Answers to faculty members' COVID questions, February 2022

This information is now out of date.

FAUW recently combed through University emails, news posts, websites, and the February 2 President's Forum Q&A to find answers to questions we've been hearing from faculty members, and updated our COVID-19 information page with the highlights on key issues. There were some common questions members were asking that we didn't find answers for, so we sent those to the administration and share here the unedited official responses to those questions. 

In some cases, the responses repeat earlier information from the University rather than providing the details you may have been looking for, but we hope at least some of your questions are answered here. If you have further questions, we suggest you email and copy  


Q: What is being done to ensure that unvaccinated people without accommodations are not visiting campus, including attending classes?

A: Our campus is a very open environment with few physical barriers used by many people in our community for a variety of reasons. Accordingly, no reasonable policy can successfully prevent all unvaccinated individuals from ever coming to the campus or entering buildings. A validation process is in place as vaccination records are received. Students have been dropped from in-person classes if they do not meet the University’s vaccination mandate. Nevertheless, we know that vaccination is a crucial part of a multi-layered strategy to protect our community from the worst effects of COVID-19. Significantly more than 99 per cent of people who come to Waterloo to work and learn are fully vaccinated thanks to our proof of vaccination requirement. This rate is much higher than the community rate for vaccination. 

Q: What is being done to ensure that students and employees are completing the daily screening and complying with it?

A: Ontario regulations stipulate that employees are required to complete a daily screening before entering their place of work – though this legal requirement will cease on March 1 in accordance with O. Reg, 364. Further information on the University’s approach to screening after March 1 will be available in the coming weeks. The current legal requirement does not extend to students.

Update: Completing the daily screening is no longer required at the University as of March 1.

Throughout the pandemic we have promoted the expectation that individuals visiting the campus must complete the Campus Check-In screening questionnaire each day. This is reinforced by automatically triggered email reminders sent to users who join the eduroam wifi network, and by numerous signs and posters around the campus. Given the large number of possible ingress and egress points from our campus and its buildings, it is not possible to establish a “checkpoint” to verify completion of the screening tool. We will continue to evaluate how we can ensure individuals continue to be aware of the need to avoid campus if they have symptoms of COVID-19.

Q: The Registrar’s Office guidelines say that instructors and TAs generally won’t be informed if a student in their class has COVID-19, “unless the situation is found to be high risk for the instructor or other students in the class.” What constitutes high risk and who is deciding that? 

A: High risk contacts are defined by Public Health and include anyone with COVID-19 or symptoms who you were less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes, or multiple shorter lengths of time, without personal protective equipment in the past 48 hours.

Q: The Registrar’s Office guidelines (FAQ #7) states that instructors may not move classes online if they feel unsafe but that they should report to department chairs, “who may consult offices that have influence over operations or the conduct that is causing concern.” Which offices will be consulted?

A: The exact offices that may be consulted will vary depending on the arrangements within each faculty, but might include the Dean’s Office and relevant Associate Deans. Issues of safety may be referred to the Safety Office. No instructor should experience unfair treatment by a student in any circumstances. Students who fail to meet our expectations of conduct will be dealt with under Policy 71 by offices of Associate Deans. 


Q: The Registrar’s Office guidelines say it’s up to instructors to make plans for accommodating students when they are self-isolating, and that these plans should follow the norm in regard to student illness, and the Provost has noted that it doesn’t need to be more work than usual (e.g. sharing slides). For those of us who really want to support and be compassionate to students, it will be more work, especially if this happens a lot this term, which seems likely.

Some faculty are also being pressured by their department or by students to provide recorded or livestreamed lectures, or hybrid courses with some students participating from home. Others are being told they should not provide these options, even if they want to. We know that WUSA is advocating for more extensive “continuity of education” that goes well beyond the norm that the University is telling us to follow. If students expect more fulsome accommodations and hybrid delivery, instructors who don’t provide them risk backlash from frustrated students.

