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

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

Latest message: April 3, 2020, 3:00pm EDT

Spring Convocation 2020 details: A message from the President

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

When the University took the necessary, but deeply disappointing decision to cancel in-person Spring 2020 Convocation ceremonies, committed to providing details about alternative means of celebrating your graduation. We have been exploring different ways to recognize this important milestone, and I am pleased to share more details with you today.  

Over the past few weeks, the Office of Convocation, in collaboration with the Offices of the President and the Chancellor, has led an extensive review of possible alternative celebrations that would respect the guidance from public health authorities, while acknowledging the achievements of our graduating class in an appropriate and fitting manner.   

Accordingly, we are planning a celebration that pairs a virtual Convocation with in-person, graduation ceremonies hosted by our academic divisions. 

The Chancellor, who is the Chair of Convocation, will convene a virtual Convocation to be broadcast on or before June 2, 2020, incorporating the core elements of a Convocation ceremony. Following the legal requirements under the University of Toronto Act, the Chancellor will confer degrees on all graduates. In these exceptional circumstances, all degrees will be conferred in absentia. Diploma parchments will then be couriered to graduates over the course of the next few weeks following the virtual ceremony.

When the public health situation stabilizes and it is possible to gather safely, individual academic divisions will then be able to host in-person graduation ceremonies, complete with many of the core elements of a traditional Convocation, including academic regalia, congratulatory remarks from academic leaders, a graduation speaker, and presentation of the graduates. 

Of course, the uncertainties surrounding the present crisis make it impossible to provide firm dates for these in-person graduation ceremonies at this time. It is likely they will take place sometime after September 1, 2020 – as safety, availability, and space permit. Principals and Deans will be in touch at a later date with more details as soon as they are confirmed.

The past few weeks have been extremely difficult for our community, and perhaps especially so for our students. I want to take this opportunity to thank you – for your dedication, your commitment, your perseverance, your support of one another, and the many contributions you continue to make to the entire University of Toronto community. 

As we approach the end of the term, we are all looking forward to recognizing your accomplishments. While a virtual Convocation may be more subdued than normal, I hope the exuberant graduation ceremonies that take place once the present crisis abates will be an opportunity for you, your families and friends, and your instructors to celebrate your achievements fully. 

Sincerely,

Meric S. Gertler
President
University of Toronto

*For more information about Convocation, please consult the Office of Convocation website and their Frequently Asked Questions.

 

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Frequently asked questions

Last updated: April 3, 2020, 5:00pm EDT (Updated question 1.6)

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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. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is strongly recommending individuals over 70 years of age and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions self-isolate. This means only leaving the house or seeing other people for essential reasons. 

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, the Government of Canada has mandated that you self-isolate for 14 days. This includes visitors to Canada from the United States who only intend to be here for a short amount of time.

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.

For students, the University is temporarily suspending the need for a doctor’s note or medical certificate for absences from academic participation. Please use the Absence Declaration tool on ACORN to declare an absence if you require consideration for missed academic work. You are responsible for contacting your instructors to request the academic consideration you are seeking. Record each day of your absence as soon as it begins, up until the day before you return to classes or other academic activities.

Students in residence should inform residence staff.

Starting on Monday, March 16, 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. Accessibility-related COVID-19 updates can be found here:  

On March 28, 2020, and based on the best advice of Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Ontario government issued a new emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to prohibit organized public events and social gatherings of more than five people, effective immediately.

The University has already recommended the postponement or cancellation of all events taking place up to April 30, 2020, 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 events for May be considered for transition to virtual meetings where possible, and postponement where virtual meetings are not feasible and where alternate dates beyond May 2020 are possible. We recognize that the landscape continues to change, and so for events beyond May, we would recommend 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.

Yes, however to help limit the spread of COVID-19, courses that start in May (F and Y summer courses) will be delivered remotely. If you've registered for a course that can't be accommodated online, you'll be contacted directly. A decision about the delivery mode for S courses will be made by June 13. In order to make that easier, we have created a central directory where you can find information on the summer session classes from all Faculties and divisions

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.

The University has temporarily closed playing fields on our three campuses following the advice of public health officials regarding the need for social distancing in order to slow transmission of COVID-19. Many co-curricular events and workshops have moved online. Please visit the student life sites for UTM, UTSC and UTSG as well as Sports & Rec for details.

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 non-essential travel at this time. Please consult the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 travel advisory website for more information on international travel. Additionally, Green Shield Canada has provided an update on health insurance coverage while travelling.

As of March 31, 2020, the University of Toronto has cancelled future University activity to international locations for all students until August 14, 2020.

If you are a PhD student who was planning to travel abroad for your dissertation research during this time, please contact us at safety.abroad@utoronto.ca. We will work with you and with your supervisor and academic unit to minimize disruption to your research. If your work can be carried out safely, given the state of COVID-19 at time of travel and considering government advisories regarding travel, you may be able to proceed. 

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. 

The University is committed to ensuring that wherever possible 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 until April 30. 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.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is strongly recommending individuals over 70 years of age and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions self-isolate. This means only leaving home or seeing other people for essential reasons.

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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Contacts

Telehealth Ontario

Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential service you can call to get health advice or information. A Registered Nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Phone: 1-866-797-0000

TTY: 1-866-797-0007

University of Toronto Health Services (for students)

St. George Campus Health & Wellness Centre: 416-978-8030

UTM Health & Counselling Centre: 905-828-5255

UTSC Health & Wellness Centre: 416-287-7065

Toronto Public Health Hotline

Hotline: 416-338-7600

Hours: Monday to Friday 8:30am to 8pm and weekends from 10am to 6pm. Translation available.