Universite de Montreal says professors find masks an 'irritant,' can teach without them again
While at some of Montreal's universities, students are resisting coming back to class at all, at the Université de Montreal they'll be attending lectures from maskless professors.
The Université de Montreal announced Wednesday that it's rolling back the rule that requires lecturers to continuously wear a mask while teaching, as long as they stay two metres from others.
"Giving a three-hour lecture with a mask on was an irritant for many of you," university rector Daniel Jutras wrote in a letter to all staff, posted publicly on the university's website.
Students at U de M are due back in class on Monday, and the mask decision was made this Tuesday, he explained. It was at professors' request.
"Following last week's communication confirming the resumption of teaching activities on January 31, some of you have told us of your skepticism about this measure, which is not applied uniformly in all establishments in Quebec," Jutras wrote.
For most of the last year, the university hasn't been requiring masks for teachers as strictly as it has been for students. Last winter, and again this fall, the university decided that professors could remove their masks to teach while students would wear mandatory procedural masks.
McGill University had the same rule. But as cases spiralled to their highest-ever levels late this fall, McGill tightened its mask rules as of Dec. 14 and hasn't changed them since.
U de M appears to have made a similar move around the same time, but is now backtracking on it.
Jutras wrote that the epidemiological "situation has improved," and he argued the decision is in line with the current recommendations from Quebec's worker safety board, the CNESST.
The CNESST says that anyone who teaches at any level of education may remove their mask in class “for the shortest possible period, the time to communicate," Jutras quoted.
U de M seems to be interpreting that as an entire three-hour lecture, if a professor chooses, though the university urged its staff to wear masks as much as possible.
"We recommend that you remove it only for the time necessary to communicate the material," Jutras wrote.
The same rule will apply to students speaking before a group, whether defending their thesis or giving another presentation.
A spokesperson for the CNESST hasn't responded to a request for comment on whether U de M's interpretation of "the shortest possible period" is in line with how the rule was intended.
It's been well demonstrated that aerosols carrying COVID-19 spread easily through loud talking or singing. That's true in big university classrooms as well, though good ventilation systems help a lot.
However, the mask rule "risked unduly complicating teaching conditions," Jutras wrote.
Quebec has recently announced a slew of rule relaxations, including a plan to reopen restaurants at half-capacity on Monday, with authorities saying they seem to be just past the peak of all-time hospitalizations in the province. There are still more than 3,000 people currently in hospital for COVID-19.
A spokesperson for U de M, Genevieve O'Meara, told CTV News that the university isn't saying the province is at a low point, but "rather that the situation seemed to be improving," as authorities said this week.
Students at McGill were back in class this Monday, though undergraduates in at least two faculties so far have voted to boycott in-person classes. At Concordia, the return date will be Feb. 3, and some students aren't happy about that either.
At U de M, there's currently an online petition by students asking for a hybrid option, to allow some students to choose online classes if needed, which had garnered about 1,500 signatures as of Wednesday evening.
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