How are instructors being protected from backlash from students if they do not provide recorded lectures/hybrid course options?

A: No instructor should experience unfair treatment by a student in any circumstances. Policy 71 applies in situations where students fail to meet expectations regarding conduct.  We expect instructors to make decisions such as these for sound pedagogical reasons, as they do in non-Covid times, and we expect that in general students will understand and accept such reasons if they are articulated.

Q: What resources are available (or being developed) to support instructors in providing more extensive continuity of education for students? (e.g., recording, uploading, editing, and transcribing video; creating alternate assignments to replace in-person activities)

A: The Keep Learning team provides a range of resources and options to support instructors. Resources are available to support instructors who have additional administrative workload to meet these changing pedagogical requirements. The provost has asked Faculty teams to work together on identifying these needs to ensure additional resources meet the specific needs of instructors.

Q: Do the expectations for accommodations, or resources to support them, change when a large portion of a class is sick or isolating?

A: It is important to draw a distinction between our legal duty to accommodate and our commitment to compassionate consideration. The duty to accommodate students with disabilities (or those protected by other Code grounds) remains unchanged. Students with long-term covid symptoms and/or at higher risk of the impacts of COVID (e.g., immunocompromised) are encouraged to register with AAS to determine what accommodations may be required.

Consideration for responding to changes in specific cases – such as the one suggested in the question – will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Q: How many classrooms are equipped for hybrid teaching?

A: The Registrar’s Office inventory includes 26 classrooms that are equipped with lecture streaming and/or recording capability. In addition, the Faculty of Engineering has about 25 such technology-equipped rooms. Other faculties have also equipped a variety of rooms for these purposes. Instructors who are not assigned to teach in one of these equipped rooms can stream and/or record the audio and their screen (e.g., pptx) using the podium computer or laptop and one of the University’s streaming platforms. If they use their laptop, they can also use the webcam to record/stream themselves. There is a video on the classroom training website on basic rooms that explains this.

Q: The Registrar’s Office guidelines (FAQ #5) say that if an instructor has COVID symptoms, “generally, in-person classes do not need to be cancelled if it is possible for you and your supervisor to arrange a replacement instructor.” While this may be feasible for some courses, in many cases it is simply not realistic for faculty to teach another instructor’s course on short notice. Are there other acceptable contingency plans in case of instructor illness?

A: Yes, but what is an acceptable arrangement will depend on the nature of the course and the particular sessions that need to be replaced. In non-COVID-19 times departments arrange teaching coverage in a variety of ways based on what is available and what is pedagogically most effective. We encourage instructors to discuss contingencies with the academic leadership of their programs.

Q: Are the instructions the same for an instructor who fails the screening or otherwise needs to self-isolate but is not sick?

A: As above, and in line with non-Covid times, if an instructor needs to be off for a short period, teaching coverage may be achieved in a variety of ways based on what is available and what is most pedagogically effective. In many cases, if an individual is not sick, but cannot come to the campus they may choose to teach a few classes remotely or provide materials and instructions for students learning. We trust that these kinds of contingency options continue were considered as instructors developed their course syllabi, as requested.

Q: What happens if classes need to be cancelled multiple times?

A: This is another situation that should be handled as it would in a normal, non-COVID-19 term. When several sessions of a class need to be cancelled, the instructor should work with their Chair to agree on the most appropriate route forward for the class so that they can complete the course while attaining the key learning objectives of the course. 

Q: Are replacement instructors compensated in any way for this extra work?

A: For regular faculty members and short-term coverage of teaching, being willing to cover one another’s teaching in a pinch is often taken to be part of one’s collegial contribution to the University, and being willing and able to do such things counts as Service to the University. For sessional instructors, there is often compensation for such work. Discuss individual situations with your Chair.


Q: Who is making decisions about working conditions such as returning to campus, the mask policy, and so on? Where does this body fit in the organizational structure of the University? Are there terms of reference and a membership list?

