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Universities’ draconian pandemic rules are ridiculous

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Proof of vaccination is required for students who want to reside at the University of Toronto.

No, this wasn’t cut-and-paste from a 2021 article – it’s an actual requirement for the fall of 2022.

Anyone who plans to live in residence at the University of Toronto must show proof of vaccination. Not only that, but students also need to show proof of three vaccine doses. Apparently, being double-vaxxed no longer meets the university’s exacting standards. Perhaps the university should change its slogan to “Only the triple-vaxxed need apply.”

This comes at a time when public health officials across the country have dropped proof of vaccination requirements, recognizing that, while the COVID-19 vaccines still protect people against hospitalization and death, they do little to prevent transmission. In other words, people can become infected with and transmit COVID-19, even when vaccinated.

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Even health-care facilities in Ontario no longer require proof of vaccination. It’s more than a little ironic that nurses working in personal care homes don’t need to get vaccinated, but nursing students living on-campus at the University of Toronto do. University officials must think that students are more at risk from COVID-19 than senior citizens.

Of course, we know this is patently absurd. The vast majority of university students living in dorms are under the age of 30, and few people in this demographic group are likely to experience severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Sadly, the University of Toronto is far from the only post-secondary institution with antiquated pandemic rules. As a case in point, the University of Manitoba recently announced that all students and staff must wear masks on campus this fall. Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University, and St. Francis-Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, soon followed suit with mask mandates of their own.

This is ridiculous.

Provinces long ago dropped their mask mandates, which means university students can attend sporting events, hang out in bars, and participate in worship services without wearing masks but will still need to put one on while on campus. In other words, university mask mandates are a prime example of pandemic theatre.

University officials are fooling themselves if they think that students are dutifully wearing masks while out in public. They are even more delusional if they believe that university mask mandates will prevent the spread of COVID-19. These mandates will only decimate the bottom line of businesses such as bars and restaurants that are unfortunate enough to be located on campus.

Why would students hang out at an on-campus bar where masks are required when they can simply go to one of the mask-free bars off-campus? The argument that a mask mandate might help these businesses cater to students with concerns about COVID-19 is also specious; these businesses are free to impose their own mask mandates if they think it makes sense.

In all these cases, universities are proving themselves to be out of touch with the communities they serve. By imposing draconian vaccination requirements and sticking with unnecessary mask mandates, universities are sending the signal that they are bastions of elitism. Instead of being open and welcoming, universities are excluding everyone who doesn’t share their irrational fear of COVID-19.

Ultimately, these mandates will only undermine support for vaccines and masks. After all, if vaccines are effective at protecting people from COVID-19, vaccinated people should not be concerned about coming into contact with the unvaccinated. An on-campus vaccination requirement sends the message that vaccinated people have little confidence that their vaccine actually protects them.

Similarly, mandating masks for everyone sends the message that masks only work if everyone wears one. People genuinely concerned about contracting COVID-19 are welcome to wear a properly fitted N95 mask. But they are kidding themselves if they think that forcing others who do not want to wear masks to wear them will do anything other than breed resentment.

Universities are supposed to be places of learning, debate, and scholarship. Imposing outdated pandemic rules on students doesn’t promote those academic values. University students should be free to make their own decisions about vaccines and masks, just like they do everywhere else.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and the author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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Michael Zwaagstra

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author. He has extensive teaching experience at a variety of grade levels and currently teaches high school social studies in Manitoba. Michael received his Bachelor of Education, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Education and Master of Education degrees from the University of Manitoba where he won numerous academic awards including the A. W. Hogg Undergraduate Scholarship, the Klieforth Prize in American History and the Schoolmasters’ Wives Association Scholarship. He also holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University and graduated with high distinction.

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