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COVID-19: updates for Canada’s universities

We are publishing regular updates on the situation facing Canada’s universities with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BY UA/AU | JUN 16 2021

Editor’s note: please check back regularly for more updates.

June 16, 2021

Mandatory vaccines come to Ryerson and York

CTV News is reporting that all Ryerson University students living in residence this fall will need to be vaccinated. The article states that in an email to CP24, university spokesperson Karen Benner said the decision was made due to the nature of communal living, the high volume of cases and incidence rates among young populations, and to foster a welcoming and engaging community for students on campus.

“This measure is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development, Ryerson’s mandate and commitments surrounding applied knowledge and research to address existing and emerging society needs, and to prevent and mitigate outbreaks and disruptions during the 2021-2022 academic year,” she said.

The university is recommending that students in residence get their dose at least 14 days prior to their move-in date, similar to the protocols put in place at the University of Toronto and Trent University.

In the same vein, York University is also requiring all students living in residence to be vaccinated before arriving on campus this fall. “This requirement is supported by Toronto Public Health, as it is recognized that vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect those who come in contact with others, especially in shared spaces. Through this commitment to protecting health and safety, the goal is to help students return this fall to the residence life experience they have come to know and expect,” said the statement released on June 15. The requirement will not apply to students living off campus or in York University apartments.

Fall plans

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is planning on having a hybrid fall semester, with a large component of online courses. It will function as a bridge semester for students who are awaiting visas or are still unsure if they want to return to in-person learning.

“If you plan to be in Vancouver and want to engage in more face-to-face instruction, register for “hybrid” courses. Working with whatever health measures are recommended at that time, these courses will have more substantial face-to-face instruction and access than was possible in the past academic year. Students taking hybrid courses will be expected to be on campus,” said Trish Kelly, vice-president academic and provost in the statement. “For Spring 2022, we are hoping to return more fully to face-to-face curriculum, while also planning for a variety of curricular options moving forward.”

Philip Steenkamp, president of Royal Roads University, said in a video update to his community that if the vaccination progress continues in British Columbia, students and staff should be able to return to campus in the fall. “We are deeply proud that there has been zero transmission on our campus,” he said. He reiterated that Royal Roads is the type of university that truly thrives when people work together in person. “While it might suit some of us as individuals to work remotely, that is not how we will build a vibrant community and culture at Royal Roads.”

The University of Northern British Columbia has entered Step 2 of its four-step back to campus plan, with the goal of having the majority of courses delivered face-to-face on campus with full classroom/lab/theatre occupancy in September. “We have faced exceptional circumstances over the past 15 months. In our current mindset, it is challenging to look ahead and see that September is going to look vastly different than today from a public health perspective. But it will,” said interim president and vice-chancellor Geoff Payne. He cited the high rate of vaccinations as well as the declining number of cases in the province as steps in the right direction. “We are not ‘going back to the way things are,’ and we are not ‘going to a new normal’ either. We are doing a bit of both, which requires a lot of planning and participation from all of us.”

More than 35 per cent of classes at the University of Winnipeg will be taught in person beginning in September. The majority of winter term course instruction will be in-person. Remote learning alternatives will also be available for those who prefer that mode of delivery. “UWinnipeg operations teams have implemented protocols to ensure all campus buildings meet ventilation and cleaning standards for a safe reopening,” said the statement. “With vaccination rates rising and the pandemic’s third wave receding, we anticipate a back-to-school experience that looks and feels much more open and ‘normal.’”

Most courses will be offered in-person at Dalhousie University this fall. The university also expects to resume most on-campus activity, including on-campus events and programming, library access, food services, study spaces, access to fitness facilities and more. Residences will be open and all staff and faculty will be expected on campus as well, with faculty and unit leads managing flexible work schedules where appropriate.

Cases on campus

Carleton University is reporting one new case on its campus.

For the seven-day period ending Friday, June 11, the University of Saskatchewan is also reporting one positive case involving a member of the university community.

SFU launches COVID-19 rapid screening pilot

On June 8, Simon Fraser University launched an eight-week COVID-19 rapid screening pilot project on its Burnaby campus. Students currently living in on-campus residences, and varsity athletes from invited sports teams, will be eligible to participate in the pilot.

“We know that it’s possible for people to contract COVID-19 and unknowingly spread it to others, even if they are asymptomatic. Rapid screening will allow us to detect possible cases early on, prevent the spread and protect the safety of the SFU community,” said Martin Mroz, director of SFU health and counselling services.

The project does not replace or affect any of the existing COVID-19 guidance. All SFU community members are encouraged to keep wearing masks, practice physical distancing while on campus and get vaccinated as soon as they are able. However, the pilot does provide an extra layer of protection for the more than 420 students currently living in congregate housing or participating in sports with a higher risk of contact.

UCalgary documentary showcases the struggles of immigrant women health-care aides during the pandemic

Naomi Lightman, a University of Calgary assistant professor in the faculty of arts, has released a documentary film in conjunction with one of her students. Titled Caring during the COVID-19 Crisis: Immigrant Women Working in Long-Term Care in Calgary, the film highlights the struggles faced by health care aides working in long-term care during COVID-19. The interview subjects share details of reusing personal protective equipment, working long hours, the inadequate treatment of patients, and more. “It was difficult to find participants who would agree to be filmed, even though we did not have their face to the camera,” said Dr. Lightman. “It gave me an even greater understanding of how fearful they are of losing or threatening their job in any way. I so appreciate the women who agreed to be filmed, they’re really passionate women who believed in the project and wanted to have a voice.” Dr. Lightman also plans to publish a policy report at the end of June that builds on 25 interviews done with immigrant women health care aides about their experiences during COVID-19.

UBC study looks at physician burnout

New research out of the University of British Columbia is showing that two out of three Vancouver physicians faced burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers from UBC’s faculty of medicine published their findings in the BMJ Open journal. They reviewed survey responses from 302 internal medicine physicians who worked at the Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital between August and October 2020. The survey found that burnout was prevalent among 68 per cent of physicians and noted more than 20 per cent of surveyed physicians were considering quitting the profession or had already quit a position.

“I think that this issue is not unique to just these two hospitals. It is widespread. I would say global,” said Nadia Khan, research lead and a general internal medicine professor at UBC. “It’s also not just amongst physicians but likely affecting other healthcare workers.” The survey also found that burnout was prevalent among 71 per cent of women compared to 64 per cent of men. It was found to be highest, 74 per cent, among younger physicians, 36 to 50 years of age.

Instead of just focusing on coping skills, the majority of respondents said improving work conditions and better management of work quantity are needed to combat the burnout.

USask researchers using smartphones to collect COVID data

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan want to understand people’s thoughts about the effectiveness of public health messaging and the perceived risk of COVID-19 in their lives. “This study is about trying to capture data on people’s perspectives, viewpoints and behaviours to see if the evolving strategies are effective and how they can be improved,” said Patrick Seitzinger, a physician and member of the research team.

Participants will be able to access the surveys on their phones. The unique study combines self-reporting surveys and GPS data into one project, said Dr. Seitzinger. If users enable the location data feature, GPS data will help researchers understand the population’s trends and their patterns of mobility across the province. Participants’ responses will help researchers create predictive models and inform public health strategies and messaging. Any Saskatchewan adult who has access to a smartphone or computer with internet access can join the study, which will be open between June and October 2021. Participants will initially complete one very short survey per day for the study’s first five days to collect baseline information on risk perceptions, behaviours and knowledge about COVID-19.

June 14, 2021

UBC plans to return to campus in the fall

In a press release shared on June 9, the University of British Columbia announced the institution plans to resume on-campus activities in the fall.

With public health leaders confident in the safe return to campus activities, progress in vaccinations, public health measures and the decline of COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, UBC will take a phased approach to help faculty and staff return to campus and normal social contact for the start of the fall term on Sept. 7.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank those faculty and staff who have been on campus throughout the pandemic, providing key aspects of UBC teaching, learning, research and operations,” said UBC President Santa Ono in the statement. “Together we will bring vibrancy to our campuses, as we see the increased resumption of in-person teaching, learning, and research activity this fall.”

