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Red Deer Polytechnic making masks mandatory in classrooms

Vaccination not required but strongly encouraged and masks must be worn in learning areas
Red Deer College will continue to evolve as a post-secondary institution and expand its breadth of programming and scope of opportunities for learners with its new name Red Deer Polytechnic. (Photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer Polytechnic will require masks in all learning areas and strongly encourage students get vaccinated.

But students will not be required to provide proof of vaccination, nor will the college require unvaccinated students to undergo rapid testing for COVID.

Other Alberta post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, NAIT and SAIT, are strongly urging students get vaccinated without making it a requirement to attend class.

RDP president Peter Nunoda said mandatory vaccinations were considered but rejected in large part because of the logistical difficulties in ensuring students had received both shots in a province where no vaccination passport exists.

“From a logistical standpoint it’s difficult to know how we would ask them to provide that documentation. There isn’t a provincial vaccination passport as yet, so the documentation would have been all over the place, depending on whether or not students were immunized in the AHS clinics or in private pharmacies as has often been the case.

“Consistency and verification of that documentation, we felt, would be very challenging.”

Likewise, the polytechnic decided it did not have the capacity to do rapid testing of unvaccinated students, as University of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge intend beginning Sept. 1.

“From a logistics point of view, we did not feel we had the personnel capacity to execute rapid testing on a frequent basis …”

Nunoda suspects other post-secondary institutions will be “hard-pressed to deploy rapid testing. So, we just didn’t feel that that was a practical solution for us.”

Instead, all students and faculty will be required to wear masks in classrooms, labs, studios and shops where two-metre physical distancing is near impossible.

“We believe that measure will significantly reduce any kind of transmission risk for COVID in those close quarters,” said Nunoda.

Students and staff are encouraged to physically distance outside classrooms such as hallways and other areas on campus where masking will be encouraged but not required. In an effort to reduce risk of transmission, the school has about 300 sanitization stations set up.

Students are also being asked to check in each day they are on campus using the COVID tracing and Alberta Daily Health Checklist, which are available on the SAFE RDC app. Anyone who is sick should stay home and fill out an illness reporting form.

To encourage vaccinations, the college will host immunization clinics Sept. 8 and 9.

Nunoda credited the students’ association for asking that the polytechnic set up vaccination clinics with Alberta Health Services.

“So what we’re really hoping is that through education and through significant promotion on social media platforms and other means that we’ll get a significant number of students who are not vaccinated at this point in time to participate in the program.”

Students’ association president Savannah Snow said she sees the clinics as an alternative to having students prove they have received both shots.

“This makes it so that it’s really close to home. They don’t have an excuse to (not) have that second dose or even that first dose.

“Another reason for the clinic is we really do want to encourage students to get vaccinated so we can all keep moving forward to our new normal. Having that vaccine clinic there is really important to getting there.”

Like many Albertans, much apprehension around COVID remains “and students are no exception to that. There’s definitely a lot of doubt and fear, just given how quickly we’ve had to pivot in the past.”

Many students are excited to be returning to classrooms, she said, adding that online or hy-flex options are available for those studying from home.

The polytechnic expects to have enrolment numbers available next week and is planning a news conference to discuss them.

Meanwhile, the institution is awaiting to hear what travel restrictions will be in place that will apply to foreign students. Encouraging foreign student enrolment remains a key part of the college’s strategy, said Nunoda.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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