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Post-Secondary Education

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Introduction

This document is for education providers, administrators, faculty, staff, and students. It provides an overview of the recommended controls in post-secondary institutions due to COVID-19. Post-secondary institutions include public and private colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools, and general and professional teaching colleges (CEGEPs).

For general COVID-19 prevention practices, refer to the CCOHS COVID-19
Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19,
COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers, and
COVID-19 Prevention for Workers.

Additional guidance can be found in the Government of Canada: Guidance for Post-Secondary Institutions During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the CCOHS COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Education Providers: Grades K-12.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your employees. In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities and your jurisdictional OHS regulator must be followed. Also refer to current guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Considerations When Assessing Risk

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases when people are in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), and in crowded places with people outside of their immediate household. Risk is higher in settings where these factors overlap and/or involve activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting, or heavy breathing (e.g., during exercise).

The COVID-19 virus may also spread when a person touches another person (e.g., a handshake) or the surface of an object (also referred to as a fomite) that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.

Each post-secondary institution is unique in terms of its size, geographic location, services provided, and its staff, faculty, and student population.

In addition to student instruction, post-secondary institutions provide many facilities and services that involve close or direct contact with others, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission between faculty, staff, students, and the surrounding community. 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), food service (e.g., cafeterias, restaurants, pubs), and student health and wellness (e.g., gyms, pools, medical clinics, counselling, salons).

Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document and evaluate campus work areas, routine and non-routine activities, and job roles. Review all services and activities provided by third parties (e.g., catering, groundskeeping, childcare services). Be sure to include any on-campus construction projects as they may be subject to shut down measures as ordered in your jurisdiction.

Considerations When Implementing Control Measures

Determine the measures required to effectively control the transmission of COVID-19. Use the hierarchy of controls which includes elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative policies, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Include public health personal preventative measures in your in your safety plan. Generally, these include COVID-19 vaccination, limiting occupancy and gathering limits, screening, physical distancing, good hygiene, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and the wearing of masks.

A written safety plan may be legally required within your jurisdiction. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.

Consider the impact of your control measures on your ability to operate normally.

  • What services will change or be suspended?
  • How will faculty, staff, and students be supported if they are unable to report to work or school because they are sick, awaiting test results, quarantined, or in isolation?
  • What are the recommendations for your faculty and staff who need to care for school aged children?
  • Is there a risk of severe illness of your faculty, staff, students or their families if they belong to a high-risk group? How will they be accommodated?
  • How will the institution plan for a COVID-19 outbreak?
  • Could the control measures create new workplace hazards?

Communication and Training

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 physical distancing, use of non-medical masks, cleaning and disinfecting of equipment, and proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

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 non-medical 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 local public health authority.

COVID-19 Vaccines

Discuss the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination with your faculty and staff. Consider whether those who are vulnerable, working with vulnerable populations or living in communities with higher rates of COVID-19 should be prioritized.

Provide scheduling and financial support for faculty and staff to attend local vaccination clinic appointments if these occur during work hours. Consider holding an on-campus vaccination clinic.

Refer to the Government of Canada website: “Vaccines for COVID-19” for current information on the vaccines authorized for use, how to get vaccinated or register, and what to expect at your vaccination.

Academic Instruction, Experiential Learning and Research Activity

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 local public health authority 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 risk mitigation strategies 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 considerations will be required for faculty, staff and student travel as there may be restrictions for those arriving from outside of Canada as well as travelling between provinces and territories. Travellers coming into the country may also be subject to mandatory quarantine or isolation.

Prepare for travel restrictions that could be imposed during the academic term that may prevent students 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 are additional exemptions and restrictions for international students depending on where they live and study. Consider how to support students with living arrangements, or the necessary documentation to enter and remain in Canada (e.g., a valid study permit, letter of introduction, post graduate work plan).

Visit the Government of Canada websites: “COVID-19: travel, testing, quarantine and borders” and “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): International students” for more information.

On Campus Housing

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.

Food Services

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, 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 local health authority and space permits, consider installing additional well-spaced outdoor picnic tables across campus.

Screening

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). Provide access to a self-screening tool or use one provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the CCOHS, or your local public health authority. Where practical, staff may be stationed at entrances to perform active screening of persons who wish to enter.

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.

Contact Tracing

In the event that a person is exposed to COVID-19, the post-secondary institution and/or local public health authority 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 laws.

COVID-19 App

Consider promoting use of the Government of Canada COVID Alert App.

This app is designed to let Canadians know whether they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The app maintains user privacy; it does not record or share geographic locations.

