Here’s what Manitoba post-secondary schools are doing to prepare for the return of students

Tens of thousands of college and university students are returning to campuses across the province in a few weeks, many for the first time in more than two years. With no public health restrictions in place, some institutions are being more cautious than others when it comes to on-campus COVID-19 protocols.

A mask mandate will remain in place this fall at the University of Manitoba (U of M), still the largest in the province with more than 35,000 students. The U of M is recommending students and staff use higher-quality KN95 masks, but say 3-ply medical masks are also acceptable.

Two recent adjustments to the U of M masking rules are that instructors may remove their masks while teaching – as long as students are at least two metres away – and staff can also take off their masks at their desk, provided there are cubicle-style barriers in place.

The University of Winnipeg (U of W) posted a Fall Term Update to its more than 9000 students on Monday. It says that masking will be “highly recommended, but not a mandatory requirement.” Masks will be provided at various locations across campus. The U of W is asking its community to “exhibit compassion with respect to an individual’s choice regarding masking.”

Red River College Polytechnic (RRC Polytech) also posted an update on Friday, stating among other things that there has been no change to its mask policy. Masks remain optional on all RRC Polytech campuses, though all 30,000 students are required to self-screen before coming to school. Anyone with even mild COVID-like symptoms is urged to stay home.

All students and staff are being encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots when they become eligible for them. RRC Polytech allows employees up to three hours of medical leave to go get their shot, or to accompany a family member to get one.

Brandon University (BU) is also recommending, but not requiring masks. The institution is continuing with COVID protocols such as increased ventilation, more frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, and sanitization stations. BU is also recommending students and staff get vaccinated.

Down the street at Assiniboine Community College (ACC) there are also no mask mandates in place, though staff, students and visitors are encouraged to self-screen for COVID-19 before entering buildings. Self-screening questions are clearly marked on signage at all entrances.

ACC says there are no plans to incorporate masking or distancing rules, but it will provide updates on its website if the situation changes.

The University College of the North (UCN) is taking a different approach. There will be no masking or distancing requirements in place at UCN facilities, however in an email, UCN said it is “implementing planned periods of remote learning to account for periods when spikes in infections can be predicted.”

This means the two weeks of classes following Thanksgiving, New Years Day, and Reading Week will all be online. UCN says this plan allows instructors and students to know what to expect when there may be a greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

The Université de Saint-Boniface (USB) is ending its mask mandate on Sept. 1. Masks had been required in all classroom settings and in the registrar’s office over the summer. USB continues to recommend mask use in all areas, and will be providing free medical-grade masks throughout the campus.

All post-secondary institutions CTV News Winnipeg spoke with say they continue to follow the provincial government’s lead when it comes to public health restrictions, and are planning for contingencies in case of an outbreak.

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