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University of Alberta Students' Union disappointed by decision to drop mask mandate

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Students and staff at the University of Alberta will no longer be mandated to wear masks starting March 16.

While university administration still recommends masks, many students are not comfortable with the change, and it's something the Students' Union plans to fight.

Rowan Ley, president of the Students' Union, says they polled nearly 2,000 students on the issue, with 61 per cent indicating they would prefer mandatory masks until the end of the semester.

"You can choose not to go to a gym or not to go to a cafeteria where people are unmasked," Ley told CTV News Edmonton.

"But you have to go to crowded classrooms and lecture halls as a university student, so it's not fair to make people who might justifiably be uncomfortable go into a crowded space with lots of unmasked people."

When in-person classes resumed on Feb. 28, the university signalled it would maintain mandatory masking for the "immediate future."

Ley said the Students' Union made KN95 masks available to students, with 3,000 given out this past week.

"That's one other step we're doing to keep students safe," he said, adding that the university did not want to be part of the distribution program.

Andrew Sharman, U of A vice president facilities and operations, said the mask requirement has been suspended, not eliminated.

"They've not been deleted or removed because we all hope that this now moves to an endemic phase, but we want to be able to put restrictions back in should public health orders change," Sharman said.

For students Aly and Amanda Clip, the move to simply recommend mask-wearing is disappointing.

"I still feel like most of us should be wearing masks in the classrooms," Aly said. "There's like 400 people in our class, and we want to be still protected."

"I don't feel like I have a lot of autonomy in the choices that are even being made now," Amanda said. "So that's another frustration."

Demetrios Nicolaides, advanced education minister, said in a statement that Albertans are ready to move back to normal.

"Albertans want to get life back to normal with a clear and consistent province-wide approach," Nicolaides said. "It is my expectation that post-secondary institutions align their COVID policies with the direction of government."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson 

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