If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all consenting persons as an additional active screening measure. Consider how you will manage the response to a rapid test result.

Responding to Suspected or Positive COVID-19 Cases

Individuals who do not pass screening should not enter the campus but self isolate and contact their health care or local public health authority and follow their advice.

Anyone who becomes sick while on campus should stop their activity, notify their supervisor or instructor, wear a 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 health authority and follow their advice. Call 911 if symptoms are life-threatening.

Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities 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.

Physical Distancing

Maintain the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others wherever possible. Keep all in-person interactions as few and as brief as possible.

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.

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 zones in outdoor spaces where people congregate for long periods of time, such as campus greenspaces, amphitheatres, and sports fields. Space the zones at least 2 metres apart and make them large enough for comfortable use. Use weather resistant materials to mark the zone edges (e.g., painted pegs, rope, flagging tape). 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).

Physical Barriers

Consider installing physical barriers to separate people and help prevent droplet spread. Where in-person activities are taking place, install at reception, checkout, and payment areas, between office workers, and between the front and back seats of vehicles (if not already installed).

  • Barriers should be made from plexiglass, plastic or other non-porous materials that can be easily cleaned and disinfected.
  • Ensure the use of barriers meets legislative requirements (e.g. fire and building codes) and consider impacts to ergonomics, pedestrian traffic patterns, and indoor air flow (i.e., reduced or diverted).

Install low contact options, such as pressure sensitive bars or touchless entry, instead of doorknobs at entries and exits.

Ventilation

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 operate properly. 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.

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. Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units instead, to:

  • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the system.
  • Increase fresh air flow/percentage of outdoor air.
  • Limit use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep system running at the optimal setting.

If the use of a table or pedestal fan is unavoidable, it is important to regularly bring in air from outside by opening windows or doors, while minimizing how much air blows from one person (or group of people) to another person (or group of people). Avoid high speed settings and direct the fan toward an unoccupied corner and wall spaces above people’s head height.

Explore the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units.

For additional detailed information on ventilation, please refer to the Government of Canada website COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic and the CCOHS document COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Ventilation.

Personal Hygiene

Post signs at entrances, in washrooms, and other areas throughout the workplace to promote good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

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 non-medical 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.

Cleaning and Disinfection

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.

Use approved hard-surface disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.

Train staff on cleaning and disinfecting procedures including applicable workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) legislation, and provide adequate supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used).

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 and convenient disposal 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.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Continue to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for existing occupational health and safety hazards and emergencies as directed by applicable laws and established procedures.

Additional PPE including eye protection (i.e., goggles or face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face) and disposable gloves may be required when cleaning and disinfecting. Consult the manufacturer’s safe use and handling instructions or the hazardous product’s safety data sheet (SDS) for recommended PPE.

Employees may also opt for eye protection (such as face shields) when in close physical contact with others. Stay informed as guidance is evolving regarding the use of face shields. They are not a suitable replacement for face masks but can provide eye protection.

Ensure adequate PPE is provided for staff (e.g., security) who interact with the public. For example, an N95 respirator, a face shield, disposal gloves and a gown should be worn when in direct contact with another person (e.g., providing emergency medical attention).

If unable to wear a disposable gown or coveralls because it limits access to duty belt and gear, security must clean and disinfect the duty belt after contact with an individual.

Develop procedures and train staff on the selection, use, wearing, removal, disposal, cleaning, maintenance, and storage of PPE. Improper use of PPE can increase the risk of infection. PPE must be put on (donned) and removed (doffed) appropriately, performing hand hygiene before, during and after removing pieces of equipment. A reference to putting on and removing PPE can be found here.

Non-Medical Masks

Non-medical masks might help to block respiratory droplets, but they are not considered personal protective equipment. Establish policies regarding the use of mask, including non-medical masks on campus, including faculty, staff, student, and visitor access to these materials and education around proper use. Follow the mask requirements of your local public health agency.

  • Masks should be well-constructed, well-fitting, and worn to fully cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps.
  • Masks should be worn in dining areas except when eating or drinking.
  • Masks should be changed when they become wet, soiled, or damaged.
  • Reusable soiled masks should be kept in a separate bag or container.
  • Masks should not be touched while being worn. Use the straps to remove the mask and follow up with hand hygiene.
  • For some people, not being able to see another person’s face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., people who are deaf or hard of hearing). Consider using a clear mask in those situations.

For additional detailed information on masks, please refer to the Government of Canada website “Non-medical masks” and the CCOHS document “Get the Facts on Masks”.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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.

Document last updated May 10, 2021