This document is for education providers and administrators of Post-Secondary Institutions (PSIs), including public and private colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools, and general and professional teaching colleges (CEGEPs). It provides an overview of recommended control measures to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread in in post-secondary institutions. It can also help workers (i.e., all faculty, staff, and volunteers), students, parents/guardians, visitors, and others to understand how to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19 when at the PSI.
Understand that risk levels, recommendations, and measures may change or vary depending on local circumstances (e.g., local COVID-19 epidemiology, low vaccine coverage in the PSI and surrounding community), as well as various worker and student factors specific to the PSI. In some circumstances, regional/local PHAs may recommend, or PSIs may choose to implement core and additional Public Health Measures (PHMs) when the local community or PSI are at higher risk for COVID-19 spread.
Close proximity (less than 2 metres) and interactions with people from outside of the immediate household, including close-range conversations.
Direct contact (e.g., shaking hands, hugging, kissing).
Longer and more frequent in-person interactions.
Crowded places and large gatherings, both indoors and outdoors.
Generation of respiratory droplets and aerosols (e.g., when speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, and during strenuous activities such as exercise).
Poor ventilation in closed spaces (e.g., accumulation of virus particles in the air).
Inadequate personal hygiene practices or facilities.
Contaminated high-touch surfaces and shared objects (fomites).
Use of shared or public transportation (e.g., buses, etc.)
High levels of COVID-19 cases in the local community.
Low levels of COVID-19 vaccination in the setting and/or local community.
Inter-regional travel, including from areas with COVID-19 Variants of Concern (VOCs).
Risk of transmission increases further when several of these risk factors occur at the same time.
Each PSI is unique in terms of its size, geographic location, services provided, and its staff, faculty, and student population.
In addition to student instruction, PSIs provide many facilities and services that may involve close or direct contact with others. Examples include housing of students, staff and faculty offices, bookstores and other retail shops, libraries, research, registrar’s office, hosting events (e.g., cultural, social, athletic), security, laundry, food service (e.g., cafeterias, restaurants, pubs), and student health and wellness (e.g., gyms, pools, medical clinics, counselling).
PSIs should perform a COVID-19 risk assessment. Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document and evaluate campus work areas, routine and non-routine activities, job roles, and local circumstances. Review all services and activities provided by third parties (e.g., catering, groundskeeping, childcare services, construction).
Here are example questions that can be asked to help you identify COVID-19 risk factors and appropriate control measures for your workplace:
What are the main work and learning areas, job roles, and routine activities?
Where and when do people interact with each other in the setting?
How close are the interactions? Are there tasks where persons must be close? (i.e., note when and where physical distancing is not possible)
How often and how long are the in-person interactions and activities?
How crowded is the workplace?
What transportation methods are being used by workers and students?
Do school activities include day trips or outings?
Do activities involve intense physical effort with increased or forceful breathing, and/or loud verbal instructions and music (shouting, yelling, singing)?
Do people mostly stay in one work area, or do they move throughout the indoor school facilities and outdoor grounds during the day?
Are people from one geographical region, or from several (e.g., inter-regional and international workers and students)?
Are buildings ventilated passively (by opening windows and doors) or mechanically (by ventilation systems)? Is indoor ventilation sufficient?
Is there easy access to personal hygiene facilities and supplies (e.g., running water, soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer)?
How are equipment, tools, and learning materials used? Are they shared between people?
How often and by which method are surfaces and objects cleaned and disinfected? How effective are the disinfectant products against coronaviruses? What are the potential chemical hazards to workers, students, and the environment?
Do people have the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves and others against COVID-19?
Could language barriers, comprehension level, or disability impact the ability of people to understand the risks and follow the control measures?
Are there personal factors that could make control measures more difficult to implement and follow (e.g., based on their health, physical ability, age and maturity, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances)? Is additional supervision required?
Are you able to assess if a person may be sick or have been exposed to COVID-19, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
Are sick leave policies and the business continuity plan adequate to support isolation and quarantine of workers?
Are there flexible attendance policies and alternative methods to attend classes (e.g., online/remote learning)?
When the risks of COVID-19 spread have been identified and evaluated, the school can implement multiple COVID-19 control measures in a layered approach, including individual and community-based PHMs. The occupational health and safety hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment) can be used as a tool to evaluate how effective a control will be, from most to least effective. No single control measure is completely effective on its own, so it is important to layer several at the same time.
