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U of T implements protocols to respond to COVID-19 cases on campus this fall

(photo by Laura Pedersen)

As students, faculty and staff prepare for a safe and gradual return to campus this fall, the University of Toronto has put in place a series of COVID-19 procedures and protocols – in addition to preventative safety measures – to quickly respond to cases and guard against transmission of the virus.

The procedures and protocols were created after extensive consultation with public health authorities and other experts. They include conducting risk assessments, providing spaces for students to self-isolate while in residence, carrying out contact-tracing and disinfecting physical spaces when needed.

U of T’s overarching goal, like that of other post-secondary institutions, is to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep community members safe.

“Over the past few months, University of Toronto staff, faculty and administrators have put the health and safety of our community at the forefront as they work to prepare our campuses for the fall semester,” said Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s vice-president and provost. “We are mindful of the importance of being able to respond rapidly and decisively in the event of a COVID-19 case or outbreak in our community, which is why we have instituted a range of procedures that are in keeping with guidelines and recommendations of public health authorities.

“We also know from students that not everyone has access to reliable internet or a quiet space to study. Opening our campuses in a limited and safe manner is important to address these inequities.”

The university is currently advising students, staff, faculty and librarians who believe they may have COVID-19 symptoms to inform their academic leads or supervisors and contact the Occupational Health Nurse (ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca), who will guide them to testing facilities and provide guidance to departments on what measures to take while awaiting the test results.

U of T is also launching a COVID-19 self-assessment web portal to help members of the U of T community make an informed decision about whether they should come to campus.

In the event of a positive test result, staff at Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) will inform individuals who have had contact with the affected person while at U of T. Public health authorities may also contact potentially exposed individuals as per their own protocols.

Once a risk assessment is completed, EHS will provide detailed instructions on cleaning and disinfecting U of T areas. Caretaking teams on all three campuses have procedures in place to seal off potentially affected areas and notify the campus community about their closure, disinfection and eventual re-opening.

There are also specific measures in place for residences, with dedicated rooms and washrooms set aside for students who may need to self-isolate. U of T is even planning to help students who are living off-campus self-isolate if they are living in an environment that makes self-isolation challenging.

In the event of a COVID-19 case on campus, the university will adhere to a strict privacy policy that calls for the identities of individuals being tested – or those who test positive – to be kept confidential. Academic administrators, managers and department heads will also be instructed not to send messages directly to students, faculty or staff about suspected or confirmed cases.

U of T will work with public health authorities to determine when positive cases should be considered an outbreak – and how the university should respond.

The reporting and response measures are in addition to the range of preventative measures U of T has taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 on its three campuses. That includes the wearing of non-medical face masks in classrooms and other indoor common areas, with the university helping to facilitate adherence to the policy by providing two masks each to all students, faculty, staff and librarians.

While more than 90 per cent of undergraduate courses will have an online option this fall, those students who do return to campus for physically distanced lab or other small group work can expect to see numerous changes to the physical environment. Classrooms, lobbies and common areas have been reconfigured and equipped with signage to make it easier for occupants to observe physical distancing measures. Hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout buildings on all three campuses and Plexiglass barriers have been erected where appropriate.

The university has also undertaken a thorough inspection of its ventilation equipment, making upgrades where necessary to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission in indoor spaces.

“Environmental Health & Safety, university leadership, faculty and departments on all three campuses have worked together to prepare these measures,” said Regehr.

“We have taken appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses, and we are equipped to respond quickly and decisively if and when cases are reported.”

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