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COVID-19 in Fall 2021: From Booster Shot Eligibility to Winter Travel Policies, Here’s Everything You Need to Know
2021 is winding to a close, yet the COVID-19 pandemic remains prevalent in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) reported a total of 45,571,532 COVID cases in America as of October 27, 2021. Conversely, 190,990,750 million Americans were fully vaccinated by October 27, while 14,429,771 citizens received booster shots by that date.
United States COVID-19 vaccination efforts have been in full swing since the winter of 2020 and the spring of 2021. Many Americans traveled throughout the year (either to reunite with friends and family or for work-related reasons) as COVID cases surged and waned. The CDC released and updated numerous safety guidelines in 2021 as COVID-19 variants like Delta and Mu became more prevalent.
In June 2021, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals — those who received either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could stop wearing masks in (most) public spaces. However, mask mandates have been reinstated in most states as COVID cases continue to fluctuate.
The (now-outdated) June guidance from the CDC, which many local state and federal officials abided by, hinged on trusting that those around you were being honest about their vaccination status. Those guidelines, however, didn’t pertain to immunocompromised individuals, at-risk elderly folks, and unvaccinated children. Just a few weeks later — in the wake of Delta variant-related surges and breakthrough cases — the CDC announced in July 2021 that even fully vaccinated individuals should return to masking up in public.
Summer 2021 wasn’t quite the “return to normalcy” that many were hoping for, and, instead, reinforced the challenges that the pandemic presents. Many people who have long faced systemic barriers, misinformation, mistreatment, and other inequities when it comes to healthcare, are still unsure about getting vaccinated. Nonetheless, businesses have reopened their offices, and many schools have physically reopened their doors . Vaccine producers have doubled their efforts to create enough vaccines for everyone , though many people still lack access to these vaccines both nationally and globally.
The fall of 2021 was fraught with a wealth of changes; vaccination mandates, back-to-school policies, and new variants of COVID-19, just to name a few. Today, we’ll discuss some of the more recent updates regarding the pandemic, including booster shot eligibility, vaccination eligibility for children, and winter travel policies.
Editor’s Note: While we update this article with the latest information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout, mask guidance, and more, be sure to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for the most up-to-date announcements.
Mask-Wearing and Vaccination Mandates: Here’s What We Can Expect
As mentioned above, policies regarding masks are constantly in flux. The CDC is encouraging everyone to mask up this fall while visiting public spaces. While the CDC’s guidance doesn’t override local, state, federal, or tribal law, many states and cities have been quick to adhere to the agency’s latest suggestions. The number of new COVID cases has dropped below 65,000 per da y in America . However, citizens are still encouraged to wear masks in public spaces.
In San Francisco, California, for example, an impressive 76.91% of people were fully vaccinated as of October 26 . Nonetheless, hundreds of bars and restaurants banded together to require patrons not only to wear masks but provide vaccination cards (or negative COVID-19 tests) at the door. New York City and San Francisco became the first cities in the country to require proof of vaccination , to prevent the spread of coronavirus in visit bars, restaurants, or other public places.
Huge companies, from Disney to United Airlines, have required employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine , falling in line with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees . Meanwhile, Massachusetts — a state with very high vaccination rates — isn’t under a statewide mask mandate , with the governor citing those vaccination numbers as the reason why.
On the other end of the spectrum, states with low vaccination rates, loose mask-wearing policies, and large populations are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. As of November 8, 2021, the state with the
highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita
was North Dakota (19,925 cases per 100,000 people), followed by Alaska and Tennessee. Federal officials around the nation, like
California governor Gavin Newsom
are urging citizens to protect their communities with vaccinations and booster shots. Ultimately, staying aware, informed, and
considerate of others and their safety in public spaces
remains just as crucial as ever before.
How Are Schools Handling COVID-19 Concerns?
When it comes to vaccine and mask mandates in schools, guidance is just as varied. It’s clear that in-person learning is a priority for many schools across the country, but returning to the classroom safely poses some challenges. Currently, the CDC recommends that all students and staff over the age of two wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and maintain three feet of physical distance whenever possible. The CDC also recommends frequent testing, temperature checks, hand-washing and staying home when one is feeling unwell.
