Opinions | With stricter public health measures on campus, a return to in-person learning is finally within reach

I couldn’t be happier that the University of Saskatchewan will be returning to near pre-pandemic operations for the winter term.

Anyone wanting to access campus will soon be required to show proof of complete COVID-19 vaccination. As of Jan. 4, the option to submit twice-weekly COVID-19 negative test results will no longer be offered to those who remain unvaccinated by choice.

The news may have come as a surprise to many — I know it did for me. I thought the current measures in place seemed to be working quite well at keeping transmission on campus low. However, if a return to pre-pandemic campus activity levels is what we want, perhaps stricter measures are warranted.

While some students prefer remote learning, the majority that I have spoken to are eager for in-person classes to resume. That’s why I’m glad the university was willing to offer more face-to-face learning opportunities this fall. But when those opportunities are few and far between, I would much rather have continued my studies entirely online.

I was required to move back to Saskatoon just to attend a once-weekly lab while my other classes were still being taught remotely. With stricter vaccine requirements for the upcoming term, however, I am hopeful that nearly all of my classes will be taught in-person.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased with the recent announcement by the university, but I won’t hold my breath. The U of S has been confident about a return to campus in the past, yet just days before the fall term began, many classes originally offered in-person suddenly switched online.

Even with the current measures in place, I am surprised that more in-person classes aren’t being offered. After all, 96 per cent of students and 98 per cent of staff and faculty are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

In October, only 52 positive cases involving the university community were reported — a fairly low number considering thousands of students access campus each day. This is not surprising considering the university’s high vaccination rate, mandatory masking and enhanced cleaning protocols.

According to many of the health professionals that the university consulted with before making a decision regarding a vaccine mandate, testing is considered to be a reactive approach, whereas vaccines are a part of a more proactive strategy to reduce transmission.

That’s why if the university wishes to return to pre-pandemic operations for the winter term, it makes sense that they crack down on students, faculty and staff who remain unvaccinated for reasons not protected by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

But despite what the university claims, it seems to me that anyone can access campus regardless of their vaccination status or COVID-19 test results. This makes me wonder if stricter public health measures on campus will also mean heightened enforcement. 

After all, there is no one manning the entryways to campus buildings confirming whether or not an individual is actually permitted to enter. It seems odd to strictly enforce who can attend an in-person class while simultaneously allowing anyone to utilize the library or other shared spaces on campus.

This loophole is something that the U of S will need to address if they wish to keep members of its community safe as more people look to access campus in the near future.

Call me selfish, but after more than a year of remote learning, I am ready to do whatever it takes to safely return to campus — even if it means my unvaccinated counterparts won’t be joining me in the classroom.

This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email opinions@thesheaf.com. Jakob is a third-year undergraduate student studying physiology and pharmacology, and the staff writer at The Sheaf Publishing Society.

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk

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Opinions | With stricter public health measures on campus, a return to in-person learning is finally within reach