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‘Our priority is safety’: Vivek Goel on U of T's plans for a gradual return to campus this fall

(photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

With the new academic year approaching, the University of Toronto is busy preparing for a limited and gradual return to campus in September.

Not surprisingly, many members of the U of T community have questions about what a return to campus looks like – and how exactly it will work.

Writer Paul Fraumeni asked Vivek Goel, a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and chair of the university’s Response and Adaptation Committee, what steps U of T is taking to ensure the safety and health of everyone in the community this fall.


If Toronto and the GTA move to the province’s stage 3 re-opening, does that mean U of T will return its three campuses to full operation?
 

No. We want to do our part to minimize the spread of COVID-19. That’s why we are planning for a safe and gradual return to our campuses that focuses on our core mission of teaching and research. While U of T will be permitted to return to most operations when our regions enter stage 3, we have decided to voluntarily limit campus activity in order to support the overall community response to the pandemic.

For example, staff who are able to work from home will continue to work from home. For those who must be on campus – as is already the case with some research activities – they will come to campus for work that needs to be done on-site and do the rest of their work remotely.

Our priority is safety. It’s important to note that U of T will meet or exceed the government safety requirements in place at any given time.
 
Will faculty and students be required to teach and attend classes on campus, or can they decide to teach and study remotely?

Students have the option of studying online in about 90 per cent of undergraduate courses and, in fact, most of these courses will be offered online only. Those courses that do have an in-person element, such as some teaching labs, will follow strict safety and public health guidelines. Faculties and departments are being as flexible as possible to address individual needs.

The university will accommodate those individuals who may be at higher risk due to underlying health conditions or age, as is required under the Ontario Human Rights Code. We are also working to accommodate those who have specific needs due to other COVID-19 related issues such as child care or eldercare.
 
What specific measures is U of T taking to ensure the safety of everyone on campus?
 

Just like supermarkets and major retailers, we are putting a variety of measures in place to ensure our campuses are a safe space. That includes measures to encourage physical distancing, increased cleaning, adding new hand sanitizers and wipe dispensers and installing Plexiglass barriers where required.

We are also making sure all filters in heating and ventilation systems meet or exceed industry standards and public health regulations. And we’re introducing new, temporary measures calling on everyone using indoor common spaces – including classrooms – to wear a non-medical mask or face covering if they are able.

Physical distancing of two-metres separation will be maintained. For example, a class of 20 may be held in a 120-seat auditorium. Detailed health and safety guidelines have been developed. Every unit at the university is developing plans for a safe and gradual return to work. 

Finally, we are asking all members of our community to monitor their health and not come to campus if they have COVID-19 symptoms. We are also making it easy for employees and students to report an absence online without a medical note.
 
How is U of T keeping students safe in residences?
  

We’ve kept our residences open throughout the summer so students who were unable to travel home have a safe place to stay. But it’s not business as usual. Residence staff are taking a host of precautions informed by the latest public health advice to protect the U of T community, and those precautions will continue this fall. Students will be in single rooms. There will also be more frequent cleaning and disinfecting, new sanitizing stations and Plexiglass barriers where appropriate.

We want to do everything we can to make sure students living in residences have a safe, comfortable home for the upcoming academic year.

 

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