Mask mandates have become increasingly popular in schools across the country , but vaccine mandates for teachers, staff and others who are of age are less ubiquitous. “Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC states on its website. “Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”
And while colleges and universities are trying to incentivize eligible students and staff to get vaccinated, many K-12 teachers have been fighting for vaccine mandates since late winter of this year, adamant on being fully protected before returning to in-person teaching. Eager to boost overall vaccination rates in schools, California became the first state to require that all teachers and staff in both public and private K-12 schools get vaccinated (or, alternatively, submit weekly COVID-19 tests), a strategy that President Biden’s chief medical advisor on COVID-19, Anthony Fauci, has openly supported .
In early July, the CDC noted the importance of vaccinating eligible students with
reporting that, at the time of the announcement, “just 1 out of 3 kids ages 12 to 17 [had] received a COVID-19 vaccine.” Now, many folks are left wondering why the COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been added to the roster of shots students are required to have before enrolling in school. However, now that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has given the Pfizer vaccine full approval, we may start to see states adding the COVID-19 vaccine to their
lists of mandated school vaccines
COVID-19 & Travel: Will the Holidays Be Impacted?
Undoubtedly, summer travel was not what many folks hoped it would be after a year and a half of staying home. With a stark inequity in global vaccine distribution efforts , many Americans vacationed locally, foregoing international travel altogether. And while there was a window of opportunity for fully vaccinated vacationers in May and June, that window shut rather quickly due to the global surge in Delta variant-related cases.
It’s currently still difficult to predict how travel and large-scale events, like music festivals and holiday celebrations, will be shaped by the pandemic. Delta variant cases are receding nationwide , prompting health professionals to reevaluate the Delta strain’s virulence, but the pandemic will likely impact holiday travel plans this fall. Organizers behind two of the country’s largest music festivals, Coachella and Stagecoach, announced that attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination next year. Meanwhile, air travel still requires passengers to wear masks. So, large-scale fall events aside, will you be able to make it home for the holidays this year? That depends on a variety of largely unpredictable factors.
What Do We Know About COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters?
Will vaccinated folks — especially immunocompromised folks — need boosters? For many Americans who received their first shots months ago, this question is becoming increasingly pressing. But much like other aspects of the pandemic, the official word varies. President Biden urged Americans to receive boosters once they qualified. But the WHO voiced concerns about global vaccine equity , suggesting that the primary focus should be on — and the bulk of resources should go to — distributing first (and second) shots to folks who haven’t had the chance to be vaccinated yet. The WHO also emphasized that immunocompromised people should receive booster shots as soon possible, as breakthrough infections are “highly disproportionately represented by those people.”
The CDC currently recommends that people who fall into one of the following groups should seek booster shots 6 months or more after their first dosages:
- People who are 65 years or older
- People who are 18+ who live in long-term care settings
- People who are 18+ with underlying medical conditions
- People who are 18+ and work or live in high-risk settings
Moreover, the CDC also endorses a “mix and match dosing for booster shots” — if you got Pfizer, for example, you can turn to Moderna for your booster shot.
The CDC that’s anyone “12 years or older” should become vaccinated as soon as possible. Local pharmacies and child healthcare providers can readily and safely provide vaccinations for children. The FDA has also supported Pfizer’s vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. Dr. Mark Sawyer, on behalf of the FDA, said that Pfizer’s vaccine could be “a tool in our armamentarium for high risk children”.
For more information on who should seek boosters, follow the CDC’s latest guidance.
The Fourth Wave: Will There Be Another COVID-19 Surge This Fall?
As of October 26, 2021, 58.0% of Americans are fully vaccinated. As the CDC has noted, the most effective way to keep hospitalizations down is to focus on vaccination, especially since the Delta variant, a strain of the virus that’s twice as transmissible as the original strain, has made up the bulk of fourth wave cases.
The Mu variant is much more enigmatic than the Delta variant. However, the WHO deemed Mu a “variant of interest” on August 31, 2021. Mu has largely appeared in countries like Ecuador and Colombia. However, professionals believe that this variant may be more resilient to vaccines and natural antibodies.
So, will the surges continue into the fall — and will there be another wave? It’s not entirely possible to tell right now. COVID-19 cases are declining in America, but another surge will always be a looming threat while large swathes of the country remain unvaccinated.
Of course, there are other factors that haven’t quite been addressed: How will flu season play into the ongoing pandemic? Should officials reinstate shelter-in-place measures or other public health strategies to curb the transmission of COVID-19 and its variants? “Unlike a year ago, we have the ability to save lives and keep our economy growing,” President Biden (@POTUS) tweeted in early August. “We know we can dramatically lower the cases in the country. We can do this. Get vaccinated.”
