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. Like many of our Canadian peer institutions, we are offering nearly all of our current courses remotely. Most faculty members, staff and librarians continue to work at home, as they have since March 2020. Looking forward to Fall 2021, we are optimistic that students, faculty members, librarians and staff will once again gather on our campuses, in accordance with public health guidelines.

This roadmap serves as a guide for our community as we undertake the process of returning 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 are plans for a safe return to increased campus life.

Promoting Health and Safety


Our commitment to the health and safety of all members of the U of T community is paramount. A phased approach to returning to our campuses will follow the requirements of government and public health authorities. The Ontario Government’s COVID-19 Roadmap to Reopen framework outlines a three-step plan based on vaccine rates and other public health indicators to ease restrictions.. The University’s return to campus will follow the steps set out in this framework.

While most members of our community continue to work and study remotely, some have worked on campus throughout the pandemic, have already returned or are planning to return for activities that require a presence on our campuses. At every step, we continue to follow the advice of government and 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.

Preparing for a Safe Return

To prepare for a safe return to our campuses, U of T has implemented a dozen mutually supporting strategies:

Download a transcript of the infographic.

Vaccines

The University of Toronto urges all members of our community to get fully vaccinated as soon as they are eligible to do so. To help with the provincial vaccination effort, the University has provided space and resources for vaccine clinics on all three of our campuses. These clinics are operated by public health and hospital partners. The University also will support students who have been unable to access vaccines to get their first and second doses this fall.

U of T has taken the additional precaution of making vaccination mandatory for students living in residence. This measure has the support of both Toronto and Peel public health and will help ensure that students leaving home to live in close proximity on our campuses are safe and healthy and can make the most of residence life. Any students in residence who cannot be vaccinated on medical or other grounds recognized by the Ontario Human Rights Code may request an exemption. For more information, see the FAQs about the vaccine requirement for students in residence.

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. Those who are unable to access the UCheck web portal or prefer not to use UCheck can instead use a paper-based or offline self-assessment log.

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 developed a comprehensive strategy to upgrade our heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Classrooms that will be used for in-person teaching across the three campuses are being 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.  

Mask or Face Coverings

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 or face coverings to be worn in indoor University spaces, including classrooms and common areas in residences, and leased spaces. Wearing a mask or face covering 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 regulatory requirements as of April 23, 2021 and may be further updated periodically as our response to COVID-19 evolves.

Cleaning

The University of Toronto is implementing 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.

Since a focus on students and student experience underpins our collective work, we aim to deliver as many in-person activities as permitted by public health guidance in September 2021. This means that faculty, librarians, staff, and especially those who support our students and research activities, should expect to work on-site this fall. Over the summer, divisional leaders will be providing specific direction on what a return to campus will mean for individual teams.

Travel Restrictions and Quarantine

International travel restrictions will likely remain in place for some time, and all members of our community 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.

For individuals coming to our campuses from abroad who have not been fully vaccinated with Health Canada-approved vaccines, the Government of Canada’s travel restrictions include:

  • Presenting a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure
  • Taking a second PCR test upon arrival
  • Booking into a government-approved hotel for three nights
  • Completing a mandatory 14-day quarantine

U of T actively supports students who need to meet these self-isolation requirements.

As of June 6, 2021, international students, Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated with Health Canada-approved vaccines will be eligible for exemption from the mandatory hotel quarantine program and the requirement for a 14-day quarantine. Fully vaccinated travelers will still be required to take the pre-arrival and on-arrival tests and must provide documentation for their vaccinations.

Academic Excellence


Academic Programs

Most teaching and learning activities continue to be offered remotely, though we are preparing for a safe and gradual return to life on campus for Fall 2021. We recognize the value of in-person learning, research, and on-campus activity and plan to return 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 has been 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.

For our researchers who conduct research with human participants, many studies that previously involved face-to-face interactions with research participants, along with newly proposed studies, are pivoting to use virtual methods. We have been able to successfully facilitate studies that absolutely require face-to-face interactions by ensuring strict adherence to public health guidelines to ensure the safety of both participants and researchers.

Looking ahead to Fall 2021, Some faculties are preparing to phase in increased capacity in their research facilities. As on-campus research expands, researchers will continue to follow all public health directives such as wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment.  

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.  We have provided more than $10 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 want to ensure that all students have access to orientation activities regardless of their location and to offer a guide for 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 improve 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.