Along with encouraging members of the community to stay home when sick, wear a mask when required and wash hand often, the university emphasized the importance of vaccinations.

“Every adult in B.C. is eligible to be vaccinated. Now is the time to support each other and raise the rate of immunization,” Dr. Ono said. “If you haven’t yet received your vaccine, please register and encourage your families and friends to join the ‘This is our shot’ campaign at”

U of S professor questions pandemic, vaccine efficacy

A University of Saskatchewan professor appeared in a controversial video questioning the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of vaccines to fight it, to which the dean of its College of Medicine reacted by saying it does not endorse the content of the video but defended the researcher’s academic freedom.

Francis Christian is a surgeon, clinical professor of surgery in the U of S’s College of Medicine and the editor of the Journal of Surgical Humanities. He and a handful of other doctors appeared in a video posted to BitChute – a video hosting platform that’s considered a home for hate speech – on June 4, expressing their skepticism about the pandemic.

In the video, which was reported on by the Star Phoenix and CTV News, Dr. Christian said he is “pro-vaccine” but that the COVID-19 vaccine is an “experimental injection.” Questioning whether the world is experiencing a real pandemic, he said, “I think there is a very strange and very sinister thing going on all over the world. Scientists are being struck down.”

He also urged people to seek out “alternative” information, outside of mainstream media. “It was the media that was pushing this nonsense and the media has been lying to us through its teeth from the beginning,” he continues.

According to the Government of Canada, only vaccines that are proven to be safe, effective and of high quality are authorized for use. Additionally, all vaccines have been rigorously tested and carefully reviewed by Health Canada.

In a statement shared with the Star Phoenix, the College of Medicine and the U of S stress that institutions aim to be places where ideas can be shared respectfully and where academic freedom is “essential.” The university defends the rights of academics to research and publish and does not adopt positions on research unless human rights or the law are violated, the email continues.

However, the dean of the College of Medicine at the U of S, Preston Smith, is taking a stronger approach. He addressed the online video in a blog post shared later that week.

“I categorically state that I and the College of Medicine do not endorse the content of the video that questions the very existence and severity of this pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, as well as the many conspiracy theories and assertions cast at many incredible people and valued institutions in our country and around the world,” Dr. Smith wrote.

“In the context of a university, I want to emphasize the importance of academic freedom for university faculty and the absolute need for the protection of faculty to freely communicate in the areas of their scholarly work,” he added. “This is particularly important where that scholarly work is supported by recognized credentials and expertise.”

Acadia University Singers research virtual choirs in the age of COVID-19

When the world went into lockdown mid-March last year, members of the Acadia University Singers couldn’t do what they normally would do to process difficult emotions: sing together.

Like many musical groups, they turned to rehearsing and performing online, says Michelle Boyd, an instructor of musicology at Acadia, at the start of the documentary Isolated Bodies, United Voices: Virtual Choir in the Ages of COVID-19. For choir singers, this is a challenge – you never hear your voice blending with your peers while singing and can only hear the full choir retroactively. It can be time consuming, labour intensive and lonely, she adds.

But COVID-19 has “proven that musicians are a determined lot, and that humanity needs music,” Dr. Boyd said.

The documentary, posted online on June 12, is the culmination of a research project spearheaded by Dr. Boyd and the Acadia University Singers. They embarked on the Isolated Bodies, United Voices project in June 2020 and met regularly throughout the summer to rehearse and record four choral songs online.

Dr. Boyd said the purpose of the project was to better understand the process and experience of choosing virtual choir. What aspects of musicianship can be developed through the virtual choir process? What new skills, ideas or approaches can be gained?

You can watch the documentary, discover Dr. Boyd and the Acadia University Singers’ learnings and hear them in virtual song below:

Study links social media misinformation to spread of COVID-19

A new study from York University and the University of British Columbia found that social media use was linked to a higher spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, and that researchers believe this could be explained by widespread COVID-19 misinformation.

Jude Kong, an assistant professor in York’s faculty of science and the research lead in the study, says the findings were surprising. “This highlights the need to consider the dynamic role that social media plays in epidemics,” he says in an interview with CTV News.

Researchers from York and UBC examined social media use across 58 countries and discovered a possible correlation between the use of social media at the beginning of the pandemic and the spread of the virus. The findings suggest that as false information spreads – filling an important information void for people – the more the case count increased.

The study also states that over a year after the pandemic began, there’s a lot more scientific information, research and experience available – and social media could, instead of spreading misinformation and speeding the pandemic back up, help slow the spread of COVID-19 by promoting facts.

June 9, 2021

Vaccines now mandatory in U of T residences

The University of Toronto announced on June 8 that all students living in residence for the 2021-22 academic year will need to be vaccinated. “The measure, supported by local public health authorities in Toronto and Peel Region, will apply to residences across the three campuses beginning this fall. That includes residences operated by the federated colleges,” said the release.

Students are expected to have received their first shot before they arrive on campus and the university is “strongly recommending” they receive it at least 14 days beforehand. If they are unable to get vaccinated ahead of time, they will have two weeks to book an appointment once they are moved in. The university will help students get access to vaccines if need be. Students are also being asked to keep all emails, receipts and records pertaining to their vaccination so that they can confirm their vaccination status.

“It’s really important that students be able to interact safely with one another and participate in the in-person programming that we know they value so highly,” said Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students in the release.

Cases on campus

The University of Calgary is reporting one new case at their University Research Centre. Contact tracing is complete, and no close contacts have been identified.

There are five new cases on University of Manitoba campuses. There has been a total of 87 positive COVID-19 cases at the U of M since the beginning of the academic year.

One new case has been reported by Carleton University. Any individuals who may have come into close contact with these individuals will be contacted by Ottawa Public Health.

The University of Saskatchewan has been informed of five positive COVID-19 cases involving members of the university community for the seven-day period ending June 3.

Peterborough Public Health backs Trent’s vaccine requirements

Rosana Pellizzari Salvaterra, Peterborough’s medical officer, has written an open letter to incoming Trent University students stating she supports the university’s decision to make vaccines a requirement for those living in residence. “I support Trent University’s requirement for immunization of residents of its postsecondary residences as an important measure to protect the health and safety of all prospective occupants. As medical officer of health, I urge you to seek immunization as soon as possible so that you are fully protected by the end of August.”

She also states that vaccination against COVID-19 is the single most important intervention in reducing its transmission. “Ensuring a high amount of vaccine coverage in Trent students, particularly in those who live in residence, will be critical to ensuring that studies and lives are not disrupted by outbreaks.”

Mask recycling stations set up on USask campus

Disposable mask recycling stations have been set up across the University of Saskatchewan campus to minimize the environmental impact of using 3-ply single-use masks, keeping them out of landfills. Like many other universities, the use of 3-ply masks will be mandatory while on campus grounds at USask, effective immediately and through this summer.

‘Faster, Together’

Officially launched last week, the ‘Faster, Together’ initiative is asking Canadians to get vaccinated and providing them with accurate and timely information about the vaccines and the benefits of vaccination. Co-founded by Brandon University, several other Canadian universities are also participating. “Vaccine rates keep climbing across the country, and we are all rolling up our sleeves to get those rates as high as possible,” says Grant Hamilton, director of marketing at Brandon. “Everyone who gets fully vaccinated helps us all get back together quickly, so we can get back to doing the things we love with the people we love.”

Face masks designed by Queen’s students highlight Indigenous artists

CTV News is reporting that two Inuit students from Queen’s University have created a line of face masks that supports Indigenous artists and helps fellow Indigenous students attend university and achieve their dreams. The twin sisters, Amira and Nadya Gill started their company, Kanata Trade Co., in November. They decided to commission Indigenous artists from across the country and use their artwork on masks, journals and cards. The article states that so far, they’ve sold and donated 3,000 masks and raised about $6,000 for Indspire, a charity that provides scholarships to Indigenous people across the country, with more expected to be donated in the coming weeks and months. On the back of each mask is the artist’s description of the art and the meaning behind it. The artists also get commission from the masks.

