With emphasis on safety, U of T takes gradual approach to return of on-campus operations

Tuesday, July 21, 2020 - 10:50am
Geoffrey Vendeville

The University of Toronto’s plans for a safe and gradual return to on-campus operations this fall will see most employees continuing to work remotely, the university says.

Faculty, librarians, staff and students at U of T have shown great courage, creativity and generosity in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity, Kelly Hannah-Moffat said in an update to the community on July 20.

“The health and safety of the U of T community and broader public is our highest priority,” said Hannah-Moffat. “As we gradually resume on-campus operations this fall, we will be guided by the advice of public health authorities.”

The statement followed an announcement by the province on Monday that Toronto and Peel Region will remain in stage two of the reopening process. The Ontario government said it will reassess the situation next week to determine if those areas can move to stage three of its reopening process July 31.

The university’s decision to continue limiting the number of people working on campus is in line with U of T’s commitment to the City of Toronto to ease the burden on public transit and other city infrastructure. It allows Facilities & Services and Health & Wellness staff to focus their resources on supporting those who will be working on-site to sustain the university’s core research and teaching mission or deliver necessary on-site services to students and members of the community. And it helps preserve critical supplies where they are most needed.

In the fall, approximately 90 per cent of undergraduate courses have an online option, and most of these courses will be online only. Those courses that have an in-person element, such as teaching labs, will be conducted using necessary health and safety precautions and following public health guidelines.

As the university looks ahead to the next stage in its recovery, U of T leaders are designing long-term flexible work arrangements to meet the needs of individual employees and operations. The university expects many of these arrangements will enable employees to work remotely wherever possible.

The three overarching principles guiding U of T’s reopening plan are to promote health and safety, advance academic excellence and meet the needs of the community. These principles are outlined in UTogether2020: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto.

The university will be taking measures to distribute two non-medical masks to every student, faculty member, librarian and staff person. Everyone in an indoor space on U of T campuses that is normally publicly accessible is required to wear a mask, unless they have a medical condition – in keeping with the city by-law on masking.

Teams across the university have collaborated to develop tools and assessments to evaluate workspaces so employees can work safely while physical distancing. The University of Toronto’s Guide to a Safe Return to Work, released July 20, outlines how managers will be scheduling tasks and organizing workflows in such a way as to reduce traffic – and makes it clear that rules may change as the situation unfolds.

Steps have also been taken to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, up to five times per week for libraries and classrooms. High-touch surfaces, such as elevator buttons and doorknobs, will be cleaned twice daily. The university is also in the process of installing additional sanitizing stations across the three campuses.

Meanwhile, the university is developing wellness tools that prioritize physical and mental well-being as part of its reopening plan. Throughout the summer, U of T plans to carry out surveys to gather feedback from the university community to better guide its reopening efforts.

“We are incredibly grateful to the whole U of T community for their patience, adaptability and resilience during this challenging time,” said Hannah-Moffat. “We will continue to prioritize the safety of the community and adhere closely to safety protocols and public health guidelines in all our planning.

“We look forward to welcoming back students, staff and faculty and carrying on U of T’s tradition of providing a rich, vibrant and stimulating academic and working environment.”