University of Waterloo Continuity of Education Plan

Last updated: September 3, 2021

In order to best protect and support students, faculty and staff, our Continuity of Education Plan (CEP), together with ongoing communication, will provide clear and transparent awareness of the supports, procedures, and protocols guiding current operations and the planned and established measures for the continuity of teaching and learning in the event of an emergency. 

These plans align with provincial government and public health measures as well as local public health advice and will be regularly reviewed and updated when necessary to reflect current guidance, advice, directives and decisions.

Other University health and safety protocols


Ensuring Continuity of Education

While continuing vigilant efforts to prevent COVID-19 cases on campus, the University of Waterloo is also prepared to effectively deal with such possible cases, and to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning in the event of emergency or outbreak.

Planning Principles

Three fundamental planning principles utilized for scheduling of the Fall 2021 academic semester support the Continuity of Education Plan (CEP):

The first principle was to carefully determine an appropriate mix of in person and remote instruction, with the ability of students to progress in their programs as a top priority. This involved prioritizing in-person delivery for activities where achieving learning outcomes benefits most from being in-person and building on lessons learned at the height of the pandemic to enhance the quality of remote instruction.

A second principle embedded in the planning of in-person instruction is to maintain the availability of remote options to ensure that students who are unable to come to campus to learn in the fall have options to progress toward completion of their program.

The third principle is that all instructors must have a contingency plan to outline and communicate how the course will revert to remote learning or adapt to an unplanned stoppage, including outbreak, instructor absence or emergency closure.

By following this approach, the University has built the key elements of continuity of education into every element of its academic planning for Fall.

With respect to administrative operations and research, as part of the University’s return to campus strategy, each unit and operating research laboratory is required to have in place a COVID-19 Safety Plan. Each Department Head/Chair/Director or research principal investigator is responsible to ensure that a written COVID-19 safety plan is in place. All employees and/or researchers are required to be trained on and acknowledge the plan, and the plan is to be posted in the workplace. Department Heads are responsible for activating contingency plans in the event of an emergency or shutdown.

Emergency Management

Generally, emergency management falls under Policy #60 – University of Waterloo Emergency Response. This policy governs the University’s Emergency Response and Pandemic Plans, which are executed by the Emergency Control Group.

With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, a Central Planning Group was established and actively oversees the planning, health and safety mitigation strategies and response to public health advice and emergencies.

Response protocols

The following scenarios and associated response protocols are in place to address the potential for individual cases, outbreaks or a need to scale back operations to a significant degree. It must be noted that every case will be handled individually and will follow guidance and directives of Region of Waterloo Public Health (ROWPH) related to the case.

In all scenarios, the following will apply:

  1. Contact tracing and notification of close contacts will occur by or with ROWPH, and appropriate cleaning and disinfection of affected spaces as directed by internal protocols and ROWPH directives will occur.
  2. Communication: The University will take advice from ROWPH on the approach to contact tracing and communication on a case-by-case basis. While maintaining the individual’s health privacy, the University will act on ROWPH instruction to post notices of positive COVID-19 results:
    1. On the University’s COVID-19 information website
    2. On Twitter @uWaterloo and Facebook @university.waterloo
    3. In the Daily Bulletin (a daily online publication intended for University of Waterloo audiences)
  3. Criteria for resumption of activity after any shutdown will include:
    1. Verification that cleaning and disinfection of affected areas is complete.
    2. All cases and close contacts have been identified and there is cessation of ongoing transmission.
    3. Incident Investigation is complete and corrective actions have been implemented.
    4. Protocols for re-integration and return to work following a positive test or self-isolation are in place.


1. Isolated case(s)

Note: Isolated Cases may include more than one case at a time, but cases are not linked

General cases (excluding Residences):

  • Follow protocol for Confirmed Case on Campus
  • ROWPH will determine the close contacts of the case, and whether a particular physical space on campus (e.g. a classroom) constitutes a high-risk exposure site warranting further action.
  • Use of the affected physical space may be suspended until disinfection and tracing of contacts of the positive case is completed.
  • Supervisors and instructors should assume a period of closure may be required before the space may reopen. Nearby areas (adjacent labs or work areas) may also be closed while contact tracing is being undertaken.