New study out of U of A finds link between COVID-19 and hypoxia

University of Alberta researchers have published new findings in the journal Stem Cell Reports that shows SARS-CoV-2 infects immature red blood cells in those who have the virus, reducing oxygen in the blood and impairing immune response.

“Low blood-oxygen levels have been a significant problem in COVID-19 patients,” said Shokrollah Elahi, study lead and associate professor in the faculty of medicine & dentistry. “Because of that, we thought one potential mechanism might be that COVID-19 impacts red blood cell production.” The researchers found that as the disease became more severe in patients, more immature red blood cells flooded into blood circulation, sometimes making up as much as 60 per cent of the total cells in the blood. By comparison, immature red blood cells make up less than one per cent, or none at all, in a healthy individual’s blood. According to the researchers, immature red blood cells do not transport oxygen—only mature red blood cells do. As immature red blood cells are destroyed by the virus, the body is unable to replace mature red blood cells—which only live for about 120 days—and the ability to transport oxygen in the bloodstream is diminished.

The researchers decided to test the efficacy of dexamethasone to see if it could help patients. “For the past year, dexamethasone has been widely used in COVID-19 treatment, but there wasn’t a good understanding as to why or how it worked,” Dr. Elahi said in the U of A release. “So we are not repurposing or introducing a new medication; we are providing a mechanism that explains why patients benefit from the drug.”

The sound of Convocation 2021

June 7, 2021

Fall plans

“It’s time for us to finally be together again,” said Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, in an online message to the U of C community announcing it will be returning to campus in September. “More classes will be held in-person, more labs will be open for research activities, and more student and public services will operate on campus than we have seen since the start of COVID-19.”

The decision was made based on the latest health guidelines and an increase in vaccination rates. In Alberta, anyone over 12 can access a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 60 per cent of the province’s eligible population has already received a first dose.

“We have hit some significant milestones in terms of public vaccination,” said McCauley. “As the number of vaccinated people grows, health guidelines around physical distancing and public gatherings can finally ease. This is what enables us to safely begin moving back to campus for the fall.”

Concordia University recently shared that while it expects many on-campus activities to resume in the fall, it needs a bit more time for contingency planning before the fall term. However, it said all students will need to be in Montreal for the first day of classes (Sept. 7). International students will also need to be in the city for the start of the fall term.

Debating mandatory vaccines

Following Western University and Trent University’s announcements that students in residence will be required to have received at least a first COVID-19 shot – and McMaster University’s decision not to go that route – other institutions are weighing their options.

Algoma University’s outlook for campus life in the fall isn’t fully determined yet, but a plan similar to Western’s isn’t off the table according to the CBC. Laurentian University isn’t planning to require vaccines but said it will follow the recommendations from their local public health offices. For the time being, York University isn’t requiring community members to be vaccinated before participating in on-campus activities but is “closely watching how universities around the world are or are not considering required vaccinations.”

The University of Winnipeg is still mulling whether it will make vaccines mandatory in residences, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The University of Manitoba, Saint Boniface University, Brandon University and University College of the North will not require vaccinations among residents of student housing.

Cases on campus

The University of Waterloo reported one new case of COVID-19 in its community. The individual was last on campus May 11 and likely did not come into close contact with anyone while there.

The University of Toronto confirmed one new positive case of COVID-19 on its St. George campus.

Memorial to celebrate ‘exemplary’ work after a tough year

Memorial University is collecting employee experiences for an initiative called Exemplary Together, which will celebrate employee efforts during the pandemic. Instead of recognizing a limited number of people with the Presidents Awards for Exemplary Service, the university said it wants to highlight the efforts of as many people as possible

Employees are invited to reflect on the past year and send in their stories, quotes and pictures – either about their own experience or about someone else whom they feel should be recognized. The university is also asking those sending in entries to provide a suggestion as to what it can do to commemorate the year and the “extraordinary efforts” of Memorial employees. After consideration, a chosen suggestion will be announced at the President’s Awards Ceremony in December.

Submissions can be sent to and will be featured on a website this summer.

Study finds new mothers particularly vulnerable to pandemic anxiety

The pandemic has been challenging for pretty much everyone, but a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests it has been particularly difficult for new mothers. The study, led by Simone Vigod, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital, looked at demographic data and mental health visits for over 137,000 people in Ontario during their postpartum period between March and November 2020.

Dr. Vigod’s research team discovered that mental health visits for postpartum individuals in the province increased by more than 25 per cent compared to previous years – and from April to November, the rate of people accessing care each month went up between 16 to 34 per cent. “We’re talking about a massive amount of increased need” from people who are feeling isolated, anxious and burnt out, Dr. Vigod told the CBC.

She also said that although the study’s findings were based on Ontario data, the situation is likely the case in other areas of the country. According to the study, its findings suggest there is an increased need for effective and accessible mental health care for postpartum individuals as the pandemic goes on.

June 2, 2021

Vaccines required for all students returning to Trent residences

Following in the footsteps of Western University, all students who want to live in residence at Trent University this fall will be required to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “This new requirement will help ensure a safe, accessible and enjoyable residence experience for our new students, as well as a dynamic on-campus experience for our whole Trent community,” reads a statement made by the university on June 1. For students who are unable to receive a vaccine prior to move-in day in September, the university will help them obtain their first dose within 14 days of their arrival on campus. Students will also be expected to commit to getting their second dose of the vaccine on schedule.

Vaccines not mandatory for students in residence at McMaster

Global News is reporting that COVID-19 vaccinations will not be required for students in residence at McMaster University this fall. “As you’re trying to track, see who’s vaccinated, who isn’t,” says Sean Van Koughnet, associate vice-president and dean of students. “Then you’re faced with students who may have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine.” He hopes that 75 to 80 per cent of the student population will be willingly vaccinated to avoid major outbreaks. Right now, the university is planning on having their residences be at 93 per cent capacity, which equals about 3,600 students. “The only reason we’re not at 100 per cent capacity is that we are keeping aside some rooms for isolation, in case we do have students that do fall ill,” he says. He also added that lecture halls will be operating at about one-third capacity this fall.

Mandatory vaccines are a form of discrimination, says Montreal bioethicist

“One of the key principles of public health ethics is proportionality; you want to ensure that public health measures have benefits that outweigh the burdens you’re creating, that the risks are justified,” Vardit Ravitsky told CBC’s The Current on May 31. Dr. Ravitsky is a professor at the Université de Montréal and president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Committee. “If you’re blocking the access of someone to a concert or a restaurant, that’s one thing. But here we’re talking about education. We’re talking about getting your degree. So if you’re blocking access … the risk is very serious.”

So far, only Western University and Trent University have announced they are making vaccines mandatory for students returning to their residences. Dr. Ravitsky says before other universities follow suit, they should consider alternative measures, such as mask mandates, physical distancing, providing rapid testing, and offering support to international students who may not be able to get vaccinated before arriving in Canada.

“The way to look at it is, before I infringe [on] someone’s liberty, what alternatives do I have?” she told Matt Galloway, host of the show. “And here in the context of requiring vaccines, we do have alternatives.”

Expanding fall plans

The University of Saskatchewan announced its Safe Return Transition Plan on May 28. This is a “staged transition plan designed to provide guidance in safely increasing on-campus activity and assist those responsible for planning a transitional return in the fall.” This is part of the university’s staged return to campus. Currently, USask is in Stage 4 of 5. Details of the transition plan include regulations for being on campus (wearing a mask, social distancing, etc.), course delivery, cleanliness, how research will be conducted, living in residences, as well as a contingency plan if in-person courses are interrupted as a result of COVID-19.

The King’s University in Edmonton has released more details regarding its back to campus plans. They include a return to most campus services in-person, although they will keep some of these services online as they work better that way, having all instructors back on campus, the opening of residences and cafeterias, the (slow) return of on-campus activities as well as a return to play schedules for some of their sports teams.