Indeed, “get vaccinated” may adequately summarize President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan . The six pillars of Biden’s plans include “vaccinating the unvaccinated”, “protecting our economy”, and increasing testing and requiring masking”.
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Traveling Abroad as a U of T Student
The Safety Abroad Office (SAO) in the Centre for International Experience is a service available to U of T students who travel abroad for a University activity. We partner with students, staff and faculty to minimize risk by:
- Providing Safety Abroad Workshops
- Monitoring security situations
- Assisting students with emergencies abroad
- Offering 24/hr Emergency line
If you are going abroad on a “U of T activity,” in other words if you are getting credit, funding or sanctioning from the University , then you will have to register with the Safety Abroad Office before you travel.
Please see all the information here .
All students must complete the following items at least one month before travel:
- Safety Abroad Workshop
- Safety Registry
- Obtain Supplementary Health Insurance
New Safety Abroad Steps before Travel
There are now two different pathways for students to take to register, depending on the nature of your travel and how it is being processed by the University. The two pathways are, Program Travel Registration and Department Travel Registration.
A trip is considered,
Program Travel if: (1) Someone from U of T is choosing participants and/or helping organize part of your travel; (2) if you are taking a trip as a group or field trip (ex. Exchange, internships or practicums)
Department Travel if: You are taking a trip that is organized by yourself and at a time that independent from conventional semester dates (ex. Conference or independent research)
Program Travel Registration
Your program will notify you when you should:
- Sign in to the Safety Registry
- Attend a Safety Abroad Workshop (valid for 1.5 years)
- Get Supplementary Health Insurance
Department Travel Registration
To kick-start your registration process you should:
- The SAO will register you and send you a confirmation email, you can then sign on to the Safety Registry and fill in your profile completing Emergency Contact, Passport and Travel Health insurance information
- Attend Safety Abroad Workshop (valid for 1.5 years)
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Expense Reimbursement Checklist – Template
The checklist can be provided to expense reimbursement claimants prior to participating in UofT related business activities/travel, and includes:
- general guiding principles governing expense reimbursements at UofT
- summarized list of original receipt requirements for reimbursable expenses
- relevant GTFM policy information
The Checklist is also editable, enabling you to modifying it to suit your departmental needs. Use the Word version of the file to create your own custom checklist.
Expense Reimbursement Checklist – Template: Word | PDF
Home » Safety Abroad
U of t safety abroad supports students and activity sponsors by:.
- Providing direction to the University in regards to managing risk pertaining to student travel abroad;
- Offering students support in understanding risks associated with the location of their international activity and working with students to develop measures to mitigate those risks;
- Monitoring situations abroad and advising students on any emerging issues;
- Providing emergency support when regional or personal emergencies arise.
By supporting you in understanding and mitigating the possible risks you may encounter, U of T Safety Abroad is dedicated to supporting safer student experiences abroad.
Know a student traveling abroad? While staff and faculty are not affected by the university’s requirements around Safety Abroad, it is good for staff and faculty working with students to be aware of the requirements.
In An Emergency
Keep in mind that your personal safety is the most important while you are traveling abroad. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with basic local information of transportation, accommodation, culture and custom, political situation etc. before you leave. Also, knowing where to access helps in emergencies is fundamental to ensure a safe experience abroad.
In an emergency, get in touch with us 24/7 via Campus Safety at:
+1 416-978-2222 or International SOS at +1 215-942-8478
Student Safety Abroad Registry
The Safety Abroad Registry allows U of T Safety Abroad to track your travel dates and location so that we can offer support and emergency assistance.
In order to register, have your emergency contact, health insurance, passport and local contact information ready. You need to complete a registration for each trip you go on. One trip can have multiple locations.
Note for Staff/Faculty:
If you need to access the Registry for any reason, please contact [email protected] .
University of Toronto Graduate Students' Union
Travel insurance is covered in your UTGSU Health and Dental Insurance (HDI) plan. You are covered for up to 120 days per trip. Students who are leaving on a recognized academic exchange are also covered for the duration of their exchange and for another 120 days before and after their approved exchange. They must remain Members of the UTGSU, pay fees to University of Toronto including the Health Plan fee and keep their provincial health-care coverage.
Please note: The UTGSU Travel Insurance does not cover you if you are going to your home country .
