As the new school year begins with no mask mandates, wearing masks on campus is an individual choice, and a mixed one
As students, faculty, and staff return for the school year with no mask mandate in place, there seems to be a mix of people at UVic choosing to either consistently wear masks in indoor spaces, those who wear masks sporadically, and those who overall refrain.
“We remain committed to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for all students, faculty and staff, and will be offering in-person learning for most courses,” said UVic, in a statement about health and safety for this fall. “We encourage you to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, particularly if you are close to others or feel more comfortable doing so.”
While the university is encouraging the use of masks in indoor spaces, it is not required. This follows other B.C. universities, such as the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, who recommend, but do not enforce, masking in classes.
Some UVic students are taking this into their own hands and are promoting more masking on campus.
#MaskUpUVic is a “student-led, collaborative campaign helping keep the UVic community safe with free masks and tests.” It is a campaign largely organized by Matsuko Friedland, a UVic student passionate about encouraging masking on campus.
“[The campaign] is to address the mask mandate being lifted and then [how] masking rates are really low, we’re estimating maybe 20 per cent at the highest at UVic,” said Friedland. “So maybe we can give people masks and then the mask rate will go up and make it really easy for [students].”
Partnering with the Canadian Red Cross and other campus organizations like the University of Victoria Students’ Society, Society for Students with a Disability, Student of Colour Collective, UVic Engineering Students’ Society, and Public Health and Social Policy Student Association, the campaign gives out free masks and testing kits to anyone who wants them.
“[Masking] is still a recommendation and COVID is still around, and it’s a lot more infectious too,” said Friedland. “We don’t know who’s in our classes, there could be immune-compromised people there [or] maybe their family are. I think it’s the compassionate thing to do is wear a mask when you’re sharing a space with people you don’t know, and you don’t know what their life situation is or what their comfort level is.”
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 variants, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recommends getting vaccinated, washing your hands, staying home if sick, visiting others in small groups, wearing masks indoors, and increasing ventilation.
“New variants spread the same way as the original COVID-19, although some of the newer variants, such as Omicron, transmit much easier between people,” reads the BCCDC website.
#MaskUpUvic is on Instagram, Discord, and they have an email list for people to join for any important updates about masking. Matsuko mentions that masks and test kits can continue to be picked up for free at the UVSS Office at the Student Union Building.
Some students have mixed feelings on the matter.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I was a very strong advocate for masking, I thought it was super important. I still think it’s really important, but it kind of depends on numbers,” said K, a student at UVic, in an interview. “I think a return to normalcy at this point is also important.”
Having moved from a small town in Alberta to Victoria, she described how masking was a virtually non-existent practice due to the small size of the community.
“When I came to campus at first, I wasn’t masking, and not that many other people were, and I thought that was fine,” she said.
However, she recounted that after catching a cold during the first week of classes and hearing about other people getting sick on campus, she realized masking is an easy thing she can do to prevent illness.
“Even if it’s not COVID, it can mess up a lot of things school-related,” she said. “Going forward, I do think I will be masking, especially as cases will inevitably be rising throughout the semester.”
Other universities and colleges around Canada are taking varied approaches to COVID-19 as students return to campus. For example, the University of Western Ontario is enforcing both masks and vaccines, while other Ontario universities like Wilfrid Laurier are just enforcing masks.
On their website, UVic states that they continue “to adhere to all public health orders and implement all of the health and safety measures required by the Provincial Health Officer, ” and asks those at UVic to continue following public health guidance and to stay home if sick.
A source’s personal information in this article was updated Oct. 7, 2022.