A workplace COVID-19 safety plan documents the control measures put in place to protect workers and students from the COVID-19 transmission risks. A written plan may be required to be posted and available upon request from PHA and OHS regulatory inspectors. Reach out to your regional/local authorities for details on what must be included in the plan.
When implementing COVID-19 control measures, assess the potential impacts to existing infrastructure, activities, as well as worker and student safety. Make sure you do not create new workplace hazards. Update existing policies and procedures as needed to incorporate COVID-19 control measures, including emergency response. Perform regular inspections, continue to evaluate how effective the controls are, and make changes if needed.
The sections below provide tips on how to apply COVID-19 control measures in PSIs. Select the ones that are appropriate for your particular setting.
Communication and Training
Effective communication and training is essential to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For general recommendations on how and what to communicate about COVID-19, refer to CCOHS COVID-19 Communication and Training.
Workers have the ‘Right to Know’ about all potential workplace hazards, and how to protect themselves. Train all faculty, staff and students on the risks of COVID-19, symptoms, and the measures to help control transmission.
Develop a communication strategy to ensure all faculty, staff, students, contractors, and visitors know the preventative measures in place before they arrive on campus. Be sure to include information on reduced or suspended services, and restricted access. Include workplace-specific information and your safety plan.
Consider the ability of others to understand and follow the recommended measures based on their language preferences, health, age, disability, developmental status, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances (e.g., living on campus, residing in communities with high COVID-19 transmission rates).
Post signs throughout the facility to encourage people to follow PHMs. Monitor compliance and repeat COVID-19 communications and training as often as needed.
Avoid in-person meetings, information sessions and training where possible. Use remote communication methods instead (e.g., teleconferencing, videoconferencing). When in-person meetings are required, use a large well-ventilated space, maintain at least 2 meters apart, and wear masks. Continue to provide support and services to faculty, staff, and students online or by telephone.
Reduce the amount of paper documentation being exchanged between individuals. Consider using digital or electronic methods to exchange documents. If this can’t be avoided, wash or sanitize hands after touching shared paperwork.
Many Canadians are experiencing increased stress, anxiety, isolation, and other challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Have managers and supervisors check in daily with their faculty and staff. Promote the use of your employee assistance program (EAP), and provide mental health resources, anti-discrimination information, and resources on reducing stigma. Ensure information is readily accessible and in languages to best support faculty, staff, and students.
Encourage faculty and staff to report any concerns about COVID-19 to their supervisor or employer. They can also report concerns to their health and safety committee, representative, or union. Ensure students are informed on who to contact with any concerns they may have (e.g., student services).
Information on the risks of COVID-19 transmission may change as the pandemic continues to evolve. Keep informed by continuing to follow trusted sources including the Public Health Agency of Canada and your regional/local PHA.
Encourage all those who are accessing the setting and who are eligible, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Acknowledge that some individuals are not eligible to receive the vaccine due to their age or valid medical exemptions.
Some eligible workers and students may choose not to be vaccinated. These individuals may be subject to additional PHMs (e.g., frequent rapid testing, or being restricted to telework/remote learning).
Some jurisdictions or PSIs may require mandatory vaccination of educational workers as a condition of employment, and/or of students as a condition of in-person attendance and access to on-campus housing residences. (unless they have a medical exemption). The PHA, employer, health and safety committee or representative, and union should discuss any concerns surrounding mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements, including any need for accommodation.
Work with appropriate authorities (e.g., regional/local PHAs, immunization services, etc.) to offer on-site vaccination clinics to increase vaccination coverage among the eligible school population.
Provide accommodations, such as flexibility around absences for students/staff and financial support for staff to attend local vaccination clinic appointments, if these occur during work hours.
Encourage people to continue to follow COVID-19 precautions both at the workplace and elsewhere, even if fully vaccinated.
Screening and Contact Tracing
Establish screening procedures for all individuals (e.g., faculty, staff, students, visitors, contractors) to complete before entering campus, attending a class, or entering any building (e.g., classrooms, bookstore, library, lab).
Where practical, staff may be stationed at entrances to perform active screening of persons who wish to enter. If a designated worker is screening individuals in person, the screener should maintain the greatest physical distance possible (i.e. at least 2 metres) and wear personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, facial or eye protection, etc.) as appropriate.
