The province previously lifted mask mandates on March 21. Photo: Georgiana Ghitau/Fulcrum
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Nervousness, excitement, and a concern for safety expressed by students

On Monday, the University of Ottawa announced that it was suspending its masking and proof of vaccination requirements for entry to campus, effective on May 1.

“As we have seen throughout the pandemic, it is difficult to predict the evolution of the virus and the emergence of new variants. This decision could be reversed at any point in the future depending on public health guidelines and the recommendations of experts,” wrote the University, in an email to students.

“We strongly recommend that all members of our community be fully vaccinated and get a third dose as advised by public health authorities. Although masks will no longer be mandatory, we encourage everyone to do what they feel is safest for them. Please respect everyone’s individual preference.”

The province of Ontario, alongside the majority of other Canadian provinces, officially lifted the bulk of its mask mandates on March 21. The lifted restrictions came in light of improving health indicators as well as Ontario’s high vaccination rate and the availability of antiviral treatment.

At the University of Ottawa, students are excited but nervous about the effects of the changing rules, and unsure of the impact they will have on student life.

Second-year anthropology student Riley O’Connor, describes the feeling as bittersweet. 

“On one hand, I’m excited to go out again and I want things to go back to normal, but on the other hand, how can we go back to normal when people will definitely get COVID-19 when everything is open again?”

“A couple weeks ago the number of COVID-19 cases was the same as the number of hospitalizations, and I think that’s because Ontario stopped free testing. I don’t think we will ever be able to return to normal life unless testing is available and accessible to everyone,” said O’Connor in an interview with the Fulcrum.

“I’m really nervous, but pumped.”

Fourth-year commerce student Amina Amenzyane is far more enthusiastic about the lifting restrictions.

“I think it is about time! Wearing a mask for a long time can have adverse negative health impacts. Masks should be now optional — especially with the availability of the vaccine. We just need to adapt to the existence of the virus and live normally,” said Amezyane. 

“I think the social distancing policy in place now is sufficient, like having one empty table between two students, and of course asserting that anyone with symptoms shouldn’t be on campus.”

First-year computer engineering student Saad Mahdi, believes putting public safety in the hands of individuals is poor governance. 

“The Ontario government is responsible for making these rules about our safety, but now it’s like it’s our own responsibility to decide if we want to wear a mask or like, be safe or not, which sounds bad for Ontario.”

Lauren McKinley, a second-year student in social sciences, thinks that lifting the mask mandate came a bit too soon. She says she takes comfort in knowing that masks will continue to be mandatory in places like public transport, hospitals, and airports so that those who are more likely to be affected by the virus will still be protected. 

“I like knowing that people in vulnerable positions will still be protected,“ she said. 

Even with Ontario’s mask mandate being lifted, McKinley will continue to wear her mask in indoor spaces for the time being. 

“I will continue wearing my mask in indoor spaces because I’m still a bit cautious,” she said.

Ana Sofia de la Parra, a first-year international student in gender studies and sociology, is concerned that lifting the mask mandate is simply the government’s way of yielding to the “Freedom Convoy” protestors. 

“Without the pressure from certain protest groups in the province, I don’t think this decision would have been made so early in the year,” she said.

Coming from another country where it’s hard to get vaccinated or receive medical attention if infected with COVID-19, she feels it is necessary to continue wearing masks until the end of the semester. 

“It’s an act of kindness that shows mutual respect for yourself and others,” she said, adding that she will continue wearing her mask in indoor spaces for the time being.

-With files from Charley Dutil & Zoë Mason