A “significant return to on-campus instruction and activity this September” is the plan for Brock University. However, the university is not ruling out other possible scenarios and has three plans in place: one with significant return to on-campus instruction, complemented with online and hybrid delivery elements to support students who may wish to study online; the second is course delivery with some return to on-campus instruction, with significant online and hybrid delivery elements; and the third is course delivery almost entirely online. “Brock’s approach to fall term planning is flexible and the university will be ready to adapt to any of the three scenarios in the months ahead as the situation changes,” reads their statement. All regular campus services will also open, with appropriate safety guidelines in place.

The University of Guelph is also planning on bringing students back to campus this fall. Staff are expected to start returning to campus this spring, and a “significant number of courses at all year levels [will be] offered face-to-face or include in-person components such as labs or tutorials.” The university is also guaranteeing that all first-year undergraduate students will be able to live in residence if they want to.

The fall will be a transitional term at Simon Fraser University, but it intends to have approximately 70 to 80 per cent of its classes be conducted in-person, with safety plans in place. The university also plans to make safety standards consistent across campus, ensure enhanced cleaning practices remain in place, open up campus amenities and increase student programs and activities.

McMaster University has released its Return to McMaster Oversight Committee report. It “provides overarching guidance on what to consider when planning for the fall,” says Susan Tighe, provost and vice-president at McMaster. “Using the report’s recommendations as a foundation, other key university planning committees have already begun examining the critical areas of vaccination and testing on campus; space design, use and capacity; parking and transportation; food service and eating on campus; student services and student life activities; and workplace best practices.”

Some of the report’s recommendations include mandatory masking indoors, social distancing, allowing professors the flexibility of choosing how their courses will be delivered (either in-person, online or a blended option), as well asking the university to explore the types of assessments that should occur in person or online and consider the use of online proctoring tools.

Faculties at York University have begun the work of identifying priorities for in-person instruction based on an assumption of being able to use about 25 to 30 per cent of the university’s space. “Understanding the significant impact on our students, our goal has been to ensure that all students have access to some in-person instruction, while also being mindful of the needs of students who may still require remote access to courses. We also indicated that we would continue to closely monitor for any updates impacting the higher education sector. Over the past few weeks, a number of new developments have led to a more optimistic outlook for the fall and winter terms,” said Rhonda Lenton, president of York. “While we do not yet know exactly what the fall will look like, current guidelines indicate that it will be possible to significantly increase in-person learning and co-curricular opportunities on our campuses this fall. We are therefore preparing a more optimistic scenario with closer to 50 per cent of courses being offered in-person, focusing on offerings for first- and second-year students, whose transition to university has been greatly impacted by this pandemic.”

The Queen’s Gazette is reporting that Queen’s University is anticipating a return to full in-person, on-campus instruction starting in the fall of 2021. “We are supported in this plan by advice from public health and other health professionals, who have indicated that a return to in-person instruction can be done safely this fall based on the progress of the vaccine roll-out and the expected lifting of restrictions,” the article states. It goes on to say that a Fall Planning Operations Working Group has been established at the university to support senior leadership in planning for the transition.

On May 27, the university also hosted a town hall for faculty and staff where president Patrick Deane, Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for Kingston, and other senior leaders at Queen’s addressed the ongoing planning and efforts for a safe and effective transition back to on-campus learning. The meeting covered a wide range of topics, including vaccinations, public health procedures and safety measures, building ventilation, travel and human resources.

The University of Toronto is preparing its three campuses for a safe return to in-person academic instruction this fall. Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students, spoke with U of T News, saying the university is “planning for as much on-campus activities as we can based on public health guidelines, which we will be assessing on an ongoing basis and making adjustments as necessary.” She also goes on to say that the university is also planning on holding onto areas where online activities and online appointments have been really helpful and made things easier for students. “There are certainly services that we will continue to offer online to give students that flexibility.”

President of Thompson Rivers University Brett Fairbairn released a video statement to his university’s community on May 25, encouraging students to start planning for the fall as most should expect to be taking courses in-person in September. “What we heard in surveys, is that that’s your preferred choice,” he states in the video.

Arja Vainio-Mattila, president of Nipissing University, announced on May 28 that the university is excited to welcome students back to campus in the fall. “We look forward to returning to a more vibrant campus life this year and offering an exceptional student experience for which we are known, however we will remain nimble and are planning for all scenarios should it be necessary to reduce in-person activities at any point,” she said in the statement.

She also states there will be a complete return to residence events and programming, students services will once again be offered in person, and the library and athletics centre will both be open with appropriate safety guidelines in place.

Cases on campus

There is currently one confirmed case at York University.

Two confirmed COVID-19 cases involving employees at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus have been classified as an outbreak. The two individuals are in self-isolation and are being monitored by public health.

No physical distancing required at Quebec institutions in the fall

CTV News is reporting that neither university or CEGEP students will have to maintain physical distancing in the classroom this fall. This is according to a statement the provincial government made on May 31. According to the article, Quebec higher education minister Danielle McCann stated that in order to have more relaxed rules at postsecondary institutions, “75 per cent of the student population must be vaccinated and there must be a ‘stable’ epidemiological situation.” Students will also be able to participate in extracurricular activities without physical distancing if these targets are met. Postsecondary institutions are expected to have a backup plan in case the virus starts to spread on campuses, which would include solutions that can be “deployed quickly.”

Ontario government paying nursing students to help lighten COVID load

The Ontario government has pledged more than $117 million to get student nurses into hospitals where they can provide extra hands to assist senior colleagues, reports the Globe and Mail. Called an “externship,” the program was launched to relieve some of the strain on hospital staff during the pandemic’s second wave. Students are paid slightly more than the hourly minimum wage to perform work in a role similar to a personal support worker. The article states the program was extended in April to 38 hospitals, with plans to hire more than 4,000 students over the next year. The funding has not been guaranteed beyond March 2022, but the ministry of health said it is monitoring the program as it considers its future.

Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, said the externships can address two issues: the extraordinary burden on full-time nurses during the pandemic, and the loss of clinical placements that were put off because of health and safety concerns. “This is a valuable program. but it is also a temporary program right now. We would love to see it become permanent.”

Bonnie Henry answers B.C. students’ questions

On May 28, a town hall was held for student leaders of B.C. postsecondary institutions. The province-wide event was held for students to ask members of the provincial health office including Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief medical officer, about what a safe return to campus will look like in the fall. Questions were asked about campus mask wearing, how to deal with peers who do not want to get vaccinated, what steps will be taken if there are cases on campuses again, and how international students will be affected. Watch the full town hall here:

May 31, 2021

Western to make vaccines mandatory for students in residence

With a planned full return to in-person classes in September, Western University is stepping up its health and safety measures.

Along with its affiliate university colleges, Brescia, Huron and King’s, Western will require students living in residence to have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine when they arrive on campus in the fall.  For students who are unable to receive that first dose, they will have a 14-day window following their move-in date to get vaccinated on campus.

“We want our community to be safe and healthy this fall,” said Western president Alan Shepard in a statement. “Ensuring our students in residence are vaccinated will go a long way toward making this happen.”

According to the Globe and Mail, Western is the first major university in Canada to create a vaccine requirement policy. The mandate comes after a challenging year of campus case counts – despite limiting residence capacity to 70 per cent over the last academic year, the university regularly saw outbreaks in residence buildings, sometimes dealing with outbreaks in several residences at a time.

The university stated that it’s encouraging all students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible and that it will be operating an on-campus vaccination clinic later in the summer to help community members receive first and second doses. It will also continue to require other health and safety measures, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and ventilation in buildings.

More information will be available for students planning on living in residence in the near future – such as details about requesting for accommodations on medical or other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Dr. Shepard admitted that plans may have to change. This vaccine mandate will be subject to provincial and public health requirements, and dependent on Ontario’s vaccine supply. “If there is a need to change course,” he said, “we will.”