Active testing methods (e.g., PCR, rapid test kits, and self-tests), can help to rapidly identify and contain COVID-19 spread, particularly during a local outbreak. The school should follow their regional/local PHAs advice on appropriate test methods and strategies.
Determine how each person should communicate their screening results to a centralized coordinator, or to their immediate supervisor, class instructor, or person who has authorized their visit to campus. For example, students might use a daily online screening form via the student portal, faculty and staff might email their supervisor; instructors might set up similar on-line email procedures for their students, and a person picking up library materials might use a library app.
In the event that a person is exposed to COVID-19, the post-secondary institution and/or regional/local PSA may need to contact them for contact tracing. Information to collect during screening should include their name, phone number and/or email, the date and time they entered the building, and what section or area of the building they visited. Keep contact tracing information only for as long as needed (e.g., 30 calendar days). Maintain confidentiality and ensure the information is gathered, used, stored and destroyed in accordance with privacy requirements.
Individuals who do not pass screening should not enter the campus but self isolate and contact their health care or regional/local PSA and follow their advice.
Anyone who becomes sick while on campus should stop their activity, notify their supervisor or instructor, wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, if not available a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask) if available (otherwise, wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask), return home (while avoiding public transit as much as possible), contact their health care provider or local Public Public Health Authority, if required. Call 911 if symptoms are life-threatening.
Develop procedures for contacting regional/local PSA for further advice in the event of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 involving faculty, staff, or a student. If the case is work-related, additional notifications may be required to the jurisdictional health and safety regulator and worker compensation board. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Adopt flexible leave policies that enable workers to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have had a potential exposure:
Communicate that sick workers should not come to work
Designate a process for workers to immediately notify their supervisor
Provide support to workers who are off
Do not penalize workers who must take leave to isolate or quarantine
Maintain the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres in all directions) from others wherever possible, especially with people from outside of the immediate household Keep all in-person interactions as few and as brief as possible.
Limiting class size and preventing crowded spaces contributes to physical distancing. Follow your jurisdictional occupancy limits to determine the number of people allowed in your workplace. These limits may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
Limit how many people are allowed on campus, in buildings, classrooms, labs, food service areas, and in common areas including meeting rooms, lounges, study areas, elevators, and washrooms.
Allow administrative staff to work from home, if/when possible.
Consider blended teaching methods using both online/remote learning and face-to-face instruction where appropriate.
Consider using libraries, gyms, outdoors (weather permitting), portables, and other locations as additional classroom space.
Postpone gatherings where possible or offer more gatherings and events at reduced capacity rather than hosting one large gathering.
Establish partners or teams (cohorts) to work together (e.g., maintenance, cleaning staff). The use of cohorts reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and helps with contact tracing if a positive COVID-19 case is found in the workplace. Stagger their shifts, meetings, training, and break times.
Consider how people will travel through shared spaces, such as hallways, stairwells, and washrooms. Establish one-way routes where appropriate, using floor markings, signage, stanchions, etc.
Consider marking areas in outdoor spaces where people may congregate, such as campus greenspaces, amphitheatres, and sports fields. Space the areas as far apart as possible. Use visible and weather resistant materials and make sure to not create tripping hazards. If possible, widen outdoor pathways and ramps. Mark areas for resting or movement (e.g., sitting, standing, walking, wheelchair access).
Rearrange workstations, common areas, reception areas, break rooms and chairs, dining tables, etc. to promote physical distancing. In lecture halls, tape off every other seat. Place markers on the floor in a lab and space desks appropriately during in-person exams.
Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations).
If appropriate, install physical barriers when close interactions are unavoidable, (e.g., at cafeteria service or payment counters). Refer to the CCOHS document “COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Physical Barriers” for detailed information on use and installation (dimensions, materials) of physical barriers.
Poor ventilation can result in virus accumulation in the air. Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace the potentially contaminated air.
Make sure that heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are properly designed, maintained, and functioning. Consult an HVAC professional before making changes to the ventilation system(s).
Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening building windows and doors, or other methods if it does not pose a safety risk.
Hold activities in a better ventilated space (e.g., outdoors, or a larger space).
