McGill, News

McGill changes masking policies amid rise in COVID-19 cases on campus

McGill announced a new masking guideline on Nov. 19 in a university-wide email from the co-chairs of the new Recovery and Operations Resumption Committee (ROR), associate provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Chris Buddle and deputy provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau. The update stipulates that community members should replace their procedural masks after every four hours of use. The email also included other updates on McGill’s COVID-19 management, such as details on its rapid testing pilot project. 

The masking directive comes in the wake of rising cases on campus—there were 28 confirmed cases between Nov. 7 and Nov. 20—and is in line with the Quebec government’s contact tracing protocols. These protocols dictate that those wearing a fresh mask—i.e., one that has been worn for less than four hours—are considered “low-risk” if exposed to COVID-19 in a classroom. Those wearing a mask for more than four hours when they are exposed in a classroom will be deemed “medium or high risk” and will be required to get a COVID-19 test. 

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, stated that the university is aiming to make this mandate as easy as possible to adhere to.

“Masks are available at the entrance to most buildings on our three campuses,” Mazerolle wrote. “It is important to stress that a number of preventive measures will continue to be in effect for the [Winter 2022] semester. The health and safety of our students and staff is the guiding principle of all of our planning. Our mission is to provide students the safest and best experience possible despite the current global pandemic.”

Despite Mazerolle’s insistence that masks are readily available to all, some, like Nagashree Thovinakere, a graduate student in the Integrated Program in Neuroscience, feel they have to stockpile masks to comply with the new directive. 

“I have access to masks in the lab where I work, but that is not the case elsewhere on campus,” Thovinakere said in an interview with the Tribune. “So what I have been doing is carrying extra masks with me.”

Bridget Griffith, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, stated that the expense of buying masks—when not readily available on campus—adds to the challenge of compliance. Griffith also thought that the policy might be more effective if it drew attention to better mask hygiene and more consistency in wearing masks correctly. 

“Often, I see people not wearing the mask properly, wearing the masks multiple days in a row or storing the mask in their pocket,” Griffith said. “This puts people in situations more risky than they think they are.”

Ashika Jain, a pharmacology graduate student, on the other hand, feels that McGill has done an adequate job in making masks available to the student body. However, Jain mentioned the new requirement is still somewhat challenging to comply with because of the nature of lab work.

“It can be difficult for me [to change my mask every four hours] when I am doing an experiment in particular,” Jain said. “But, since the accessibility for masks has increased, it is feasible.”

Mazerolle explained that McGill’s new masking guideline is just one of many initiatives currently in place at the university—McGill has also begun a rapid COVID-19 testing project in the Trottier Engineering Building Cafeteria.

“The voluntary rapid COVID-19 testing pilot project for asymptomatic people has been used by more than 500 students, faculty, and staff since its launch on November 8th,” Mazerolle wrote. “The initiative is open to any student, faculty or staff member who wishes to be tested. Individuals that have tested positive are directed to get a confirmatory (PCR) test from an authorized testing site and to self-isolate.”

The results of the rapid test arrive within 15-20 minutes. The testing project is set to continue for the rest of the Fall 2021 term.

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