The debate over whether or not to institute a vaccine mandate at Thompson Rivers University is continuing, but much of it depends on decisions made at the provincial level.
Faculty say their hands are tied, while students have been left wondering what the requirements will be at the school when in-person classes begin less than one month from now.
In a letter posted to TRU's website on Friday, Aug. 13, president Brett Fairbairn said the university is following the situation closely and is prepared to respond as directed by public health authorities.
"The rise of COVID-19 case counts and the fast spread of the Delta variant is on our minds, as we know it’s on yours," he said.
Since mid-July, the province has been trending far upwards in yet another wave of COVID-19 infections, most of which have been in unvaccinated people. On Friday, B.C. reported more than 700 new cases over the previous 24 hours. At its worst in early April, B.C. saw 1,300 cases reported in a single day.
Fairbairn said he "strongly encourages" that everyone get vaccinated if they're able, noting he still wears a mask in crowded indoor public spaces.
Currently, TRU has no mandate for masks or vaccinations.
Meanwhile, Kamloops-based Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton tweeted that she wants the university to "make her proud" by instituting a vaccine mandate for staff, students and faculty, as the University of Ottawa did on Aug. 10.
That university and a few others in Ontario, along with hundreds of colleges and universities in the U.S., have enacted mandatory vaccination protocols for students and staff on campus.
Complicating the matter may be the return-to-campus guidelines. TRU had a hand in creating those guidelines, with university vice-president Matt Milovick included on a steering committee.
Currently, those guidelines stipulate a full return to campus, without any guidelines for mask-wearing, vaccinations or physical distancing.
But according to the Confederation of University Faculty Associations (CUFA BC), B.C.'s Ministry of Advanced Education has "quietly directed" against universities creating their own measures for the fall.
"We call on you, Minister Kang, to affirm the autonomy of BC’s universities to continue to establish the health and safety rules governing safe campuses, including but not limited to the introduction of vaccine and mask mandates, modes of course delivery, class sizes, and on-campus joint health and safety committees," reads an Aug. 5 letter from CUFA BC to Advanced Education Minister Anne Kang.
TRU Faculty Association president Tara Lyster told KTW that more information is expected in the coming days. She thinks the plan will change, but isn't sure how.
"There's just so many different pieces and moving parts," she said.
Lyster, a longtime nurse and associate teaching professor in TRU's School of Nursing, believes a vaccine mandate would make it easier for those coming to campus.
"I think is something that would allow for an easier transition back to classes and allowing faculty, students and staff to feel safer and more confident to be on campus," she said.
For now, Lyster said the faculty association is recommending everyone get vaccinated, while the organization's supporting bodies, including CUFA BC and the Federation of Post-secondary Educators, are pushing for institutional autonomy.
The TRU Students' Union (TRUSU), meanwhile, is also waiting to hear what the fate of the guidelines will be come fall.
"I'm honestly not in a place to know whether a vaccine mandate is a public health order that would make sense at TRU," said Nathan Lane, president of TRUSU.
Lane said it's in the best interests of everyone on campus to know what they are getting into before the fall — and the sooner, the better.
"Really, we're looking for leadership from public health officials, to say if there will be a mask mandate, a vaccination mandate ... I think they need to make it clear for students before they move to Kamloops from around the world or across the province, so they know what they can expect for learning conditions," he said.