A: As has been the case throughout the pandemic, University leaders have used structures and processes developed specifically to manage the changes required often at very short notice. These structures and processes developed from the initial deployment of the University’s Emergency Response Plan. The primary group responsible for decision-making is led by the President and is attended weekly by Vice-Presidents and Deans.  This group is supported by the Director of Safety, Associate Provost, Students, Associate Provost, Human Resources and Associate Vice-President, Communication. This group is further supported by a number of operational working groups embedded in the normal operations of the University.

Q: Given that many recent decisions directly affect faculty working conditions, and that the Faculty Association is the sole representative of regular faculty with regard to terms and conditions of employment, why is the Faculty Association not being consulted on these decisions?

A: We have provided (and will continue to provide) opportunity to debate, question, comment and learn more about our plans throughout the pandemic including forum events, written updates, podcasts and the recent employee survey. We will continue to pursue these channels of communication and we encourage you all to provide feedback to your supervisor. 
Moreover, the pandemic has frequently required us to make decisions under a rapidly changing set of circumstances that have required senior leaders to move very quickly. Timelines and procedures for normal long-term planning – where we can consult very broadly in open forum discussion and where planning decisions can be widely known before coming effective – are not well suited to decision-making in this environment. 

We acknowledge that we can always do more to engage with you to ensure that communication and decision-making is clear and meets the needs of our community.  We are grateful for your patience and understanding as we seek to get back to safe and vibrant in-person experiences for everyone at Waterloo, and we look forward to continuing this dialogue in the days and weeks ahead. 

Q: Why haven’t the Joint Health and Safety Committees been more involved in discussions about physical work environment issues, such as ventilation?

A: The Joint Health and Safety Committee has been involved in safety issues related to the pandemic and has been routinely offered the opportunity to comment on all documentation and decisions that the University has issued. COVID-19 has been a standing item for discussion at every meeting of the Joint Health and Safety Committee. Until very recently, no concerns about ventilation have been raised to the Joint Health and Safety Committee. As soon as members of the community raised concerns or questions, we have worked with stakeholders from a variety of places on campus to listen to those concerns and address them.


Q: The employee survey results show that about twice as many staff responded as faculty (which makes sense given the total populations), and that faculty are far more likely to have “frequent, close physical contact with other people” in their work. These and other factors mean that the results of some other questions could be quite different when looking at just faculty responses. 

Can results from the employee survey be reported by employee subgroup?

A: Yes, no problem. A breakdown of the results filtered only by those who responded to the survey as the employee type “faculty member” is attached (PDF). We note that there are only slight differences in the pattern of responses from this employee group and these slight differences are the reason we did not elect to share the breakdown online as they do not make a substantive difference to the takeaways from the survey.


Q: The University’s January 31 update says the University is “prioritizing deployment of the available [rapid antigen tests] to those in the highest risk settings where other measures to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19 cannot be followed.” Instructors in some departments are getting rapid tests. How are these “highest- risk settings” being identified and why have only some departments been offered tests? Are instructors of large classes a priority? If not, why not?

A: A limited shipment of rapid tests was received via a time-limited program. Under Ontario guidance, workplace rapid screening is for frequent, systematic testing of people who are asymptomatic and without known exposure to a COVID-19 case with the goal of identifying cases that are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Therefore to mitigate risk of transmission amongst our highest-risk employees in the peak of the Omicron wave, a set of risk-based criteria was developed. Those criteria included a minimum frequency of in-person shifts per week (3), frequent direct contact with others, inability to physically distance with co-workers or students, and a risk to the staffing pool in the event of mass absenteeism or sole sourcing of a critical work task that would impact University operations. Critical academic support units and all faculties were asked to apply the risk criteria and identify employees who met the criteria. Following that, capacity to meet demand was considered and units were provided with rapid tests for as many employees as possible. To be clear, while faculty could have been considered under the program, generally they did not meet the criteria, particularly prior to February 7. Our supply of additional rapid tests has still not been replenished, and we continue to need to meet obligations for rapid testing of unvaccinated, accommodated individuals.

Q: Until N95/KN95 respirators are available, can faculty use their FPER to purchase them?

A: The University has appropriate options for face coverings available centrally at no cost to units for employees. 

We have updated guidance on mask-wearing on the COVID-19 information website. The new guide to face coverings provides information on:

  • the difference between source control and personal protective equipment
  • a summary of face covering types, and their purpose
  • an explanation on which mask is appropriate for which situations

A limited supply of N95 respirators is now available for departmental ordering. Individuals who may require the additional protection of an N95 respirator for source control should talk to their departmental administrators who can order from the Central Stores catalogue.

Q: The University announced it has ordered 300 HEPA filter units. What is the plan for distributing them?

A: Several HEPA units are arriving on campus and they are being deployed to high priority classrooms that have ACHe of just below 4.0. 

Q: Where can employees access the air exchange rates for rooms on campus?

A: Visit the Ventilation Strategy page for information about ventilation on campus.

Q: The Face Covering Requirement page states that “Accommodations may include remote participation (academics) or alternate arrangements (employees), which will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.” Other pages mention students having exemptions to mask-wearing in class.

Can students in fact be given an accommodation that allows them to attend an in-person class without wearing a mask? If so, can other students be given accommodations requiring remote teaching so that they don’t have to be in class with unmasked students, and what are the expectations for faculty if students have accommodations requiring remote participation?

A: Mask accommodations have been quite rare. Currently, students who are medically unable to wear a face mask have been able to wear an alternative face covering, such as a face shield. While it is possible in theory for a student to be granted an accommodation to attend classes in-person while not wearing a mask, we have not granted any such accommodation to this point. There are extremely limited circumstances in which this accommodation may be applicable. Should this be required, AccessAbility Services, the Safety Office, the Medical Director and the academic unit would collaborate to determine the most appropriate accommodation for the student given their learning environments.

Students who are at greater risk for negative outcomes of COVID-19 (e.g., student is immunocompromised) are encouraged to register with AccessAbility Services to explore what accommodations may be required. Accommodations may be the provision of additional PPE, a reserved seat, a medical leave, or perhaps the need for the lecture to be audio-recorded. AccessAbility Services will work with the academic unit to determine what accommodations are most appropriate given the student’s needs, the academic environment, the essential course requirements, etc. The recommendation has been for AccessAbility Services to engage the Associate Deans when such accommodations are required, who will engage the department Chairs and instructors.

Q: The University has noted that most vaccinated people under 60 aren’t really at risk from the effects of COVID at this point. Does that mean faculty over age 60 are exempted from teaching in person at this time?

A: As the President made clear at the recent Forum, vaccinated individuals and those with a booster dose face significantly lower risks of severe outcomes of COVID-19 compared to those who are unvaccinated. Though the risks for those over 60 years of age are higher, there is no significant evidence to suggest that healthy, vaccinated individuals over the age of 60 in the University’s employment require specific accommodations. There is no public health recommendation for workers of any specific age to be exempted from the workplace.


Q: Does the administration believe that the pandemic is no longer affecting faculty members’ ability to conduct their work, and is that why APR and tenure clock adjustments are no longer in place?

A: This issue has been discussed at FRC. As always, extenuating factors affecting individuals’ activities in any given year can be indicated in APR submissions.

Q: What is being done for new faculty, especially those who started on or after July 1, 2021, and aren’t eligible for a tenure clock extension, who haven’t be able to access campus, set up their labs, or begin their research?

A: This issue has been discussed at FRC.  Note - the vast majority of restrictions on researchers and use of their facilities on campus were lifted in Fall 2021. There were few limitations to in-person research activity during the most recent lockdown. Campus access has been possible for researchers for the majority of this period.