U of Lethbridge expands the ‘It’s Worth a Shot’ contest

The University of Lethbridge expanded its “It’s Worth a Shot” contest last week by offering faculty and staff who get vaccinated against COVID-19 the chance to win one of five reserved parking spots for one year, as well as memberships to a sport and wellness facility, and faculty of fine arts ticket packages.

The university originally launched the contest on May 10, offering students the chance to win one of nine grand prizes of full tuition, student administrative fees, fine arts access fee and sport and recreation services fee for the fall 2021 term.

“The health and safety of our community has been, and continues to be, our top priority,” said Mike Mahon, the university’s president and vice-chancellor. “We very much want to return to an in-person experience for our students this fall, and a high vaccination rate is key to getting there.”

According to a CTV News report, more than 2,000 students have entered the contest so far. To be eligible to win full tuition and fees for the fall semester, they need to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 8. Winners for the tuition contest will be chosen on Sept. 10.

UBC launches rapid testing clinic

The University of British Columbia announced the launch of a 13-week COVID-19 rapid testing clinic for any students living in residence and other select groups on its Vancouver campus.

The university said its clinic, which launched May 26, is the first campus in Canada to use the Roche SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test Kit. The clinic also includes a clinical trial component – researchers will study the viability of self-administered rapid screening tests for the general public.

“As part of this clinic, our research team is collecting data to determine the viability of self-administered rapid COVID-19 testing technology for potential use by the public across Canada,” said Sabrina Wong, the study’s lead researcher and UBC nursing and Centre for Health Services and Policy Research professor. “If this self-swab proves to be effective, it has the potential to be used in a number of settings and by the public across the country.”

UBC held a rapid testing pilot on its Vancouver campus from February to April this year, which saw more than 1,100 participants and identified a number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases that the university said helped interrupt possible transmission. The pilot clinic was aimed at testing students and staff in first-year residences, while the new expanded clinic will be open to all student housing residents. The university stated that critical service employees, other students on campus and those attending in-person classes, such as faculty members, are also able to participate in the expanded clinic.

The university noted that participants must be asymptomatic to be eligible, and over the age of 16. Those who have been vaccinated can get tested as part of the clinic but will not be able to participate in the research study.

Cases on campus

McMaster University reported one new COVID-19 case on campus. The case, the university said, involves a student who tested positive on May 23 and was last on campus on May 19 in the Arthur N. Bourns Building. The building has been thoroughly cleaned and contract tracing is being managed by public health authorities, the university added.

The University of Waterloo confirmed one individual from its community has tested positive for COVID-19. The university said the individual is in self-isolation and did not have any known close contacts while on campus.

May 26, 2021

Pandemic was ‘final straw’ for Laurentian University

“There are a lot of things over the past 10 or even 15 years that have contributed to taking the university to where it was. But it really was the pandemic that was the final straw.” This was the message from Robert Haché to Laurentian University students last Thursday. The Laurentian president addressed students via a Zoom call, reports the CBC. He fielded questions for nearly an hour and addressed many concerns, including how much he knew about Laurentian’s financial situation before starting the job in 2019. “After I arrived, and as I learned more about the university … I began to discover the full extent of the financial challenges that the university has had,” he said. ” And a lot of that came when I brought in an external firm to help, help probe and help me understand the true state of the finances of the institution.”

The article also quotes Dr. Haché saying “we went from a situation where we had a balanced budget to, you know, a $10 million expense as a result of COVID-19.” However, he said he hopes that the university will emerge from creditor protection in late fall, and students should expect to be back on campus at that time, provided cases in Sudbury continue to decline.

Cases on campus

There are currently two cases being reported at York University, for the period ending May 25.

On May 20, the University of New Brunswick reported that members of its university community may have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19. However, the university specified that the exposure is not related to the Magee House outbreak, which we reported on May 5.

Redeemer University has received notification of a confirmed positive COVID-19 case involving an employee on campus. The employee was last on campus May 7.

One new case is being reported at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto for the period ending on May 23.

For the seven-day period ending May 21, the University of Saskatchewan is reporting one positive COVID-19 case involving members of the university community.

More fall plans announced

Mount Royal University announced that 70 to 80 per cent of course sections will be in-person for their fall semester, with the rest online. The Calgary-based university said in a statement that employees will transition back to campus before students arrive, starting with managers and other leaders, and then staff and faculty. The back to campus plan includes expanded WiFi to make it easier for people to social distance outside, adjusting scheduling to reduce congestion in public spaces, and setting up an old library as well as Ross Glen Hall for students to do online courses. More details are expected on June 1.

Meanwhile, the University of Winnipeg is taking a more cautious route. In a statement, Jan Stewart, interim vice-president, academic, stated “while we are optimistic about in-person classes and greater personal interaction, our decisions will be aligned with public health guidance.” According to surveys conducted by the university, two thirds of staff and students want to return to campus in the fall. “That’s why we are developing our 2021-22 course calendar to provide a mix of both in-person activities and options for remote learning,” said Dr. Stewart. More details for the UWinnipeg fall semester will be released soon.

Updated mask use requirements on USask campus

The University of Saskatchewan started providing single-use 3-ply masks to all faculty, staff and students at no charge on May 21. The university said in a statement that it is introducing the enhanced measure due to “recent outbreaks on campus and the rising number of new COVID-19 variants of concern cases in the province.” The university added that “replacing the use of reusable cloth masks in indoor spaces and outdoor spaces when two or more people are together and cannot maintain a minimum of two meters of physical distance.” The measure will be in place until Aug. 31, 2021, when it will be re-evaluated.

More women enrolling in university during pandemic, according to StatsCan report

According to new Statistics Canada data, more young women are enrolling in postsecondary education during the pandemic, reports iPolitics. This comes amid “unprecedented youth unemployment” due to closures forced by COVID-19, the article states. The report found postsecondary attendance rose from 48 per cent to 53 per cent for women aged 17 to 19, and from 46 to 50 per cent for women aged 20 to 24. There were no significant changes among young men in any age category, the article states.

The report also found that the employment rate of students declined year over year, from 56 per cent to 49 per cent for young women as a result of the pandemic, while it remained stable for young men. This is attributed to fewer jobs in the accommodation and food-services sector.

Dancing the pandemic blues away

A new interdisciplinary study at the University of Calgary shows that older adults who are suffering from body issues and loneliness due to the pandemic can benefit from dance interventions. The study tests the effects of organized dance activities that are “designed to facilitate embodied social connections.” With the guidance of professional dancers, participants created movements and choreography that express their respective autobiographical memories of meeting and connecting with a new person.

“When they’re interacting with one another in this way, older adults begin to feel strength in these new connections […] Seeing those personal memories expressed by their fellow dancers is also very impactful,” says Pil Hansen, an associate professor in the U of C School of Creative and Performing Arts and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Karen Kaeja’s Moving Connections, taught by Irma Villafluerte. Photo courtesy Kaeja d’Dance/UCalgary.

Using cremation records to estimate pandemic death rate

Gemma Postill, a Western University undergraduate student, is helping provide Ontario’s chief coroner with real-time estimations of provincial mortality due to COVID-19 by data mining cremation records. “Cremation records accurately estimate provincial excess mortality on an interim basis while official records are being processed,” said Ms. Postill in a Western press release. Ms. Postill is a research assistant in Western’s computational convergence lab. By examining the electronic cremation records, she found a 12.8 per cent rise in the number of cremations in 2020 compared with the annual average between 2017 and 2019, when there was no change in the proportion of cremations versus traditional burials. Her findings support the understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mortality rates in Ontario both directly and indirectly.

Using data from Statistics Canada, Ms. Postill was also able to confirm that the percentage of cremations has remained consistent during the pandemic. This strengthens the belief that cremation records provide an accurate, real-time estimate of all causes of mortality.

