(Unsafe) Return to Campus

Toronto Inter-University Coalition Town Hall and CFS/OUWCC joint response to reopening  plans.

Your executive committee has been actively advocating for a safe return to campus through meetings with allied organizations including UTEAU, OUWCC, and the Toronto Inter-University Coalition.

Last week, Alissa (President) and Justin (Vice President) attended the panel discussion, “Is It Safe Enough To Return To Campus? What Do Public Health Experts Say?” organized by the Toronto Inter-University Coalition, representing students, faculty, and staff across four Toronto universities. The interactive panel discussion included public health experts such as Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, Dr. Arjumand Siddiqui (Ontario Science Table members), as well as Dr. David Fisman (Canadian Academy of Health Sciences member) and others who tackled this question by focusing on three areas: Epidemiology, Ethics, and Mitigation Strategies.

The entire panel of public health experts agreed that interventions against infectious diseases must take a layered approach that includes: masking, physical distancing, improving ventilation, vaccines, quarantine & isolation, and several other measures.
This image, “swiss cheese” Respiratory Virus Pandemic Defence, illustrates how different interventions work together to prevent spread, and highlights why over-reliance on any single measure of defense against COVID-19 such as vaccines will not work well.

Against the advice of Ontario Science Table, university presidents (including UofT) persuaded the Ford government to circumvent public health measures and allow universities to greatly exceed Stage 3 capacity limits in classrooms and not require any physical distancing. Scientists on the panel explained that relaxing preventative measures does not “scientifically make sense” and “there is real concern that doing this will expand wave four in ways that we cannot imagine.”
With the start of the new academic year, many UofT students, faculty, and staff are also concerned about the university’s insistence on not listening to their own public health experts by foregoing capacity limits and physical distancing guidelines in classrooms.

Students and workers have expressed their concerns about unsafe reopening plans including a joint statement from the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which represents over 350,000 college and university students, and the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC), which represents over 30,000 contract university workers. In the statement, David Simao, University sector Chair for OUWCC stated that,

“the plans to return to campus have been recklessly determined without worker or student input. Workers have been left behind especially during previous outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus, and workers fear the semester ahead without proper health and safety actions being taken before students return to campus”

As representatives of graduate student workers, we are particularly concerned about the exclusion of student voices from institution and government reopening plans. You can actively participate in these conversations by becoming a Health and Safety representative or Departamental Steward.

If you have any questions or concern about your rights under the collective agreement, reach out us at cupe3907@gmail.com.

Check out our previous post with important resources from UofT, CUPE and other labour unions.