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The University of Alberta, along with the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge, will require unvaccinated students and staff to get regular COVID-19 rapid tests to attend campus in person this fall.CODIE MCLACHLAN/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s three major universities will require everyone stepping onto their campuses in September to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have to receive a negative rapid test results.

The University of Calgary, University of Alberta, and University of Lethbridge jointly announced the new COVID-19 protocols Tuesday, saying in a statement they will “require all those coming to campus to undergo regular rapid testing,” with exemptions for the fully vaccinated. Those who do not disclose their immunization status or only have one shot will need a negative result from a rapid COVID-19 test before joining in-person activities. The trio joins major universities in Saskatchewan and Ontario which have implemented similar policies.

As well at the three Alberta universities, masks will be mandatory indoors when physical distancing is not possible.

It’s a different situation in British Columbia, after a directive from the provincial government last month said universities cannot go beyond the province’s return to campus plan. Under B.C.’s current guidelines, as of Sept. 7, mask-wearing is a personal choice, and classes can be scheduled without physical distancing requirements.

In an email to faculty heads at UVic last month, Shannon Baskerville, deputy minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training, said post-secondary institutions in British Columbia cannot implement a mandatory mask or vaccination policy.

“Post-secondary institutions should not introduce COVID-19 prevention measures that are different from those supported by public health professionals,” reads the email obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Baskerville also said in the email, sent July 29, that the current guidelines approved by the Provincial Health Officer “remain in effect today and have not changed, nor are any changes being considered.”

A spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training said the correspondence between the ministry and post-secondary institutions was to clarify that they are expected to follow the public health advice in the Return to Campus Guidelines.

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In a statement Tuesday, B.C.’s Ministry of Health said public health officials are currently reviewing these guidelines in consultation with the post-secondary sector and will have more to say in the coming days.

Staff, faculty and students at post-secondary institutions in B.C. have become increasingly strident in their demands that vaccinations be required.

“People are very, very anxious at UVic and we’re really hoping to hear direction from the government as soon as possible,” said Lynne Marks, president of University of Victoria Faculty Association.

She said the faculty association is “very frustrated and very worried” for faculty members who are facing an uncertain upcoming semester.

A petition with more than 2,000 signatures from people associated with the University of Victoria, University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University was sent to Premier John Horgan, Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, urging the government to require vaccination or regular rapid testing for all individuals who come to campus. The petition also asked that masks be mandated in all public indoor spaces, including classrooms.

UBC president Santa Ono, at the beginning of August, said he strongly recommended all members of the university community be fully vaccinated and wear masks indoors. In an updated message posted last Friday, he said he’s shared with the provincial government that he is “supportive of mandatory indoor masking and vaccination.”

In Alberta, post-secondary leaders previously said they would not – or could not – impose vaccine mandates. Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly said he does not support vaccine passports, save for those that will facilitate international travel.

However, the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, and University of Lethbridge say they are requiring testing, not compulsory vaccines – with those who are already vaccinated exempt from mandatory testing.

Faculty, staff, and students across Alberta had been pressing post-secondary officials to implement safety measures as COVID-19 cases rebound in the province, particularly among young adults.

Taylor Hides, a spokeswoman for the Minister of Advanced Education, said while Alberta will not require universities to adopt vaccination standards, each institution is free to make its own decision. Asked whether the government is comfortable with the universities’ new COVID-19 approach, she said: “Yes. It is their choice to make the best choice for their community.”

The Alberta government last week delayed plans to close COVID-19 testing centres and nix isolation requirements for people who test positive for the virus. Alberta recorded 407 new COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with 176 in hospital. Meanwhile, British Columbia reported 501 new cases. There were 111 people in hospital, the highest since July 1.

Ed McCauley, the president of U of C, pointed to the worsening situation in Alberta when explaining why his school took action.

“These expanded measures are a direct response to shifting COVID-19 conditions,” he said in a statement. “Our health, law and public policy experts have been tracking the rise of cases and emergence of the Delta variant, providing us with data-driven approaches.”

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