Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced on March 9 that most mask mandates for schools, gyms, restaurants, and stores will be lifted in the province by March 21. However, a U of T spokesperson confirmed in an email to The Varsity that U of T plans to continue enforcing the use of masks in public spaces until the end of the semester.
The university made a similar decision with vaccine mandates, which are being revoked by the province but will continue to be enforced at U of T until at least the end of the term.
Can U of T contradict the province?
The university is an autonomous institution that can choose to maintain these measures even if they are no longer required by the government.
After Ontario’s announcement, other universities, like the University of Waterloo and Western University, also announced their plans to keep mask mandates in place at least until the end of the term. Western University revealed that the decision considers the lack of physical distance in some university spaces, claiming that the use of masks could grant more safety.
The U of T spokesperson also wrote in the email to The Varsity, “Capacity limits and physical distancing in [some] indoor spaces… are no longer required.”
The province’s decision to lift mask mandates was driven by stable hospitalization and positivity rates for COVID-19, rising vaccination rates, and availability of treatments, which continue to improve health indicators. On the other hand, Moore recognizes that there are still risks.
The measure will continue for spaces like public transit, retirement homes, jails, shelters, living settings, and congregate care. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has affirmed that those who still want to wear masks are welcome to do so.
Following the lifting of mask and vaccine mandates, all other COVID-19-related restrictions are expected to end in Ontario by April 27.