-19 web site.

Since March 16, a significant portion of U of T’s workforce has begun to work remotely, and will continue to do so until further notice.

The province is strongly recommending that all work that is able to be done remotely be done in that manner. We are in the process of assessing the Ontario essential workplace list. Some employees are where there is a requirement to be physically present on our campuses in order to maintain these essential services identified by the province. Individuals in these positions will be notified by their Divisional HR offices.

The COVID-19 Temporary Special Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guideline is available on the HR & Equity COVID-19 website as a resource for employees and managers. Information Technology Services (ITS) has also prepared technical work-from-home resources to support employees accessing work material while telecommuting. 

For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees who are requesting work-from-home arrangements due to being immuno-compromised themselves can work directly with their Manager, Chair, or Department Head. These requests do not need to be reviewed by Environmental Health & Safety, and supervisors should approve these requests wherever possible. 

If employees are unable to secure child care, they may utilize the following options: 

  • Request to work from home and telecommute (if the duties of their job and their child-care responsibilities allow). (See FAQ #3.6) 
  • Use personal / flex days in accordance with their employment policy or collective agreement. 
  • Access overtime banks.
  • Request to use vacation days. Any limits on using yet-to-be-accrued vacation are waived at this time. 

We ask Managers, Chairs, and Department Heads to approve these requests wherever possible. 

In addition, please note that based on the recommendation of public health officials, all University of Toronto childcare centres are closed effective Monday, March 16 until Monday, April 6.  

The University is committed to ensuring that all faculty, librarians, and staff will continue to be compensated in the event of any event cancellations, programming reductions, government required shutdowns, or any other operational closures for the next three-week period (March 14 – April 3). Any impacted managers and employees will receive details on this directly from their Divisional HR Office.  

More information on pay continuity is available on the HR & Equity COVID-19 website.

The University has Working Alone Guidelines that include resources available to support members of our community while on our campuses.

We are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic may cause significant challenges for pre-tenure and pre-continuing status faculty members at the University of Toronto with respect to their research, scholarship and teaching.

In response, any pre-tenure or pre-continuing status faculty member may request a one-year delay in their timeline to tenure or to continuing status on the grounds of “serious personal circumstances beyond their control” associated with COVID-19.

Faculty members should submit any request for a delay in writing through their Dean/Chair/Director/Principal following the normal process.

A tenure stream faculty member may request a delay to their interim review, their tenure review, or both. A teaching stream faculty member may request a delay to their probationary review, their continuing status review, or both.

In line with the provisions of the Policy and Procedures on Academic Appointments, we ask faculty members to submit any request at the earliest opportunity in the review process (i.e., as soon as you know or reasonably ought to know that your review may warrant a delay).

Yes. Any pre-permanent status librarian may request a delay in the date of their review for permanent status for a period of time equivalent to the time they are unable to physically work at the University due to COVID-19.

We ask librarians to submit any request at the earliest opportunity in the review process (i.e., as soon as you know or reasonably ought to know that your review may warrant a delay).

4. COVID-19 information

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that originate in animals but are known to cause respiratory illness in humans, particularly during the fall and winter months. Other novel coronaviruses have included Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

In January 2020, a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan, China. The provincial government provides updated statistics for Ontario.

The situation is rapidly evolving and the University of Toronto has been monitoring the situation very closely and taking action as necessary in light of the global situation, the advice of public health authorities and the interests of our community.

The risk of more severe illness may be higher for individuals with weakened immune systems such as older people or those with chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart, renal or chronic lung disease.

Symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

Many of these symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza. Should you experience these symptoms and have recently travelled internationally to an affected region, avoid contact with others and follow-up with your health care professional. Advise your health professional in advance of attending clinic of your symptoms and travel history.

As usual, continue to practise good hand washing techniques and hygiene practices. This includes washing thoroughly with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and staying at home or in your residence room if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

And avoid shaking hands, since the virus can be spread this way. Instead, consider greeting people with a nod, wave or bow.

For general, day-to-day activities, there is no need to wear a surgical or N95 mask. Toronto Public Health advises residents to take the usual measures to reduce the risk of influenza and other respiratory infections:

  • Get a yearly flu vaccination, available from clinics and pharmacies as this is the best way to prevent influenza infection
  • Clean your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze
  • If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm
  • Stay at home if you are sick.

Those in health-care settings will follow the requirements of their facilities with respect to appropriate protective gear if they are working with suspected or confirmed cases. 

Self-isolation means staying home. Do not use public transportation, taxis, or rideshares, attend work, school or other public places. Contact with others should be limited as much as possible. For more information, please see the Public Health Ontario tip sheet on self-isolation.

Public health authorities advise that COVID-19 spreads through direct, close, person-to-person contact with droplets from someone who is infected with the virus through their cough or sneeze. It may also be possible for people to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. See FAQ #4.4 on how you can protect yourself and FAQ #1.4 on cleaning.

The University follows public health directives regarding who should be informed when someone tests positive for COVID-19. Each situation is assessed by public health authorities to identify individuals who have been exposed and need to be contacted and to ensure medical confidentiality. If you did not have close contact with a confirmed case as assessed by a public health authority there is no elevated risk to you and your family.

Everyone should be monitoring themselves for flu-like symptoms and should follow best practices for protecting against transmission. (FAQ #4.4.)

If you are advised by a public health authority that you have tested positive for COVID-19, please contact ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca immediately. 

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Hotline: 416-338-7600

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