As Concordia refuses to give out N95 masks due to public health guidelines, student organizations scramble to get students these masks
As students returned to class on Feb. 3, the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) teamed up with the Concordia Student Union (CSU) to hand out N95 masks on the second floor of the Hall building. They also asked students to sign their petition asking the university for a safe return to class.
The petition asks for the university to supply all students and staff with free N95 masks, as recommended by the CDC for best dealing with the variant Omicron. The TRAC petition also asks for a two week delay to in-person class, contact tracing for students and staff, and reinstating social distancing.
“We’re not just giving the masks out to our membership, we’re giving out to the community because we want everyone to be safe,” said Bree Stuart, TRAC president. She explained that the university told her students are allowed to wear N95 or KN95 masks instead of the blue medical masks provided by the university.
Stuart said that in a meeting with the university last week, the administration said they did not want to supply students with N95 masks as it created a false sense of security, and the university would continue to follow public health guidelines.
Concordia’s spokesperson Vannina Maestracci told CBC that “The very large majority of activities that take place on campuses do not require N95 respirators according to Public Health and in educational sectors, procedural masks are being used to help mitigate transmission risks along with other preventative measures in place.”
Sofia Marina, a Concordia engineering student, said that as long as she is able to maintain her personal space, in-person class does not affect her.
“But it’s not fair that the university isn’t supplying us with N95s,” said Marina. “A lot of people seem to be asking for it, and it doesn’t seem to be that big of a demand.”
The CSU has released two open letters, the most recent letter condemning the university for its lack of leadership during the pandemic. The letter also asks the university for things like a hybrid semester, moving all exams online, eliminating all participation grades, and to bring back the pass/fail option.
“Now that contact tracing is no longer mandated through Public Health, and the scarcity of PCR tests, we can only imagine the immense implications this will have for campus safety,” reads the letter.
Other institutions are protesting the return to in-person class, as multiple McGill faculties have had walk-outs and strikes throughout January, according to Emma McKay, an organizer on the McGill strike committee.
When asked if they had advice for students that wanted direct action, McKay said “Talk to everybody, that’s the best thing a person can do,there are a lot of students who are scared and feel like they don’t have anybody to talk to about this, or who feel like action is not possible.”
Photo by Catherine Reynolds