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Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2022 2:55 PM EST

Last Updated on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 2:55 PM EST

The University of Waterloo is reinstating a mask requirement for classes, saying Tuesday it was taking steps to avoid potential disruption to exam season as cases of respiratory illnesses spike.

The University of Southern Ontario said masks will be required starting Wednesday in lectures, seminars, labs, tests, exams and all other forms of indoor instruction.

“Recently, we have seen an increase in local hospitalizations for COVID-19, and there are emerging trends in test positivity and sewage that suggest increased levels of COVID in the community now and in the near future,” university leaders wrote in a message to students.

“These trends mean we must act now to minimize disruptions to end-of-term exam season and to protect the most vulnerable people in our community.”

In a similar note sent to instructors, the university noted that recent data indicated increased levels of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.

Students may also be required to wear masks in other settings, such as when meeting with an instructor, the university said. Masks can be removed when teaching or presenting if physical distancing is maintained, he added.

The masking requirement does not apply to non-teaching environments such as food courts or residence halls, although the university strongly encourages masking in all indoor environments.

“If you don’t know what to do: wear a mask,” the university told students.

Many universities across the province suspended their COVID-19 masking policies before starting the new academic year in September, but several said that could change in the future depending on recommendations from public health authorities.

A few universities still have previous mask requirements in place.

Western University said its mask mandate will be in place until the end of the fall term.

Seneca College, which said last month it would drop its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy in the new year, also has a mask requirement in effect until further notice.

Ontario’s top doctor recently said the province is expected to see a “triple threat” of a bad flu season, COVID-19 and a resurgence of a childhood viral illness this fall and winter.

Dr Kieran Moore said people particularly vulnerable to respiratory viruses should mask up again.

Moore also said that if COVID-19 begins to affect the ability to reduce the surgical backlog, he would suggest the government make a recommendation on masking in certain indoor settings, and if there are other effects, he would recommend to reinstate mask mandates.

As of Nov. 2, there were 1,796 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, Moore said, including 138 in intensive care.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 8, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.