Case in On-Campus Student Residence:

  • Follow Campus Housing Student Self-Isolation Procedure.
  • Director, Campus Housing will advise the President via Associate Provost, Students
  • ROWPH will determine the close contacts of the case. Generally, a case in residence will constitute a high-risk exposure site.
    • Depending on residence style, students with a confirmed case of COVID-19 may be moved to alternate campus housing or self-isolate within their unit, or may return home.
    • Once affected students have been moved out of their residence rooms a full disinfection will take place.
    • Close contacts of students with COVID-19 will be notified by ROWPH and will be required to self-isolate. If close contacts are also students in residence, these students may also require temporary relocation to alternate campus housing.
    • Staff supporting students in residences will follow established protocols and use provided PPE to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19.

2. Employee or student outbreak

In the case of an outbreak, defined as 2 or more cases that are confirmed to have an epidemiological link where at least one case could have reasonably been acquired on campus, the University will implement short-term outbreak management measures.

Upon notification, the Central Planning group (CPG) will meet immediately to identify and initiate next steps:

  • The University will work with ROWPH to determine:
    • whether self-isolation of a work or residential cohort, cancellation of affected in-person classes and/or closure of affected buildings/facilities is required, and to ensure that infection prevention and control guidelines and protocols are implemented to protect the health and safety of employees and students.
    • if a short term closure (for 2-5 days) of affected campus buildings is needed.
    • the extent and length of closure and the level of disinfection that will be required.
    • when employees and students can return to work/school and what additional steps are needed for the community.
  • Ensure continuity of Education and Research
    • All units have Return to Campus safety plans in place that are required to include contingency plans to enable the continuity of operations while suspending in-person activities should an outbreak occur. These contingency plans must be implemented for any area that is affected by the outbreak.
    • Based on the length of closure of a physical space, instructors and research faculty will be directed to implement contingency plans for continuity as outlined in their course outline and Laboratory Research Safety Plan, respectively.
  • Consider if and when to stop, scale back, or modify other campus services.
    • Consider and communicate modifications to academic support, medical, athletic, social, and mental health services. Identify ways to ensure these services are provided, to maintain essential services while facilities or in-person classes are affected to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission.
    • Depending on the nature and severity of any outbreak, a significant scale back to critical research and essential services may be required.

3. Scaling back on-campus operations

Upon direction of the province, public health authorities, or the President of the University, the following protocol will be implemented to return the campus to scale back on-campus in-person operations to a state where only critical/essential functions are conducted in-person and all others continue remotely. Scenarios that may trigger this may include provincial or municipal public health orders, significant outbreaks across campus or community transmission.

The President, in consultation with CPG will direct and communicate the scale back of on-campus in-person operations to the University community.

Timing Actions

Day 1 (2-8 hours)

Stop the spread – protect health and safety

  • Announce phase of affected operations to student and employee populations via WatSAFE app, UWaterloo
  • Suspend all in-person teaching and lab instruction.
  • Non-essential employees to prepare for and proceed to work from home.
  • Students in Residence will be asked to report back to their residence and to remain in their unit/bedroom. Information regarding next steps for residents (e.g. move-out instructions) will be provided via Campus Housing administration.
  • Most student/public facilities (Athletics, Library, food outlets, campus businesses) will close and return to remote/modified operations. Essential supports for students remaining in residences (e.g. housekeeping, food services) will continue.

Day 2 – 7

Protect research and campus buildings

  • Research and teaching labs will have a short period of time to safely suspend on-campus in person operations, utilizing contingency plans and following Laboratory Ramp-Down and Temporary Shutdown Checklist.
  • Critical and COVID-19 related research will continue, and will be managed as defined in Faculty Resurgence Plans. All other research will continue only with approval of the Faculty Dean and Vice- Present, Research & International.
  • All non-essential facilities will safely suspend oncampus in person operations, utilizing contingency plans.
  • Safety Office will work with departmental Health & Safety Coordinators to inspect laboratories to confirm safe shutdown.
  • Ensure all buildings are secure and protection of campus is preserved.
Preservation of essential services (ongoing)
  • Continuation of essential services - Plant Operations, UW Police, Campus Wellness, Central Stores, Animal Care Facility, IST, Campus Housing, and other essential workers
  • Disable electronic access and resume Essential Workers lists/approval process to control building access.

Resources in the Event of Emergency

  • Recent news, operational or academic updates and links to resources are maintained on the University’s COVID-19 information homepage and are viewable specifically by employee, undergraduate and graduate student groups, including mental health supports.
  • Campus Wellness resources