UTogether: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto

Introduction


The University of Toronto is committed to playing our part in preserving the health and wellbeing of our community throughout the pandemic. In the 2021-22 academic year, many students, faculty members, librarians and staff are once again gathering on our campuses, in accordance with public health guidelines.

This roadmap serves as a guide for our community as we return to life on our campuses. For the latest information, answers to frequently asked questions and other resources, please also visit U of T’s UTogether website, a hub of information on how the University is managing the pandemic. There you can also find information on each faculty’s COVID-19 response and their latest plans for the months ahead.

We are committed first and foremost to the health and safety of our entire community during the COVID-19 pandemic. To that end, we are following the advice of public health authorities as we focus on three guiding principles:

  1. Promoting health and safety
  2. Advancing academic excellence
  3. Meeting the needs of our community

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us by submitting your query here. As we get back to our campuses – virtually or physically – we will continue to work together and help one another adjust and adapt.

Background

In March 2020, the University of Toronto activated its Crisis and Emergency Framework to manage our coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Incident Leadership Team (ILT) was led by Vice-President and Provost, Professor Cheryl Regehr and then-Vice-President of Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives, Professor Vivek Goel.

As we moved from crisis response to more long-term planning, the ILT was disbanded. Professor Goel, as Special Advisor to the President and Provost, led the University’s operational response to the pandemic on a day-to-day basis. To assist him, the University created the Response and Adaptation Unit, a small, dedicated team housed in the Provost’s Office, and a tri-campus Response and Adaptation Committee.

At the end of December 2020, Salvatore Spadafora, Professor and Vice Dean Strategy and Operations at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, assumed the role of Special Advisor. This roadmap provides guidance on the University’s continued response to the pandemic and plans for a safe return to life on campus.

Promoting Health and Safety


Our commitment to the health and safety of all members of the U of T community is paramount. The Ontario Government’s Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario and Manage COVID-19 for the Long-Term outlines a series of steps to lift COVID-19 public health restrictions over several months, provided key health indicators in the province support continued progress. U of T’s gradual return to in-person activity our campuses will continue to follow the requirements of government and recommendations of public health authorities.

The University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Office is keeping the community apprised of any and all requirements, and lists several resources on their website to assist the community safely engage in on-campus activities.

Supporting a Safe Return

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we will continue to monitor public health guidance daily to ensure that our measures are up to date and are informed by evidence. From continuing enhanced cleaning to improving ventilation, the University prepared for a safe return to our three campuses in a dozen key ways.

Vaccines

Vaccination is the most important way that individuals can protect themselves against COVID-19 and is a key element of the University of Toronto’s strategy to support a safe return to campus.

All members of our community coming to our campuses in Fall 2021 must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and are required to upload proof of vaccination via UCheck. All community members were required to have their first dose by September 13 and their final dose by October 15 to qualify as fully vaccinated by October 29. This requirement aligns with the August 24 recommendation of the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health for post-secondary institutions in the province that all individuals involved in any in-person campus activities be fully vaccinated with proof of vaccination except for those who cannot be vaccinated due to a permitted exemption.

Those seeking a permitted exemption for medical reasons or other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code are able to make a request through the University’s Enterprise Service Centre (ServiceNow).

Only those who are fully vaccinated, or on their way to full vaccination with the support of the university, or have a university-approved exemption can come to campus. Individuals who are not yet fully vaccinated (i.e., partially vaccinated but not yet 14 days past their second or final shot) or who have received a University-approved exemption must participate in the University’s rapid screening program and may be subject to additional safety measures. At-home screening kits are available to these individuals at no cost, along with an instructional video. Results must be uploaded in UCheck at least twice weekly, and a negative result will be required before coming to a University campus.

Visitors to U of T campuses are required to be fully vaccinated. They may be asked to provide proof of vaccination as required by provincial regulations. We have put these measures in place in consultation with local public health units and experts in the field.

The University has also worked with health-care partners to deliver on-campus access to vaccination clinics and pop-up opportunities for students, faculty and staff. For more information about vaccinations, visit the UTogether vaccine page and frequently asked questions.