In vehicles, increase the amount of fresh outside air by opening the windows (weather permitting) and setting the ventilation to outside air. Avoid using the recirculated air option during passenger transport.
Make sure exhaust fans in restrooms are fully functional, operating at maximum capacity, and remain on.
Avoid blowing or circulating air from one person to another with cooling fans as it might increase the spread of COVID-19. Note that portable or ceiling fans and single unit air conditioners circulate the air without exchanging it or improving ventilation.
Explore the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units. However, these units should not be used as a replacement for proper indoor ventilation.
Hand wash and hand sanitizer stations should be well stocked and easy to find, near the entrance and exits to buildings, classrooms, food, and dining areas, and accessible at all work locations including vehicles. Install touchless motion-sensing appliances where possible.
Promote proper hand hygiene practices: wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, if soap and water are not available. Wash and sanitize hands:
at the beginning and at the end of each shift
before and after work breaks
after blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing
before putting on, touching or after removing masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)
before and after eating or drinking or preparing food
after using the washroom
before and after contact with others
after touching shared surfaces and items
after handling garbage or soiled laundry
Staff should change out of work clothes before going home. Clothes, uniforms, aprons, lab coats, etc. should be laundered as soon as possible after every shift.
If the curriculum includes musical instruction, do not allow students to share musical instruments such as woodwind and brass (i.e., any instrument that is played by blowing air into it), or microphones.
Viruses can remain on objects for a few hours to days depending on the type of surface and environmental conditions.
Develop a cleaning schedule and follow your standard operating procedures for cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces (door handles, light switches, chairs, etc.) and areas (e.g., washrooms, classrooms, lounges, and dining areas).
Clean and disinfect common areas and equipment between users. If using barriers, clean and disinfect both sides of the barrier frequently throughout the day.
Make sure washrooms are cleaned and disinfected frequently and stocked with soap and paper towels.
Train staff on cleaning and disinfecting procedures including the product manufacturer’s safe use instructions or Safety Data Sheet (SDS) (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used), and applicable workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) legislation. Provide adequate supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Used cleaning cloths, towels, garments, and uniforms must be properly handled to prevent contamination, and laundered after every use.
Consider using gloves when handling laundry. Do not shake the laundry when sorting. Use detergent and make sure the laundry is completely dry before using. Clean and disinfect hampers and bins used for storing laundry.
Replace garbage bins with no-touch receptacles or remove lids that require contact to open. Line garbage cans for safe disposal and handling of contaminated items, such as used personal protective equipment (PPE), tissues, and cleaning materials.
Dispose of garbage at least daily and follow up with hand hygiene.
Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local public health authority and jurisdiction. Mask wearing may be an additional measure when there is higher risk for COVID-19 spread (e.g., low vaccination coverage, increased community spread, variants of concern), or when physical distancing is not possible.
Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability or developmental status).
Masks should be well constructed and well fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
Encourage people not to touch their face or mask with unwashed hands.
Be aware that masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
For some individuals, not being able to see others face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., hard of hearing, using lip-reading, needing to see facial expressions). Consider using a clear mask.
Staff may also wish to use eye protection (such as safety glasses, goggles, or face shield) in addition to a mask, when in close physical contact with others. Note that face shields do not offer equivalent protection to masks.
Do not allow the mask to be a hazard to other activities, such as getting caught on moving machinery or sports equipment, or exposure to open flames or sparks (e.g., lab bunsen burners, shop class).
Implement or update the workplace heat-stress program, as mask wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
While non-medical masks are useful in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they are not considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as they do not meet regulated testing and certification standards.
PPE is wearable protection that must meet regulated testing and certification standards.
PPE includes such items as fit-tested respirators and surgical masks, eye protection (e.g., goggles, face shield), gowns, gloves, and safety footwear.
Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies as directed by applicable laws. COVID-19 PPE policies must not interfere when a higher level of protection is needed for the task.
Employers should conduct a hazard assessment and make sure that workers and students have the correct PPE for the tasks and activities they are performing.
Workers may need PPE if they are:
performing tasks that require them to be less than 2 metres from another person without a physical barrier (e.g., helping another person with an activity or task),
using cleaning and disinfecting products (refer to the manufacturers’ safe handling instructions),
cleaning blood or bodily fluids (e.g., runny nose, vomit, stool, urine), or
providing emergency first-aid.
