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Mandatory mask policy protects campus community as COVID-19 cases rise

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: October 27, 2020 11:00 a.m.

Angela General, Development Assistant with University Advancement & Communications, dons one of the U of R branded masks that have been provided to all University of Regina faculty and staff members. Use of non-medical masks on campus became mandatory on September 1.
Angela General, Development Assistant with University Advancement & Communications, dons one of the U of R branded masks that have been provided to all University of Regina faculty and staff members. Use of non-medical masks on campus became mandatory on September 1. Photo: UAC

As cases of COVID-19 continue to climb worldwide suggesting a second wave of the disease is imminent, if not already present in some areas, decisions made in the best interest of community safety are more important than ever.

Beginning September 1, the use of non-medical masks became mandatory for all people coming on to University of Regina campus as another preventive measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Following Saskatchewan Health guidelines and other federal recommendations, Darren Cherwaty, Director, Health, Safety and Wellness, has worked with his team and other campus stakeholders to implement safety  measures across campuses including limiting entrances, enhancing cleaning and disinfecting of public areas, improving ventilation and air filtration, and of course, mandating the use of masks.

“As a post-secondary educational organization with a strong research program, we feel it is important to listen to the experts in the fields of infection control, public health, epidemiology, and those currently engaged in COVID-19 research worldwide,” says Cherwaty.

One of those experts is Dr. Andrew Cameron, a U of R microbiologist and associate professor with the Department of Biology.

Cameron is part of a Western Canadian team currently working to better understand the genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how to approach co-infecting viruses. With so much still unknown about the virus, Cameron is advocating for members of the community to follow the evidence-based research that has emerged.

“Laboratory experiments and population-level modelling have consistently confirmed that by trapping droplets and reducing aerosols, masks greatly reduce transmission of the virus,” says Cameron. “The pandemic would be curtailed with society-wide adoption of mask use along with social distancing.”

Across the province, mask use remains recommended, but optional, in situations where physical distancing is not guaranteed. Campuses may be quieter than usual, but an uptick in foot traffic has occurred since the beginning of the Fall semester. Many measures have been put in place to help with physical distancing throughout U of R campuses, but indoor environments can often be unpredictable.

“The virus can persist in air and if we unexpectedly come in contact with someone, we increase the chance to transmit or receive the disease. Mask use reduces that,” says Cameron.

Since March, most faculty and staff have been working from home and only a small handful of courses are being offered in person. Campuses are currently considered closed to the public, but for anyone who must go to campus Cherwaty views the new mask policy as an added safety measure for themselves and others.

“The addition of mandatory mask guidelines is part of our multi-faceted approach that includes mitigation to provide the best protection possible for members of our campus community,” says Cherwaty. “Wearing a mask is an important piece of the COVID-19 prevention puzzle.”

Despite evidence-based research and recommendations from medical experts, movements have emerged opposing the wearing of masks. Cameron assures anyone with doubts about the effectiveness of masks that the science supports that wearing one is in the best interest of the greater community.

“The main argument by the ‘anti-maskers’ is that most people improperly wear their masks so they are not effective. This is simply not true,” says Cameron. “A face covering over the nose and mouth will greatly limit the amount of droplets and aerosols a person emits, thus reducing dispersion of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.”
Cameron stressed that following masking guidelines is an important step to protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

“This is a new disease, meaning we don’t have pre-existing antibodies against it,” says Cameron. “Like most respiratory diseases, we don’t know what the infectious dose is. Any measures we can take to limit the amount of droplets and aerosols one emits will help to prevent the spread of the deadly disease and save lives.”
He also reminds individuals that common courtesy will help us to get through the pandemic.

“If you have any symptoms at all, now is not the time to ignore them. We tend to try to work through any illness and dismiss it as just a cold,” says Cameron. “Use old wisdom: if you feel sick, stay home!”

All U of R faculty and staff – working on campus or remotely – have been provided with masks that fit within U of R masking guidelines. Anyone who needs to visit campus is asked to bring their own, and disposable masks are available at each campus entrance for anyone who forgets. The policy fits well within the U of R’s motto, As One Who Serves, and offers encouragement to put the needs of the greater community at the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The University believes in doing its part to limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus, as well as in the general community as we get through this time – together,” says Cherwaty.

For a full overview of mask use on campus, visit the Face Mask Guidelines.

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