Rapid Screening Program

Rapid antigen screening is mandatory for certain individuals coming to campus or living in residence. The following groups are required to participate in rapid screening:

  • Those who are not fully vaccinated (i.e., partially vaccinated but not yet 14 days past their second or final shot)
  • Those with a valid vaccination exemption that has been approved by the University

If you screen positive, you cannot come to campus, and must notify the occupational health nurses at ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca. They will refer you for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result, provide guidance on self-isolation and arrange supports as needed.

U of T community members who are fully vaccinated but would still like to participate in the rapid antigen screening program are encouraged to do so. Rapid screening cannot be used as an alternative to vaccination as per the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health.

More information is available on the UTogether rapid screening page.

Contact Tracing and Case Management

We have developed case management procedures for reporting COVID-19 cases. Our Health & Safety office works with local public health officials on case management, conducts contact tracing and speaks directly with individuals who have been exposed to either a suspected or a confirmed case.

If any member of our community receives a positive test result for COVID-19, they should immediately contact the Occupational Health Nurse (OHN) at ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca.

The University provides community notifications and cleaning notifications to those affected by COVID-19 cases on our campuses. These notifications are provided out of an abundance of caution and do not signal elevated risk or require any further action by individuals, other than those who are contacted directly by the Health & Safety Office.

In an effort to keep everyone informed, the University of Toronto is posting the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among members of the U of T community. Data is published on the COVID-19 Dashboard every Monday (Tuesday after a long weekend) and Thursday.

COVID-19 Self-Assessments

Provincial regulation and public health guidance require that post-secondary institutions implement COVID-19 health screening for anyone coming to our campuses. In order to comply with these directives, a self-assessment is required for all members of our community, including faculty members, librarians, staff, and students, each day they visit any one of the three U of T campuses or any other property owned or operated by U of T. Visit UTogether’s self-assessment page for more information.

To make the required self-assessments fast, efficient and secure, we have developed UCheck, a self-assessment web portal that allows members of our community to generate a COVID-19 risk status by completing a quick and thorough self-assessment that is tailored to U of T.

The University developed the UCheck web portal in partnership with Thrive Health, a leading health-care technology company with expertise in protecting individuals’ private health information. UCheck is available for the U of T community at ucheck.utoronto.ca on computers, smartphones, and tablets. More details and FAQs on COVID-19 self assessment, including offline and paper-based forms, are available on the UTogether site.

Upgrading Ventilation and Air Filtration

To prepare for our safe return to campus, the University implemented a comprehensive strategy to upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Classrooms that will be used for in-person teaching across the three campuses are equipped for six equivalent air changes per hour, the same standard applied to patient examination rooms, walk-in clinics and other health-care settings.  

The university continues to upgrade and monitor HVAC equipment where necessary. That includes monitoring and maintaining upgraded air filters that capture a greater percentage of smaller particles and outfitting some classrooms with a local air filtration device with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. 

All building ventilation systems at U of T will continue to undergo regular maintenance to ensure air is clean and flowing into and out of buildings properly. As an additional measure, the university plans to flush air from enclosed spaces prior to occupancy.  

Face Masks

In October 2020, the Government of Ontario enacted a requirement for the use of non-medical masks and face covering to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the province. This regulation requires non-medical masks to be worn in indoor University spaces, including classrooms and common areas in residences, and leased spaces. Wearing a mask is also strongly recommended outside when a two-metre distance is not possible to maintain.

Additional details about the application of the regulation, exceptions, and medical accommodations are available in U of T’s Guideline on Non-Medical Masks. This Guideline is based on the latest regulatory requirements and may be further updated periodically as our response to COVID-19 evolves.

Cleaning

The University of Toronto has implemented a caretaking strategy that involves increased frequency of cleaning of shared public spaces. Thousands of touchless hand sanitizer stations and wipe dispensers have been added to high-traffic, high-use areas, such as libraries, classrooms and shared office spaces.

Workplace

To support employees whose work requires a presence on campus, the University has implemented a number of workplace measures, including staggered shifts and flexible work arrangements that reduce the risk of transmission. The Division of HR & Equity’s COVID-19 page includes a range of resources, such as a Best Practices for Leading & Managing Remotely guideline and a Temporary Special Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guideline. Physical distancing requirements in offices, labs and common spaces have been applied.

You can read more about the University’s plans for a safe return to workplace operations.

Travel Restrictions

The global pandemic led to months of international travel restrictions, including a federal advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada from March 2020 to October 2021.