Travel Letters can be provided when applying for a Visa, or, if you wish to carry proof of coverage. Please click on the following link: https://studentcare.ca/plan/en-CA/IHaveAPlan_UniversityofTorontoGraduateStudentsUnionUTGSU/assistance-centre and complete the Support Form. In the “Reason for Request” Question, you can select Travel Coverage and complete the Form by providing the details. Please Note: There is a 10-day turnaround time to process this request. Travel Insurance covers hospital, physician, and other services for emergency treatment of an injury or illness while travelling outside of the province in which you reside (including international travel). Return of remains is covered up to $40,000 CAD. The maximum coverage is $5,000,000 CAD per lifetime.
When travelling outside your province of residence, you, and your family (if you opted in your family) are eligible for:
- Worldwide medical coverage
- Comprehensive medical benefits with up to $5 million per emergency
- Trip cancellation: Your Plan includes coverage for trip cancellation in case of a medical emergency. You are covered up to $3,000 per trip for pre-paid, non-refundable trip expenses.
- Trip interruption: Your Plan includes coverage for trip interruption in case of a medical emergency. You are covered up to $7,500 for each trip during the policy year.
We recommend that you review your detailed explanation of coverage prior to travelling. Details are available at https://utgsu.ca/health-and-dental/travel-insurance/
Health & Dental Plan
The UTSU administers a Health & Dental Plan for all full-time undergraduate students at the St. George campus and eligible students at the Toronto School of Theology, providing some of the best mental health and dental coverage in Canada when compared to other student association plans. The plan provides full or partial coverage for many services not covered by provincial health care. International Students are covered by the UTSU Health Plan and the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).
The Health & Dental Plan fees are charged on a compulsory basis as part of your tuition, although students may opt-out if they are able to provide proof of other extended health insurance coverage. This means that if you’re already covered by an equivalent health and dental plan, such as a parent’s or spouse’s employee benefit plan or a plan provided by your band council or through Health Canada, you can opt-out of this plan.
Note for first year students : There is a blackout period for newly insured students until October 31st while the university and insurance provider confirm your enrollment and onboard you to the policy. During this time, you will not be able to register your Greenshield account. However, after the blackout period expires, you will be able to register and make claims for September and October.
To learn more about your coverage, how to make a claim, and other details about your plan, please see below, or visit the UTSU page at studentcare.ca .
See below for a breakdown of some of the services offered by your UTSU plan, and click the button for more information.
- Up to 80% coverage, $5,000/policy year
- Vaccinations are 100% covered, up to $200/policy year
- Oral contraceptives and contraceptive devices, up to $250/policy year
- Also covers non-prescription drugs like insulin, as well as diabetic syringes, testing agents (up to $1,000/benefit year) and needles
- Mental health practitioners – up to $100/visit and 15 visits/policy year
- Registered Massage Therapists & Acupuncturists – up to $30/visit and 20 combined visits/policy year
- Chiropractors – up to $30/visit and 20 visits/policy year
- Physiotherapists – up to $30/visit and 20 visits/policy year
- Upgrade to a semi-private hospital room
- Up to $25/hour for tutorial services from a qualified teacher, if an accident causes disability and confinement for more than 15 consecutive days
- Covers air or land ambulance transport to nearest hospital in an emergency
- Orthopaedic shoes or arch supports covered up to $350/policy year
- Hearing aids, repairs or replacement parts covered up to $500/five years
- Diagnostic tests, x-rays, and lab tests covered when prescribed by a medical practitioner
- $800 in dental visits/policy year
- Exams and X-Rays covered up to 70 per cent/policy year
- Lab test and extractions covered up to 80 per cent/policy year
- Scaling and polishing covered up to 70 per cent/policy year
- Fillings, root canals, surgery & anaesthesia covered up to 60 per cent/policy year
- Oral examinations, polishing, and fluoride treatment are covered once per 12 months
- Bitewing x-rays are covered once every 9 months
- Oral hygiene instruction is covered once every 12 months
- A complete exam (sometimes called a new patient exam) is only covered once every 5 years
- Repair/replace damage to healthy teeth caused by an external blow/accident
- Treatment must be covered within 12 months of the accident
- New or replacement eyeglasses or contact lenses and eye exam are covered up to a combined $150/two years
- Up to 30% or $75 off prescription glasses when visiting an independent specialist who is a member of the Studentcare Vision Network
- Up to $200 off the cost of a laser vision correction procedure from LASIKMD
- Coverage for up to 120 days/trip, for an unlimited number of trips taken during the time you’re covered
- Maximum coverage of $5,000,000/lifetime during time you’re covered
- Includes hospital, physician, and other services for emergency treatment of injury or illness while travelling, including internationally
- As of Sept. 1, 2020, travel coverage also applies to COVID-19-related emergency medical expenses, including those under 50 and those travelling during a Level-Three Advisory (avoid non-essential travel) issued by the federal government
- Coverage for if your trip is interrupted due to a medical emergency
- Coverage for up to $7,500 for each trip taken in the policy year
- Includes quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test result, denied entry, or contact tracing while at the destination: meals and accommodation are covered up to $200/day, to a maximum of $5,000/trip
- Coverage if your trip is cancelled due to a medical emergency
- Coverage up to $3,000/trip for pre-paid, non-refundable trip expenses
Empower Me is a confidential support service available 24/7, 365 days a year. Empower Me gives you space to talk to someone about issues like:
- stress or anxiety
- relationship or family conflicts
- substance use
- disordered eating
- career counselling
- and much more
Dialogue - Virtual Healthcare
Dialogue is an online platform that lets you connect with Canadian healthcare professionals via a mobile or web app. Ninety per cent of requests receive a response within 2 hours.
