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University of Alberta maintains mask requirements on campus for 'immediate' future

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The largest university in Alberta says it will maintain the campus mask mandate despite the provincial government signalling it wants post-secondary institutions to drop pandemic restrictions.

In a statement released Thursday evening, University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan said there would be no "immediate" changes to masking rules for all indoor shared spaces once in-person classes resume on Feb. 28.

"In the coming weeks, the U of A will continue to track public health indicators, and guidelines from across all levels of government to respond as needed in support of our community's health," Flanagan said.

According to the university, more than 97 per cent of students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated, while three per cent hold vaccination exemptions. The president noted that the U of A had experienced "very few" cases and no outbreaks across its several campuses over the past two semesters.

On Wednesday, Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides sent a letter to all Alberta post-secondary institution board chairs saying it is his "expectation" that all universities, colleges, and polytechnics "align their COVID-19 policies and practices with that of Alberta's government."

"Like you, I am eager to see students returning to in-person learning without masking and proof of vaccination requirements this March," Nicolaides said, referencing the province's expected move to Stage 2 of the reopening plan.

The U of A Students' Union (UASU) believes ditching masks and vaccine passports would be premature.

"This is not something most students want," said Christian Fotang, UASU vice president external. "It's not something students asked for. It seems like a solution in search of a problem."

One professor says he is uneasy about the prospect of teaching in a maskless classroom.

"This is a pattern we keep living through," Nelson Amaral, U of A computing science professor, told CTV News.

For Amaral, one concern is that a relaxation of measures on campus could push classes online again.

"(We) had the best summer ever last year," Amaral added. "Now we're trying to have the best spring ever. The consequences, later on, might be serious."

When reached for comment, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and MacEwan University said they are still reviewing the province's restrictions and would provide more information at a later date.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Touria Izri 

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