Vaccine disclosure for campus rec and fitness

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): Call it “record of immunity” and nobody bats an eye, but say “vaccine passport” and everyone loses their minds. marco verch via flickr

Dean of Kin and Director of Sport share on mandates, policies, and accommodations

by holly funk & gillian massie, editor-in-chief & staff writer

The University of Regina’s campus facilities are back open and running again for the fall semester, though not all feel comfortable accessing what they are being charged for. Many faculty members are welcoming students and staff back into the Kinesiology Building of Health and Sport to proceed with different physical activities. While some students have eagerly awaited the re-opening of campus facilities, others are hesitant – or simply unable – to return.

We are well into the fourth wave of COVID-19 and have been for weeks, yet the Government of Saskatchewan has only recently begun re-implementing safety precautions to help stop the virus from spreading. As of September 17, the provincial wide mask mandate was reinstated in all indoor public spaces, including schools. There is not currently a vaccine option for children under age 12, which was thought to put them at higher risk, and which we are now seeing confirmed in their climbing infection rates.

Campus facilities could potentially be a hot-spot for COVID-19 transmission with many individuals wanting to use athletic facilities. As of October 1, students and faculty must be fully vaccinated to be able to return anywhere on campus, or else submit to rapid testing once every two weeks. U of R students can upload proof of vaccination onto UR Self-Service which can be submitted as a PDF through the Saskatchewan Health Association website.

Massie interviewed the Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Harold Riemer, who explains the vaccine mandate for students and staff: “First of all, for our students anyway, and the faculty and staff on the campus who make use of the facilities, any of the general things that are in place by the University are in place for those individuals too. So that includes the vaccine mandate, which will require everyone to either be vaccinated or submit themselves for testing.”

Funk interviewed Lisa Robertson, Director of Sport, Community Engagement, and Athletic Development, to learn more on policies specifically for student-athletes and non-students who choose to visit and use campus facilities. “Prior to the health announcement the province made, the campus did not have a visitor vaccination policy in essence. As of public health orders, we are going to have to move in that direction.”

The switch, while hectic, won’t be entirely foreign, as Robertson mentioned they already had more restrictions in place than required. “The whole campus, but specifically for our fans, the faculties, off-campus members to our facilities – they will have to show proof of vaccination. Until then, we have a masking mandate anyways so we already have a higher level – or had a higher level – of expectation than the rest of the community had. We didn’t lift our masking. The only exemption was our student-athletes when they were actually actively engaged in the field of play. So now we are moving towards an October 1 – or shortly thereafter – system. I don’t know what that system is yet, it literally just happened, so we’re working on that.”

Campus facilities always mandated mandatory masking within facilities except if you are swimming in the pool or in the showers. While using facilities other than the pool, such as the Fitness Centre (FC), masking is required. Mandatory masking is essential to keeping individuals safe, as it has been shown to decrease COVID-19 transmission rates, which seem to only climb with each new variant.

Robertson explains that when it comes to policies in this area, the specifics are ever-changing, and it is difficult to establish plans that respect both everyone’s health and privacy. “It’s really tricky because if you’re storing any of this information, it has to fall under HIPAA privacy rules – medical privacy rules. Which what we’re doing with our student-athletes does fall under HIPAA, it’s all handled through our medical team, but general campus? I’m not sure how that’s going to be managed.”

While a potential solution could be found through their ticket system, there are ideas elsewhere. “It sounds like the province is doing this QR code where it’s like scan-and-go, so [the information is] not stored, it just gives whoever scans it a red light or a green light and then the information is deleted.” Robertson said, but made sure to explain that nothing is set in stone as of yet. “This is an immensely complicated and immensely cumbersome process at times, and everybody – not just our university and our sports teams – we have no map to follow, so we’re all learning as we go.”

With intermural and other esports back up and running, athletes will need to mask on the bench, but will not be required to mask while participating. “Our student-athletes are exempt from that because we put a vaccination policy and we are collecting that information,” says Robertson, referencing the August 13 mandate for those on varsity sports, varsity clubs, or living in reference to be vaccinated. Referees and other game officials will be required to mask during all interactions.

“[W]hat we are not requiring is for people who are actually participating in sport, like on the court itself. That mask will not be required for our external render groups. But on the way to the court, or off the court or sitting on the sidelines, all sorts of things, mask is required.” Reimer expanded. With many of the sporting teams and intermural taking place soon, fans are encouraged to come down and show their support for their teams, keeping in mind masking and proper social distancing is still required.

Another way student-athletes enjoy more flexibility from these measures made in advance is through an accommodation process that was created for those unwilling or unable to get a vaccine. Without the accommodation, Robertson says “If you’re unwilling to disclose your status, you are assumed to be unvaccinated, and we treat you as unvaccinated. You can still go through an accommodation request, but you cannot participate if you don’t disclose and/or go through the accommodation process.”

Accommodations were applied for using a comprehensive application, and as they were only offered for religious or medical reasons, they required a religious or medical professional to sign off. “We struck a committee,” Robertson explained, “a multidisciplinary committee from our campus community that meets; we’ve met once a week for the past two weeks to review the accommodation requests […] We have accommodated all of the requests to date, and they have to remain under stricter protocols as unvaccinated student-athletes.”

The downside to these accommodations is that they only apply within the university’s specific jurisdiction, so there is no guarantee unvaccinated athletes will be able to travel and play elsewhere at present. “Provinces that we compete in have vaccination requirements, other schools have vaccination requirements, and I have to sign off that I’m sending vaccinated student-athletes,” Robertson said to expand on the reasoning behind their mandates. “If I don’t know if you’re vaccinated or not, I can’t sign off on you […] Wherever our student-athletes are going, whatever their policy is supersedes any accommodation we have provided.”

Aside from vaccinations, rapid testing, and mandatory masking, cleaning protocols will continue as usual. Cleaning protocols have been set in place since the beginning of the pandemic and take place routinely throughout each day. Within the FC, patrons are required to wipe down their own equipment, a job which is then followed up by an employee.

Students will still be required to pay the athletic and recreation fee, even if they choose not to use the facilities for this year. The fee also applies for students who remain in remote locations, and have no feasible way of coming to Regina to use the facilities they have been charged for. The fee remains at $98 per term.

Riemer explains why faculty and admin feel the fee is necessary for the Health and Sport building: “[T]here’s a lot more that is paid for by the fees than just access to facilities. I mean, that’s certainly part of it, and it facilitates access to the facilities or even the programming for students. But it is the way that the university has chosen to pay for varsity sport and recreation on this campus. And so it was, and it’s been, a mandatory fee, with the exception of those two semesters following the start of the pandemic, and it was reinstated in January and continues this summer, and continues into the fall.”

Students who choose not to or are unable to return to campus facilities are also provided with an array of remote physical activities on the University of Regina’s Recreation Services website, and workout challenges are posted throughout the year. Going into the winter months, an outdoor rink will also be ready for students to hit the ice and race around.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike within Saskatchewan, keep an eye out for changes in regulations. The Government of Saskatchewan officially makes and changes the rules to keep the public safe, and some of their changes have only been very recently re-implemented. Campus facility rules and regulations could be subject to change at any moment.

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