Through Dialogue, you can:
- Consult with a nurse via chat, video or phone
- See a doctor for a diagnosis or prescription
- Get specialist referrals or lab requests
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Headaches or migraines
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Minor aches and pains, cuts and bites
- STI information and screening
- Rashes and hives
Download the Dialogue app today .
Submitting a Claim
Recently, the UTSU changed our insurance provider for the Health & Dental plan. Depending on when you received your service, you may have to submit to a different insurer.
For more information on claims, please visit the Studentcare website .
For services incurred on or after Sept. 1, 2021
All health and dental claims must be received by Green Shield Canada no later than 12 months after the date the eligible benefit was incurred.
You can submit a claim via mail to the address on the form or online through their website . To submit online, you’ll need to register with your Member ID, which is UTS + your student ID number (e.g. UTS11122233).
For services incurred before Sept. 1, 2021
All health claims must be received by Desjardins Insurance no later than 90 days after the end of the policy year in which the claims were incurred or 90 days after the end of your coverage, whichever is sooner. Coverage from Desjardins ended on Aug. 31, 2021.
If you’re submitting claims for services incurred before Sept. 1, 2021, your claims must be received by Nov. 29, 2021. You can file claims to Desjardins by mailing in claim forms or online through the Studentcare mobile app until Nov. 29, 2021. For more information, and to download the app, click here .
Change of Coverage & Opting Out
The Change of Coverage & Opt-Out period is at the beginning of every school year, or the beginning of the Winter semester (for those students who began their school year in the Winter term) During these periods, you can opt out, or enrol your spouse and/or dependent children in the Health & Dental Plan.
You must show proof of coverage from another plan to opt-out of the health portion of the plan. Provincial coverage is not sufficient as another plan. You may opt-out of the dental portion of the plan without providing proof of other coverage.
For students beginning in the Winter term, the Change of Coverage & Opt-Out period is Jan. 2-31. Please note that for those beginning in the Winter semester, coverage under the plan is from Jan. 1 to August 31.
Although your coverage begins on September 1, there is a Fall Blackout Period for about two months at the beginning of the policy year (approximately Sept. 1 to Oct. 31). During this time, the insurance company cannot confirm your enrollment and will not process or reimburse claims for newly registered students. This includes:
- First-year students
- Students returning from a leave
- Students who opted out of the plan the previous year
- Students who were members of a different student union in the previous year, who are now UTSU members
Returning students – students who were covered by the Plan up to the end of the previous policy year – are not affected by the Fall Blackout Period, while most students who were registered for classes by early August will experience a shorter Blackout Period.
The Winter Blackout Period, which affects new students who begin their studies in the Winter, begins on January 1 each year and lasts approximately until February 28.
During the Blackout Period:
- You will be unable to direct-bill the insurance provider (at pharmacies, dental clinics, etc.)
- Claims may be denied
- You cannot register your account on the insurer’s website to submit claims
Any expenses incurred during this time can be claimed for after the Blackout Period has ended, so long as you are eligible for coverage.
We are here to help
If you have any questions or concerns related to your health and dental plan, you can reach out to our team at [email protected] , by live chat on our website, or at 416-978-4911.