Carleton researchers find pandemic is stressing out working parents

A new report by Carleton University researchers finds that working parents are stressed and anxious due to the pandemic. “What is clear from the data we have collected is that the actions taken by governments and policy-makers throughout the pandemic have a notable impact on the mental health of those directly impacted,” says Linda Duxbury, co-author of Work, Family, Life During a Pandemic. “Any time schools or daycares are closed, we see an immediate increase in the stress and anxiety levels of working parents.” The report also found that stress and anxiety were not constant – they fluctuated over time. “Our research also suggests that […] women’s average stress and anxiety levels seem to be higher than men’s,” says co-author Anita Grace, a Carleton postdoctoral fellow.

Athabasca donates unused convocation flowers to seniors

When Athabasca University had to cancel their online convocation ceremony due to public health measures, organizers had a problem: what to do with all the flowers they had ordered to adorn the video feed. Luckily, they were able to brighten the day for residents of the Shepherd’s Care Foundation by donating the flowers to the organization.

May 19, 2021

Two more fall plan announcements

“As conditions improve throughout the spring and summer, it is expected that some of the more restrictive public health measures affecting our personal and professional lives will be relaxed while other prevention and control measures remain in place. Given these assumptions, we feel optimistic that UBC will be able to safely welcome our students, faculty and staff back to campus.” This was the message from University of British Columbia president Santa Ono to the UBC community on May 17. The university will be relying on the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer, released by the B.C. government in early May to guide their back to campus plans. Dr. Ono also stated that “faculties are currently finalizing the fall course schedules, assuming primarily on-campus instruction, with selected flexible options for continuity of learning where feasible, ahead of the course registration periods beginning in June.”

Meanwhile, The King’s University in Edmonton is planning to return to normal operations by September 2021, according to a statement on its website. The university said some enhanced safety measures may remain in effect as it will follow Alberta Health Services guidelines and recommendations in all circumstances.

Cases continue to dwindle on campus

The University of Toronto is reporting two new cases on its St. George campus.

Two new cases are being reported by the University of Waterloo. The individuals are in self-isolation and officials have been in touch with all known close contacts.

The University of Ottawa is reporting just one case on its campus.

SFU researchers map out COVID-19 impact

Researchers at Simon Fraser University have created a map outlining how the pandemic’s long-term health impacts will be distributed in communities across British Columbia. The map draws on data from Statistics Canada and looks at five factors contributing to secondary health impacts: housing insecurity, job insecurity, occupational burnout, loneliness/isolation and educational disruption. According to a press release, these five factors were chosen because of their direct connection to the types of economic, social and policy measures put in place during the pandemic, such as business closures, physical distancing and shifting to online learning. The map can help to better understand where policy and public health efforts should be focused in the later stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, notes Valorie Crooks, an SFU geography professor and one of the lead researchers on the project.

Are vaccine passports ethical?

CTV News is reporting that a new study is being conducted by University of Guelph researchers on the ethics behind whether COVID-19 immunity passports would help minimize the spread of the disease in Ontario. While certification would help loosen restrictions in the province says Andrew Bailey, a U of G philosophy professor and leader of the study, “there are some potential problems when it comes to the idea of a passport, and people looking for a return to normalcy without getting vaccinated might resort to dangerous measures.”

He says reducing the divide between those who are vaccine-hesitant and those who are not is one of the biggest challenges in making immunity passports realistic. He also admits that more research needs to be done to determine the value of immunity passports and that for them to work, everyone needs to have equal access to vaccines.

Opioid-related deaths surging during pandemic, report finds

A new report, Changing Circumstances Surrounding Opioid-Related Deaths in Ontario during the COVID-19 Pandemic, shows that opioid-related deaths surged in Ontario after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, with a total of 2,050 people dying between the months of March and December, reports CBC News. The report also found that one in six of the deaths occurred among people experiencing homelessness.

One of the authors of the report, University of Victoria professor Gillian Kolla, says an action plan is needed to address the problem. “Unfortunately, Ontario has lagged behind in terms of an evidence-based public health response to the overdose crisis.” The article states that the researchers behind the report also found that the surge in deaths is due to an unregulated drug supply that is increasingly toxic; a limited access to supports, health-care services and community programs for people who use drugs; greater isolation as a result of public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19; and shifting patterns of substance use that can be attributed to a rise in anxiety during the pandemic.

Researchers say the number of lives lost to opioid-related overdoses during the pandemic shows that the overdose crisis is getting worse, it is affecting marginalized people, including unhoused and unemployed people, and it requires an immediate and coordinated response from all levels of government.

UNBC hosts COVID-themed virtual art exhibit

The University of Northern British Columbia’s arts council is hosting a new virtual exhibit, Creativity & the COVID-19 Cocoon, from May 17 to June 18. “This exhibition celebrates the wonderful hobbies, crafts, and creative works that bring us comfort and joy in the face of uncertainty,” states the website. “During these difficult times people have turned to the arts for inspiration, enjoyment, and as a means of processing our changed world.”

May 17, 2021

COVID-19 cases on campus

McMaster confirmed a new case of COVID-19 on campus. A staff member, who was last on campus in the John Hodgins Engineering Building on May 12, tested positive on May 14. The university says all areas of the building have been thoroughly cleaned and that public health authorities are conducting any required contact tracing.

Also on May 14, Trent University reported that an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was last on Trent’s Peterborough campus on March 13 and is currently in self isolation.

U of Waterloo announces its fall plans

The University of Waterloo is planning a return to campus in the fall with classes at 50 per cent capacity. The CBC reported that in a virtual town hall, president Feridun Hamdullahpur said “the whole country is experiencing a very positive rollout of vaccines” and that the university is “hopeful that as the government indicated many times, many of us will have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

The university will offer as many classes as it can online to accommodate students who are not able to attend in-person. It will also have academic advisors available to help guide students through their virtual studies.

Western switches proctoring software due to privacy concerns

Western University will be switching its remote exam proctoring software this summer. According to Global News, Western has been using Proctortrack since it introduced remote proctoring after the COVID-19 pandemic moved in-person classes, and in-person tests and exams, online.

The software works to prevent academic offences by assessing a computer’s connected device list, desktop screen, web cameras and microphone. It also tracks and stores biometric data, including face scans and keystroke, audio and video data.

It’s a system that was “long-condemned by students,” reported the Western Gazette. In September, more than 10,000 students signed a petition urging the university to end its relationship with Proctortrack, based on concerns the software violated their privacy.

In an email to students, the university said it has chosen Proctorio to replace Proctortrack “because it addresses the privacy and security needs of our students while meeting the technical requirements to integrate with Western’s systems.” However, some say Proctorio is just as invasive as the previous program.

“It’s still invasive, so it’s disheartening to see Western not to try and find something new but instead, switch to a new one,” Jack Burke, the co-president of Western’s Policy Pitch Association told Global News. Mr. Burke has experience with Proctorio; the software was used when he took his Law School Admission Test exam. “It monitors your whole room, it’s recording your sound the whole time and you have to move your camera around to show your setting.”

Proctorio itself is facing student push-back. According to the Gazette, the University of British Columbia banned the software in March following students’ concerns about privacy. The software itself uses facial tracking and can monitor when a user looks away from the screen, leaves the room or if there are other people present. Western has said Proctorio will not use facial recognition or track eye movements.

Western has also said that it is continuing its agreement with Protortrack in case there are any problems with Proctorio, such as an unexpected outage.

May 12, 2021

Vaccinated U of Lethbridge students could get free fall tuition

The University of Lethbridge is launching a unique contest for its students: everyone who has received their COVID-19 vaccination will be eligible to win one of nine grand prizes of full tuition for the fall 2021 semester. The “It’s Worth a Shot!” contest will award seven prizes to undergraduate students at the Lethbridge campus, one to a student at the university’s Calgary campus, and one to a graduate student. Additional prizes include $500 gift certificates for the university’s bookstore, $20 Bridgebucks prizes and branded socks. The draw for the contest will take place Sept. 10. and winners will have to show proof of receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccination prior to Sept. 8.

The university also plans on having a contest for its faculty and staff members, with details to be shared with the internal community in the coming weeks.

