COVID Update September 8, 2021

There have been some significant new developments in the implementation of University policies regarding COVID.

  • There have been significant improvements to enforcement of COVID policies via the Ulethbridge Safety App;
  • Members may now check student compliance on the app in their classrooms;
  • Members are still allowed to remove their masks for lecturing provided they can maintain a distance of 2m from students at all times;

This post reviews some of the implications of these changes for Members, reminds you of some important recommendations, and points you to resources you can use to understand and implement the University’s COVID policies in your classroom. 

The post is part of a series of posts on the University’s COVID policies and their implementation. You can find the complete series here (https://bit.ly/ULFA-COVID). 

Reminder about resources

Before discussing the new developments, here is a reminder about some resources available to you concerning COVID policy as you begin the new academic year: 

  • ULeth COVID resources:
    • Main page (provides access to all other resources)
    • Faculty and Staff general FAQ (provides “updated information as health mandates within the University and the province continue to evolve”)
    • Return to class FAQ (health measures in the classroom and advice on student absences, etc.) 
    • Rapid testing information (information on how and where to get testing)
    • Face Mask enforcement guidelines (Sharepoint)
    • COVID-19 Safety plan (Sharepoint) (“high-level guidance to support the safe return of students, faculty, and staff to our campus”; “describes the key elements of the University’s COVID-19 health and safety plan for mitigating the risks of COVID-19 transmission”).
    • Workplace Hazard Assessment (“covers the general hazards and controls associated with community-based transmission of COVID-19”; “designed to supplement your task-specific hazard assessments”).
  • ULFA COVID notices (Summarises what we know of the Board’s plans as we discover them; interprets them and makes recommendations within the context of the Collective Agreement and our understanding of labour law.

Members may now check compliance with the Safety App/Testing Mandate in their classes

The Provost and Vice Provost announced yesterday evening that instructors will be able to ask students to demonstrate that they are in compliance with the University’s testing mandate. This significantly improves the value of the mandate and Safety App.

Everybody on campus is required to fill out the Lethbridge Safety App or website. Those who are in compliance will be able to show a green QR code, either in the app on their smartphones or in a web browser on a computer (we were also told in a meeting yesterday that is will be possible to print off the QR code and bring it with you on paper).

“Compliance” means that a person has attested that they are fully vaccinated, or that they have completed a weekly test and received a negative result.

Since demonstrating compliance requires that students have a phone, computer, or printout with them, the Board asks that Members alert students to their policy on demonstrating compliance in advance. This could mean asking students to be prepared to demonstrate that they are in compliance at the beginning of every class. Or at specific points in the year. Or via spot checks. You may also decide that you do not need to check their compliance on the assumption that the other safeguards (described below) are sufficient. 

The important thing is that you alert students to your expectations so that they can be prepared to demonstrate compliance when or if you ask.

Compliance with Testing Mandate/Safety App will be audited by the University

The Board also announced yesterday that they will be auditing use of the Safety App and compliance with the testing mandate.

  • People who attest that they are vaccinated will be asked to document this compliance on a randomised basis.
  • People who do not attest that they are vaccinated will be required to be tested: those who do not submit a weekly negative test will be informed automatically that they are not permitted on campus until they submit a negative test result or attest that they are fully vaccinated.
  • The vendors that are supplying testing services will automatically report all test results (positive and negative) directly to the university. This means that people who are required to be tested cannot pick and choose their results.

Together these changes appear to improve significantly the value of the testing mandate/Safety App. Members can use it, in effect, as a passport in their classes, and there is much greater assurance that students will have reported their status accurately.

ULFA recommends a “zero tolerance” approach to enforcing compliance with masking and other policies in the classroom

While increased enforcement of the testing mandate/Safety App considerably reduces the likelihood that students in your class are in basic violation of the University’s policies, ULFA still recommends that instructors take a “zero tolerance” approach to violations in the classroom, particularly of the mask mandate. 

According to the health authorities, masks provide important protection and you may be putting other students at risk (and potentially exposing yourself to liability) by allowing some to go unmasked under most circumstances.

ULFA recommends putting language in your syllabus to indicate that you will be enforcing the mandate and that violations will be reported. You can see some suggested language in this blog post.

Instructors may remove masks in the classroom for lecturing provided they are able to maintain a 2 m distance from students at all times

There have been a number of questions about the use of masks by instructors in the classroom, particularly in light of the new provincial restrictions.

We were told yesterday that Members may remove their masks to teach, provided they are able to maintain a distance of at least two metres from the nearest student.  

We also strongly recommend that Members set a good example by following all masking mandates on campus. Face Shields are not considered equivalent to a mask according to the University’s FAQ “as they only protect the eyes, and does [sic] not provide protection against potentially inhaling infectious respiratory droplets.”

What we know about student vaccine rates

Many Members were disappointed my recent administration claims that 

…the University polled its student body to determine the vaccination rate amongst this critical group and 92 per cent of respondents indicated they will be fully vaccinated at the start of the semester.

ULFA members do not need to be told that this is not nearly as reassuring as it appears to have been intended, since no information is given about the “respondents,” how they were recruited or surveyed, or how they relate to the actual student body. 

Moreover, it appears to be out of line with the percentages of fully vaccinated in the 20-39 age cohorts as reported by the Alberta government as of Sept 1 for

  • The province: 58.2% fully vaccinated;
  • Our surrounding counties: Lethbridge County 40.8%; Ft. Macleod 35.6%; Cardston-Kainai 45.7%;
  • The City of Lethbridge: South 56.8%, North 58.4%, West 69.2%.

Having said this, however, we were told in a meeting yesterday that data from the Uleth Safety App may support the sense that a relatively large percentage of those accessing the campus (as of yesterday, at least) are at least claiming to be vaccinated. We hope soon to have specific numbers to report on the ratio of those claiming to be vaccinated on the app versus those submitting test results.

Contact us for help or advice

Please feel free to contact the ULFA staff with any questions you may have about the return to campus, your rights and responsibilities under the University’s COVID policies, or any other employment matter: