Students have a lot on their plate this year: school, finances, COVID-19 restrictions, and as of September 13, vaccine cards.
Proof of vaccination is required to access non-essential services such as restaurants, theatres, and fitness centers. Customers could use their paper vaccine cards (stamped after each dose) until September 26; now, they must show the digital version of the card with a scannable QR code.
How has VIU been implementing the mandate?
The university regularly sends COVID-19 updates to students. There are immunization clinics available on campus, and the University also asked students and staff to complete a vaccination self-declaration program by October 1.
Vaccine cards aren’t required to access classes, the campus store, the library, or the cafeterias. However, they’re required at the Students’ Union Pub, Student Residences, and the gymnasium, as well as at any events at the Malaspina Theatre.
In late August, the Provincial Health Authority announced that all post-secondary students living on campus needed proof of vaccination to access on-campus housing by September 9. As soon as the announcement came out, staff at Student Residences launched a call campaign to let students know about the order.
Manager of Student Housing, Harmoni Jones, was surprised by the students’ response: they were either fully or partially vaccinated already, or intending to get vaccinated. Once students arrived, a staff member saw them in person and asked for proof of vaccination and government-issued photo ID. Some students inquired about medical exemptions, but with services limited for people who weren’t fully vaccinated, many ended up getting their doses anyway.
Jones clarified that VIU Student Residences will not evict anyone without proof of vaccination come October 24.
“What would be required by the public health order would be continuing to mask in all public areas,” she explained. “Something that VIU is looking into right now, and it is recommended for all BC post-secondary housing, is that those who are not fully immunized would have a rapid test completed twice a week, just to ensure that the community remains safe.”
Student Residences currently has a no-overnight-guest policy, which will be reassessed after mid-October. There are limits of two guests per room and a maximum of 10 people in the shared common rooms.
Erin Coole is a first-year student in the Engineering program. Previously a resident, she is a Community Leader at Student Residences this year. She confirmed that students have been compliant and have even asked questions related to the vaccine cards. She thought the staff were generally responsive and organized when it came to obeying the public health orders.
As for returning to Student Residences during COVID-19, Coole said it has been better than she anticipated. “Coming back, there was a fear of all these restrictions and wondering, ‘Are we still going to be able to connect as a community? Are we still going to be able to socialize on that same level we once used to?’ But coming back, it’s been a very enriching experience.”
The Students’ Union Pub is a popular hangout spot for students, whether they want to study, meet up with friends, or just grab a drink. It adjusted to COVID-19 restrictions by limiting capacity, postponing events, and continuing to use the online order system Doordash for mobile orders.
Wade Nickerson started working at the pub in September. He checks ID and proof of vaccination on Thursday nights during Open Mic and Global Groove nights. He said that students have been “overwhelmingly cooperative” with the mandate. There were only a few times where people were turned away.
“In those cases, people have been fairly understanding and it was more an issue that they didn’t bring anything rather than that they didn’t have it,” he said.
One Thursday, someone tried to sneak into the pub using another person’s vaccine card. However, “they didn’t get very far.”
Regarding vaccine cards for pub staff, Nickerson said, “I think everybody is kind of on the same page. We all realize that this is just the way things are and if it means we can stay open and serve the student body, we’re going to do it.”
Across from the pub, the VIU Gymnasium is open for use while also following public health guidelines, which have sometimes been confusing, Director of Athletics and Recreation Danielle Hyde said.
Since September 13, the gym has been asking for proof of vaccination, along with photo ID and a visual check of their faces (temporarily removing their masks). If people are comfortable with the visual check, they don’t need to show their vaccine card every time they enter the building.
Hyde said part of the gym’s purpose is to help students make connections with other people. “We’ve definitely missed the noise in the building, so it’s nice to hear balls bouncing and see students in the hallways and working out and getting a break from their classrooms, because we know that’s been challenging for them, too.”
The next hurdle is in hosting large events: Mariners and varsity games, and sport practices. The gym’s current capacity is 50 percent of 1200 seats (600 seats). Hyde says that staff will have to figure out ways to check each spectator’s proof of vaccination, and of making sure they follow the public health guidelines.
Hyde said, “[We] would love to see students. We’ve missed students inside the building, [and we’re] excited to get the Mariners on the court.”
So, what do students think?
Daniela Rodriguez is a third-year Education student, who is also doing a Psychology minor. She believes the fear surrounding the vaccine comes from people being uninformed and distrusting the government. “[The vaccine is] not something that is being forced. I just think people don’t do a lot of research and they don’t want to get vaccinated, not because they know it’s not good enough, but … because there’s a lot of misinformation and the government wants to impose their will, which obviously affects [people’s] initiative to have the vaccine.”
Chris Beaton is a fourth-year English student, with a minor in Creative Writing. He is happy there are some precautions, but he isn’t completely impressed with the mandate, since proof of vaccination isn’t required in classrooms, lecture halls, or cafeterias.
Beaton thinks it depends on why a person is hesitant. “Some people just have a general uncomfortability with health care stuff, and a lot of it’s just from their history,” he said. “I respect people’s decisions to do what they feel comfortable doing. But then it also means that they have to look at the flip side and realize other people might be uncomfortable with them in these situations.”
He agreed that knowledge, or lack thereof, plays a role. “I have friends who just said, ‘I don’t want to get it. I don’t know what’s in it,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s totally fair, but have you done your research? Have you looked into what might be in there?’ and they say ‘No, I don’t want it.’ Okay, well, I get your fear still, but you should do some research and then it might make a bit more of an informed decision.”
Robbie Thompson is a fourth-year student in Digital Media Studies. He is a double heart transplant recipient and has an immune compromised system, so his time on campus has been limited this year. He knows other people who are vulnerable to the virus due to health conditions.
Thompson said, “I’d tell people to be more considerate and to just try to be aware of your actions and the consequences that your actions can have on other people, which I know can be very difficult to do, but it’s an exercise in empathy, I guess.”
Isaac Maschek, a fourth-year Creative Writing student, said, “[It’s] a complicated situation right now, and it’s drawing out a lot of heated emotions from people on both sides of the aisle … [Taking] a step back and a deep breath and realizing that people are going to draw different conclusions based on their own life experiences, and toning down on the hostility a little bit, will help people … with vaccine-related issues to really just get along better.”
How long will the vaccine cards be mandatory? The BC government has set a tentative deadline for January 31, 2022. If the current restrictions and rates of vaccination aren’t enough to slow the spread of the virus, the deadline may be extended.
Until then, students will need their vaccine cards handy, whether they like it or not.