Fall plans continue to be unveiled

The University of Ottawa has released more details for its return to campus this fall. The university plans to have deliver “30-50 per cent of courses in person or in hybrid formats, with the rest being offered in online and distance formats,” stated a release. Residences will also be open, and a whole range of on-campus student activities for both the fall and winter terms are planned. Research activities are also expected to be back to full capacity.

University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff has released more details regarding back to campus plans. “Although COVID-19 case counts are currently high in Saskatchewan, we remain confident that, with the rapid deployment of vaccines and the support of the Ministry of Health and the Chief Medical Health Officer, our continued planning for a more open fall term can proceed,” he stated in a press release.

“The fall term should be considered ‘transitional’ as we will continue to offer some classes remotely. We will likely not complete our full transition out of pandemic operations until at least January 2022, at the beginning of winter term.” He also stated that student residences will be more fully opened to safely accommodate the increase in students on campus. “It is expected that administrative staff who directly support teaching, learning, and research, and associated student services, will return to campus this fall if their on-campus presence is necessary.” Additional info regarding the full roll-out will be released in the coming weeks.

Laurentian University also plans to have face-to-face activities and in-person course delivery back on campus this fall. Important factors include the significance of the in-person student experience as well as the requirements related to hands-on learning. “The university will also continue to deliver a multitude of academic programs and courses online, allowing students from around the world to attend Laurentian virtually,” stated the release.

Cases on campus

The University of Guelph is reporting one new case on its campus.

There are six new cases being reported at York University.

For the seven-day period ending May 6, the University of Saskatchewan has been informed of six positive cases involving members of the university community.

The University of Waterloo is reporting one new case on its campus. The individual is in self-isolation and did not have any known close contacts while on the campus.


What do Ryan Reynolds, Chris Hadfield, Hayley Wickenheiser and Michael Bublé have in common besides being Canadian? They are all spokespeople for: #ThisIsOurShotCA, a vaccine awareness campaign started by the 19 to Zero coalition at the University of Calgary. “When someone you know and trust gets the vaccine, it increases confidence in people who are maybe on the fence. Those conversations are probably the most effective thing we can do,” said Heather Bensler, a nursing instructor at U of Calgary who works with 19 to Zero.

But the campaign isn’t just relying on celebrities. “Every friend I have is posting photos of themselves getting the vaccine. When we share that, we build a sense of solidarity, and that has an impact,” said Ms. Bensler in a U of Calgary statement.

The ultimate goal of 19 to Zero is to shift public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviours and vaccination. Its contributors have provided in-depth research, created educational tools for health-care professionals, done community outreach, and engaged governments. #ThisIsOurShotCA is just one of its many grassroots initiatives.

New UBC survey shows 77 per cent of adults are experiencing negative emotions due to the pandemic

A new mental health survey conducted by University of British Columbia researchers in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association shows that eight out of 10 adults are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The five most common emotional responses were “worried or anxious,” “bored,” “stressed,” “lonely or isolated” and “sad”, says lead researcher Emily Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins is a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “There has been significant loss – of loved ones, of connection, of feelings of security. This can contribute to very challenging emotions and it is important to acknowledge and process,” said Dr. Jenkins in a UBC press release.

The survey also found that overall, a large number of Canadians (41 per cent) report their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic, compared to 38 pe rcent in the spring and 40 per cent in the fall of last year. Also, consistent with the first and second rounds of data, the decline is more pronounced in those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (61 per cent), younger aged 18-24 (50 per cent), students (48 per cent), those who identify as LGBTQ2+ (46 per cent) those with a pre-existing mental health condition (54 per cent) and those with a disability (47 per cent).

The data for the survey was compiled in late January 2021 using a representative sample of 3,037 people ages 18 and older living in Canada. See a complete summary of the findings.

York researchers test various materials for mask filters

A team of York University researchers tested several materials to see which would be more effective to use as a middle or additional layer in cloth-based masks to enhance protection and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The materials tested included prima cotton, woven cotton, flannel and microfiber sheets, sew-in interfacing, polypropylene, baby wipes and Swiffer wipes. They also tested various industrial wipes and rayon/polyester gauze, as well as two different surgical masks, which provided a benchmark for their results.

“Overall, we found that polypropylenes, Swiffer and the rayon/polyester blends, such a non-woven gauze, provided the highest filtration efficiency and breathability,” says Leigh Crilley, a postdoctoral fellow in the faculty of science at York. The team’s findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Science: Nano.

Nurses, we salute you

It’s National Nursing Week and several universities have been highlighting their nursing programs, students and faculty on Twitter using a variety of hashtags like #NationalNursesWeek, #NationalNursingWeek and #NursingWeek2021. This year’s theme for the week is #WeAnswertheCall, to show the many roles that nurses play in a patient’s health-care journey. “The pandemic brought to light the courage and commitment that nurses work under every day and showed the important role that nurses play in the community,” states the Canadian Nurses Association website.

Favourite COVID-related tweet this week

May 10, 2021

Will universities implement vaccine requirements?

While universities in the United States are requiring anyone coming to campus in the fall to be fully vaccinated, it doesn’t look like Canadian universities are interested in making proof of immunization mandatory for the campus community. According to the Canadian Press, some schools are undecided, but the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and McGill University have indicated proof of vaccination will not be part of the fall term.

A McGill spokesperson told CP that the university doesn’t “anticipate a requirement to show proof of vaccination before coming to campus in the fall,” and that the “university is using an approach to planning that will create flexibility so that we will be able to adapt if we need to.” UBC has pointed to government guidance in its explanation and expects all adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine by the fall, including international students. The University of Alberta has said that “at this point,” employees, students, contractors and visitors do not need proof of immunization to be on campus.

But Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert and faculty member at the University of Toronto, says it would be “very reasonable” to make vaccines mandatory on campus.  In an interview with Global News, Dr. Bogoch said there is a lot of precedent for something like this. “You can’t send kids to school without evidence of measles vaccination,” he said. “This may be another vaccine where many schools will decide to have proof of vaccination.”

The idea of “vaccine passports” — some sort of proof of vaccination — has become a regular part of the COVID-19 conversation, with countries working to establish a common documentation requirement for international travel. In fact, the Canadian government is looking into the issue and working with other G20 countries, “hoping to align with allied countries,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Cases on campus

McMaster University confirmed two new COVID-19 cases on campus. One of these cases involves a staff member who tested positive on May 3 and was last on campus May 1 in the Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning. The second case involves an employee who works for an external organization. This person tested positive on May 3 and was last on campus April 28 at the McMaster Innovation Park. The university says all relevant areas of campus buildings have been thoroughly cleaned and public health authorities are doing any required contract tracing.

OCAD U reported its first case of COVID-19 on campus. The individual, who was last on campus on April 23, informed the university that a member of their family had tested positive on April 26 and that they themselves had tested positive on April 28. The university says the individual is self-isolating at home. Contract tracing shows the individual came into close contact with one other person on campus, who is now also self-isolating at home for 14 days.

Fall plans

Universities continue to announce their intentions for the fall — and once again, these plans are inching toward a full return to campus with some campus activity and in-person learning on the table for September.

Wilfrid Laurier University suggests the “best case scenario” will be a return to 50 per cent capacity in classrooms, with mandatory mask requirements likely still in place. Classes will either be taught remotely or in-person and at the end of the fall term, each class will finish the way they started. The university hopes to return to its regular operations in January 2022.

McMaster will be sharing its decisions about the fall term throughout the spring and summer “as the status of the fall becomes clearer.” For now, the university is focusing its planning on providing safe in-person experiences in the fall, including more in-person learning opportunities, student services, small group study and access to the library. The university also says it will put its community’s safety first when making decisions and will consistently update its existing safety protocols based on public health guidelines and expert advice.

OCAD U is planning for a partial return to campus in the fall. In a message to the university community, OCAD U’s president, Ana Serrano, said that lectures will mostly take place online, but students will be able to do the hands-on parts of their courses on campus. There will also be many courses offered fully online. Depending on public health guidelines, there may still be the requirements of wearing masks, physical distancing and limits on capacity.