Beginning on November 3, 2021, university-sanctioned activities abroad are able to resume for U of T students for countries and regions that are listed at “exercise normal security precautions” and “exercise a high degree of caution”. Students are encouraged to follow the instructions and steps on safetyabroad.utoronto.ca for pre-departure well in advance of any travel abroad. Those returning to Canada are encouraged to review the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, exemptions and advice. U of T is recognized by the federal government as a designated learning institution, meaning that the University is able to welcome international students who have approved study permits.

Quarantine

U of T actively supports students who need to quarantine.  Students seeking more detailed information can review the Quarantine Guide for Students for complete details on preparing for travel and quarantine. International Students can find information on requirements for entering Canada on the FAQ For International Students: Entry to Canada & Pre-Arrival or the FAQ For Newly Admitted International Students. The FAQs on quarantine accommodation provide some additional information.

Academic Excellence


Academic Programs

We recognize the value of in-person learning, research, and on-campus activity and we are returning to campus as much activity on campus as possible in accordance with public health guidelines. While the situation will vary from one division or campus to another, and may continue to evolve, the aggregate picture is consistent with our earlier commitment to offer a rich mix of learning opportunities and formats, combining online and in-person modes of delivery.

To learn more about plans in place at faculties and divisions across the University, please visit their respective COVID-19 information pages.

We will prioritize on-campus activities to the extent they are possible. We are committed to continuously providing a University of Toronto education defined by intellectual stimulation, rigour, collaboration, and discovery.

Research

We have been able to re-open on-campus research labs that were previously closed, following a process that complies with public health directives and follows institutional principles and guidelines. Up-to-date information about the status of research at U of T during the pandemic is available on Research & Innovation’s COVID-19 FAQ page. A Principles for Research Recovery and Adaptation document is also available and includes guidance on which research activities were phased-in first. Accompanying the Principles are two companions:

  1. Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation – which outlines the process and risk assessment considerations for gradual and controlled research recovery and adaption on- and off-campus, and
  2. COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research, which provides strategies and the University’s requirements for operating research spaces.

Along with the reopening of on-campus labs, many of our field researchers were able to resume their projects within Canada, adhering closely to all applicable public health measures. While international travel was restricted, some of our scholars who were already outside the country have been able to continue their research, in close consultation with the University’s Environmental Health and Safety unit and in adherence to local public health directives.

Meeting the Needs of Our Community


Supports for Student

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of building an understanding, caring community. Since March 2020, we have been working hard to protect the health and well-being of all members of our community. Since March 2020, the University has provided more than $11 million in emergency bursary funds for students in need of help due to the pandemic. We recognize that the student experience is an important element of life on our campuses. For incoming students, orientation and transition programs and events are critical to student success and community-building at U of T. We are ensuring that all students have access to orientation activities regardless of their location and have provided guidance to divisions and student organizations as they coordinate their own orientation events.

Student Life teams on all three campuses have expanded plans to provide remote delivery of student services across time zones, such as orientation and co-curricular activities, based on principles developed in consultation with student leaders.

For questions or concerns related to plans for students’ safe return to campus activities, consult the Student COVID-19 FAQ page.

For our graduate students, we are engaged in research continuity planning, providing assistance through an emergency bursary fund, and offering mentorship and professional development programming. This is all to support graduate student experience and positively impact academic and career outcomes.

Whether it be online or in-person, as we get back to our campuses, classrooms, laboratories and libraries, we are collaborating to help one another adjust and adapt as a community.

Accessibility & Accommodation

The current disruption due to COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on faculty members, librarians, staff, and students with disabilities, including those with multiple, intersecting identities. To assist our safe return to our campuses, we have developed planning resources and guidelines to proactively address new potential physical and attitudinal barriers to accessibility for members of the University community with disabilities.

The University of Toronto has a longstanding commitment to accessibility and accommodation, and to meeting our obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. If, for reasons related to a disability, you anticipate or experience barriers to accessibility that have arisen out of the return to U of T campuses or which may impact an accommodation you already have in place, the University has resources to support you.

Conclusion


We know recovery will take time, resolve, patience, and resilience. There may be setbacks and surprises along the way. But as we engage with new and returning students on campus or online, we aim to resume the rich, vibrant and stimulating academic life for which the University of Toronto is so widely recognized. We will do so safely, pursuing academic excellence in partnership with the entire University community, wherever its members are located.