Concordia students share their thoughts about being back on campus during the pandemic

Many Concordia students agree that a vaccine mandate would make them feel safer about going to campus.

Concordia students are officially back on campus for the first time in 18 months. While some students are more comfortable than others to return to in-person classes, there is a consensus about having everyone vaccinated to have a safer environment on campus.

The vaccine passport was implemented on Sept. 1 for all non-essential activities in Quebec — covering restaurants, bars, gyms, as well as music and sports venues. This means students will need to show proof of vaccination to eat at cafés and cafeterias on campus, and attend some events, such as sports games. However, no proof of vaccination is required to attend classes in any university, CEGEP, or school.

“The government doesn’t define education as non-essential, which is true. Education is an essential component,” said Dr. Simon Bacon, co-director of the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre.

Students are required to wear procedural masks at all times on campus, except outside when a one metre distance can be maintained, or in labs, meeting rooms and offices with proper ventilation, when people are two metres apart from others or if there is a physical barrier like plexiglass between them. Masks are also not required in eating areas or “spaces with activities requiring significant movement or interaction” (such as performance-based courses) when there is a two-metre distance between people. Professors are allowed to remove their masks in classrooms when students are seated and a distance of two metres between them is guaranteed.

Concordia has a mask mandate for students in classrooms, but physical distancing isn’t required. Dr. Bacon said that every measure that can be taken is an added layer of protection, and there’s a hierarchy.

“If you’re a hockey team, think of COVID as someone trying to score a goal on you,” Bacon said. “Your first line of defence is your goalie, the most effective way of stopping someone scoring a goal. So number one, get vaccinated. After your goalie, next thing is your defence. So what’s the best next thing? Masks. And then the third line of defence starts with the forwards. The chances the other team can score are lower. That is social distancing.”

This helps to break down why some Concordia students said they would feel safer if vaccines were mandatory for in-person classes.

Orisha Mitchell, a second-year student from Alberta, moved to Montreal a few weeks ago after doing a year of online learning at Concordia. She said she is looking forward to in-person classes and likes it more than remote learning.

Mitchell has two classes online, one hybrid class (where she has the option to choose between remote or in-person learning), and has yet to hear about her fourth class.

“I think it’s understandable to have some classes, like lectures, be online, especially for international students or students with health issues,” Mitchell said.

“But, personally, I’m very comfortable in person because I came here from a province with virtually no protective mandates,” Mitchell said. “I’m fully vaccinated, I think anyone who can get vaccinated should be, but, it’s a rough legal area for schools to mandate, so I understand why Concordia maybe hasn’t done that yet.”

Laurence Lai is a Ph.D. candidate in Concordia’s clinical psychology program. While he doesn’t have any classes, he is required to go to campus two to three times a week to conduct clinical work and do research. Lai has been going to campus for about four months now, but more frequently for the past two months.

He said he feels “pretty safe” going to campus and that until recently, the check-in process was “quite stringent.”

Just like Mitchell, Lai also thinks that everyone going to campus should be vaccinated, “unless they have medical reasons.”

Dr. Bacon said that students are “100 per cent right” to feel safer knowing everyone is vaccinated.

“There’s a couple of things tied to that as well,” he said. “Not only is it the issue of being vaccinated, but obviously as a certain perspective, you’re conscientious enough to be doubly vaccinated, it probably means you’re also conscientious enough to be wearing masks constantly in the right situations.

Dr. Bacon said that this demographic is “probably less likely to be taking risks around COVID.”

While universities in Quebec are not implementing vaccine mandates, Ontario is implementing vaccine mandates for all post-secondary schools starting Sept. 7.

Sebastian High, originally from Montreal, will be moving to Ottawa to attend Carleton University this fall. “I for one am super relieved about [the vaccine mandate],” he said. “It will allow me to feel safe on campus and ensure that I’m not constantly stressing out about spreading the virus.”

Dr. Bacon said “what gets lost in a lot of the communication around vaccine passports is what they’re really there for.”

“What a vaccine passport actually does is protect the unvaccinated,” he said. “That’s really their safety that’s paramount in that situation, because if they get sick with the delta variant, they’re 22 times more likely to end up in a hospital.”

He explained that if someone is fully vaccinated, they can still catch COVID and transmit it. Their probability of catching and transmitting it are lower, but anytime people are put in high-risk situations, there’s a risk of spread.

“This is the issue we have at the moment, both in terms of schools and universities. We know that they are higher-risk situations. That being said, if the majority of people are vaccinated and everyone is wearing a mask and doing what they’re supposed to do […] it really reduces the risk of transmission. On the flip side of that, we have the Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in Canada, and is much more contagious and infectious than the original Wuhan strain of the virus.”

Dr. Bacon added that part of the issue that we have is that not everyone is vaccinated.

“Relying solely on the masks is trying to say that we’re going to play hockey without a goalie. But we’re still going to try to stop the scoring. That’s not going to be very effective, or as effective as it could be.”


Photographs by Catherine Reynolds

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