Workers also need to be trained on how to properly use and care for their PPE.
School Activities and Services
Offer virtual learning to limit the number of people in a classroom. Offer on-line exams and use remote proctoring or alternate testing formats.
Provide online, remote access to course materials and instructors when your regional/local PSA recommends against activities occurring on campus.
Develop virtual labs, simulations, and multimedia resources for experiential learning.
Offer virtual information and social activities to reduce the need for in person gathering while maintaining social connectedness and student life experiences.
Consider how to support individuals who will be unable to attend in-person sessions due to their circumstances (e.g., health, personal, or travel restrictions).
It may be necessary to restrict access to or close laboratories and research activities if transmission control measures cannot be implemented in those settings. Review activities requiring in-person attendance (e.g., care of animals, plants, cultures; preservation of materials requiring special storage; maintenance of essential equipment). Determine whether staff can be trained to perform multiple or similar functions across multiple research projects.
Control access to labs to help limit the number of people who interact with one another (e.g., using timeslot sign-up sheets, or by assigning individuals or cohort groups to a schedule). Allow time between users to clean and disinfect shared equipment touch surfaces, and ventilate the laboratory air.
Collaborate with organizations offering student internships, co-op placements, work-terms, or apprenticeship training about the importance of implementing control measures to offer enrichment learning or work opportunities. Review options for students who may not be able to find a placement opportunity or whose placement has been cancelled.
Domestic and International Travel
Special consideration should be given to school attendance by individuals coming from outside the community, such as interprovincial and international faculty or students. It is recommended that protocols be in place to support individuals travelling back to Canada and to prevent potential discrimination based on their race or country of origin.
Prepare for travel restrictions that could be imposed during the academic term that may prevent individuals from arriving or returning home. Additional supports and services may be required especially when the institution closes or operates at reduced levels (e.g., reading week, winter break).
Review options to support students. How will housing, access to health care, food, information, and other services be provided if they must complete a mandatory quarantine period before or after arriving on campus or in the local community?
There may be additional exemptions and restrictions for international faculty and students depending on where they live, work, and study. Consider how to support individuals with living arrangements, or the necessary documentation to enter and remain in Canada (e.g., a valid work or study permit, letter of introduction, post graduate work plan).
Jurisdictional requirements for domestic and international travelers may require them to complete a period of quarantine before they can participate in campus education and activities. All travelers entering Canada must meet applicable testing and quarantine requirements enforceable through an emergency order under the Quarantine Act.
As travel-related quarantine measures continue to evolve, regional/local PHAs and the resources below should be consulted to determine current restrictions that may impact people at or planning to attend the PSI.
Further information for students and administrators can be found at Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada:
It may be necessary to restrict or close residences if there is increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, e.g., dormitory style rooms, and those with shared washroom and other facilities.
Where possible, offer single occupancy in rooms with private washrooms or use suite style apartments with private sleeping quarters. Make alternate arrangements for off campus housing such as using hotels.
Consider using restricted key access or sign up times to limit the number of students able to use shared spaces (e.g., lounges, kitchens, laundry facilities) at one time. Limit or prohibit day and overnight guests.
Individuals who share a room or suite-style housing may be considered as “immediate household” when implementing control measures.
Determine whether certain residences or off campus housing (particularly those with single rooms) could be used for isolation and quarantine purposes.
Discontinue communal food and beverage services, including self-serve buffets. Remove shared condiment containers and utensil stations. Instead, offer pre-wrapped takeout meals, condiment packets, and utensils.
Reduce touching of food by increasing pre-packaged options. Consider the use of vending machines with touchless payment options for delivery of pre-packaged, grab-and-go food options.
Faculty and staff should bring their own eating service (utensils, plates, glassware) to use at work.
Require students in residences to label and use their own food. Discourage the sharing of food and beverages, dishes, and utensils.
Enhance telephone, online, and mobile app ordering to increase food takeout options. Allow student meal-plan vouchers to be used at a wider selection of off-campus restaurants, where possible.
Increase the time slots available for individuals to receive food; offer staggered mealtimes.
Adopt contactless payment models when possible, while recognizing exceptions for persons who can only pay cash.
If outdoor patio dining is allowed by the regional/local PHA and space permits, consider installing additional well-spaced outdoor picnic tables across campus.
It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.