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. We are ensuring that our students can make progress and have access to the necessary supports, providing a place to live for students in residence, and supporting the critical research endeavors of our world-class scholars.

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), led by Vice-President and Provost, Professor Cheryl Regehr and then-Vice-President of Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives, Professor Vivek Goel, oversaw six teams focusing on academic continuity, students, research operations, human resources and equity, business continuity and operations, and communications.

The University’s initial focus was in three key areas: to ensure our students’ progress and the completion of their studies, to support COVID-19 and time-sensitive research, and to provide a welcoming place to live for those students who were unable to go home. Almost overnight, more than 6,300 courses moved to remote means of instruction, and the majority of U of T’s staff and faculty members began working from home.

As we moved from crisis response to more long-term planning, the ILT was disbanded. Many of its members have returned to their former roles and we have reverted to our normal structures, with adaptations as needed to support our continued response efforts.

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. Should the need arise in the future, we would reactivate the University’s crisis framework along with an appropriate ILT structure.

With this roadmap, we hope to provide further guidance in the areas of research, laboratories, environmental health and safety, student experience, residences, libraries, athletics, and more.

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 Response Framework outlines a colour-coded system of five zones enacting a range of measures, from standard to lockdown, with the option to impose additional measures, such as stay-at-home-orders, as needed. The University’s return to normalcy will follow the stages set out in this framework.

While most members of our community continue to work and study remotely, some of you have returned or are planning to return for essential 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 with safe engagement in on-campus activities.

To help keep our community safe and healthy, U of T has implemented a wide array of safety measures that includes the use of non-medical masks in our buildings, mandatory health screening, reducing the number of people on our campuses, enhanced cleaning protocols and extensive signage to encourage physical distancing at our St. George, University of Toronto Mississauga and University of Toronto Scarborough campuses.

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. Students who have COVID-19 symptoms should contact their Campus Health and Wellness or Health and Counselling Centre to determine next steps, including whether the Occupational Health Nurse should be contacted. Students living in residence should contact residence staff for further direction and assistance.

Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms should contact their manager, supervisor, or Dean, Chair, or Academic Director to determine next steps. They should also contact the OHN at ehs.occhealth@utoronto.ca, who will conduct an assessment.

Whether an individual reports a confirmed case or tells us they have COVID-19 related symptoms without a confirmation, we follow the same procedures of contact tracing and disinfection in our buildings. We also provide community notifications and cleaning notifications to those affected. 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 campus. In order to comply with these directives, a self-assessment is now 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.

Members of our community 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.

A COVID-19 risk status will help inform individuals of whether they are at risk of spreading the virus and will allow the University to better support our workforce and student population over the next few months. 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.

In addition, we encourage members of the community to install the COVID Alert app, which provides for potential exposure notifications.

Travel Restrictions

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. In October 2020, U of T was 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. The Government of Canada has established mandatory quarantine requirements that apply to international students and faculty members coming to our campuses from abroad, and U of T actively supports students who need to meet these self-isolation requirements. As part of this support, the University has developed guiding principles to facilitate access to on- or off-campus accommodations for new and returning students coming from outside of Canada.

The Government of Canada also requires travelers entering the country to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. Upon arrival in Canada, air passengers must take a second PCR test and then complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

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 was updated in response to the November 17, 2020 revision of provincial regulations 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. Hand sanitizer stations and wipe dispensers have been added to many high-traffic, high-use areas, such as libraries, classrooms and shared office spaces. The University has also implemented a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning strategy to help maintain a safe indoor environment.

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 are being applied.

You can read more about the University’s plans for a safe return to workplace operations and protocols in place to respond to cases on campus.

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.

Academic Excellence


Academic Programs

Most teaching and learning activities continue to be offered remotely, though we are optimistic that a return to life on campus will be possible in Fall 2021. We recognize the value of in-person learning, research, and on-campus activity and plan to return to campus life as soon as it is safe to do so.

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.

Early in the fall semester, close to 90 per cent of undergraduate students were enrolled in online courses as we followed public health directives on class sizes. As provincial regulations and public health guidance were revised, courses were moved entirely online, except in a small number of health care and other programs where students need in-person activity to graduate. These few in-person courses incorporated additional measures to ensure the safety of students and faculty members. We expect the Winter term to proceed in a similar manner. To learn more about plans and health and safety measures in place at faculties and divisions across the University, please visit their respective COVID-19 information pages.

The University has developed and updated a number of resources to assist divisions and faculty members with navigating teaching and learning activities:

We will continue to draw on our faculty members’ expertise in online teaching models to ensure the high-quality learning experience expected of a U of T education. We will also 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

During the initial phase of the pandemic, most on-campus research operations and labs were safely closed down, with the exception of some critical, time-sensitive and COVID-19 research projects that were allowed to continue. We supported a range of fabrication and manufacturing efforts across the three campuses (e.g., 3D printing and N95 mask testing); launched a COVID-19 Action Fund and Institutional Strategic Initiatives (ISIs) to coordinate and provide approximately $9 million in funding for 36 pandemic-related research projects; maintained relations with our hospital partners; and developed a website to collect and promote COVID-19 volunteer opportunities.

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.

Our Community


The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of building an understanding, caring community. Since March, we have been working hard to protect the health and well-being of all members of our community. We have ensured that our students completed their term. We have provided accommodation to those students unable to return home and more than $9 million in emergency bursary funds for students in need of help due to the pandemic. For the city and public at large, we have continued to conduct critical research focused on COVID-19 and supported a range of fabrication and manufacturing efforts for PPE.

U of T residences remain open and are operating according to principles we have developed with our divisional and college leaders and in line with public health requirements. These include reduced numbers of students in residence, limits to gathering sizes and the use of common spaces, and changes to the way food service is delivered.

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.

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.