The Nova Scotia provincial government is working with university administrators on a plan to try to “bring the kids back to campus in the fall,” reported the CBC. Duff Montgomerie, the province’s deputy minister of advanced education, said the plan is being reviewed and will need approval from Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.

Mr. Montgomerie praised Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University for their efforts to provide a safe on-campus experience this year. “We were so impressed with the hard work, the leadership at Acadia and St. FX did with their community,” Mr. Montgomerie said. “Presidents were actually going door to door, that [students] understood their responsibilities, that they would make sure that the kids quarantined and so on, and they really understood to keep the community safe.” He added that if students have been vaccinated by the fall “and the epidemiology is where we want it to be, then you may have two to a room in residences and more normal food service.”

Université Sainte-Anne is planning a return to its campuses in the fall, while maintaining a “flexible posture in the face of pandemic-related uncertainty.” Course offerings will be planned based on a hybrid model so students can take them in-person or remotely. The university noted that it may be required for some activities, such as lab sessions, to take place on campus again.

May 5, 2021

Alberta tightens restrictions

In an effort to slow a spike of COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced new public health restrictions, including moving all postsecondary learning online, starting Friday. Late Tuesday evening, the University of Alberta put out a statement, saying it would pause all in-person classes, labs, and activities on all campuses for the day, May 5, as the Public Health Response Team and university managers evaluate the full impacts of the new restrictions. Meanwhile, the University of Calgary announced they would be suspending in-person classes for at least three weeks. MacEwan University made a similar announcement, saying any students “who have in-person classes or labs scheduled should not come to campus. Instructors will be in contact with students to confirm next steps in course delivery.”

Find your vaccine by texting

A University of Toronto alumnus, Zain Manji, has created a texting service that allows both Ontarians and British Columbians to instantly receive a list of the three nearest vaccine clinics to them. All they have to do is text their postal code to 1-833-356-1683, reports the Toronto Star, and they will receive the location names, addresses, phone numbers and websites of provincially approved vaccination sites, including pharmacies and clinics. After launching last Friday, more than 85,000 people texted in over the weekend, Mr. Manji, a former U of T computer science and economics student, told the Star. He also told the CBC that in B.C., information on vaccine locations is currently only available for 45 out of the 192 postal codes in the province. “So I would say B.C. is probably a little bit behind on their rollout compared to Ontario. But the service does work for B.C. so anyone in B.C. can try to text it and try to find a location.”

Vaccines won’t be mandatory at URegina

“In preparation for safely welcoming as many people back to campus as we are able, we strongly encourage all members of the campus community to receive their COVID-19 vaccination as they become eligible to do so,” University of Regina spokesperson Mindy Ellis wrote in an emailed statement to the CBC. This comes after the University of Saskatchewan faculty association called for mandatory vaccinations for students who want to come to their campus. “[…] attempting to make vaccination mandatory for all those coming to our [URegina] campus this fall would present many legal and logistical challenges,” said Ms. Ellis.

Get a closer look at the B.1.1.7 variant

A team of University of British Columbia researchers have discovered what the N501Y mutation on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein looks like at the molecular level. This mutation is responsible for the rapid spread of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 (first detected in the U.K). The pictures have been taken at a near-atomic level and show the localized placement of the mutation allows it to enter human cells more easily. The team, led by Sriram Subramaniam, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at UBC, recently published their findings in PLOS Biology.

“Our analysis revealed that even though the N501Y mutant can bind and enter our cells more readily, it can still be neutralized by antibodies that block the entry of the unmutated version of the virus into cells,” says a statement put out by UBC. “This is an important observation and adds to the growing body of evidence that the majority of antibodies elicited in our immune system by existing vaccines are likely to remain effective in protecting us against the B1.1.7 variant.”

The team is also looking at other variants, including P.1 (Brazilian), B.1.351 (South African), B.1.427/B.1.429 (Californian) and B.1.617 (Indian), to understand how these mutations alter how the spike protein interacts with neutralizing antibodies.

Using cryo-electron microscopy, UBC researchers have revealed the structure of the N501Y spike protein mutant, shown above (in blue) bound to two copies of the ACE2 receptor (in red). Photo courtesy of UBC.

Dalhousie offers to help NS with testing backlog

Nova Scotia is currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases and is having trouble keeping up with analyzing PCR tests, which are longer but more accurate than rapid tests. Global News is reporting that the province has a backlog of at least 45,000 PCR tests to process. One Dalhousie University professor, Paola Marignani, is offering her lab to help process some of the tests. She says she and her team have the capacity to conduct the PCR reactions to identify COVID-19 and could perform at least 1,000 tests a day. But, in a statement to Global, the microbiology lab that conducts all of the province’s COVID tests said “clinical testing requires accredited laboratories with licensed, certified staff performing validated testing under strict quality control parameters,” and that they are “unaware of any laboratory at Dalhousie that fits this criteria.” However, Tim Mailman, who heads the microbiology lab, also says he is “open to hearing from faculty who have a plan to help.”

NACI creates confusion on vaccines

On Monday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, stated that Canadians who are less likely to contract COVID-19 may want to wait until a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine is available, reports the CBC. The statement sparked an outcry from health experts across the country, as it contradicts what many have been saying, which is get whatever vaccine is offered to you.

David Naylor, co-chair of the national COVID-19 Immunity Task Force is quoted in the CBC article: “I really worry about a situation where Canada will be the only country in the world where we’ve managed to create buyer’s remorse about a vaccine we’ve provided free of charge to Canadians to protect them.”

NACI, an independent body of experts that makes recommendations on the use of newly approved vaccines, claims it was simply stating that the Pfizer and Moderna products don’t carry the same risk of very rare, but serious, blood clots like the AstraZenenca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Timothy Caufield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, is also quoted in the article, saying NACI is creating a hierarchy with respect to vaccines and not focusing enough on the profound benefit that the vaccines have for the general public, for hitting herd immunity and for decreasing community spread.

“I am frustrated by the messaging that has emanated from the committee, especially right now when there’s jurisdictions like Alberta and Ontario that are really struggling.”

A day after NACI’s statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came out and said that all vaccines approved for use in this country are safe and effective. “The impacts of catching COVID are far greater and far deadlier, as we’ve seen across the country, than potential side effects. Let me remind everyone that every vaccine administered in Canada is safe and effective, as evaluated by Health Canada.”

UBC prof pens pandemic thriller

Daniel Kalla, a Vancouver ER doctor and University of British Columbia clinical associate professor, has written a new book about vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. The book, Lost Immunity, came out yesterday, reports the CBC. It centres on a dangerous bacteria causing deadly outbreaks around the world, and a local public health officer who asks a pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine to release it early. Even though he started writing the book before the COVID-19 pandemic, “I knew vaccine and vaccine hesitancy would be a big issue […] This is a very pro-vaccine book and a cautionary tale about vaccine hesitancy, but I’m not trying to vilify the vaccine hesitant.”

Dr. Kalla’s previous book, The Last High, was released last year and focused on the opioid crisis. So far, he has written 12 thrillers.

Cases on campus

For the seven-day period ending Friday, April 30, the University of Saskatchewan is reporting 12 cases of COVID-19. This includes eight cases in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). The positive cases within the WCVM have resulted in the Veterinary Medical Centre accepting emergency cases only for its small and large animal clinics until further notice.

Three new cases are being reported at the Fort Garry campus of the University of Manitoba. Since the start of the academic year, there have been 74 positive cases at U of Manitoba.

The outbreak we previously reported on at the University of New Brunswick has increased to eight positive cases, reports Global News. These occurred at the Magee House residence. UNB reports that access to both Magee House and Elizabeth Parr-Johnston residences will remain restricted until they receive further direction from New Brunswick Public Health.

Saint Mary’s University is reporting two new cases on its campus and has asked all those in Rice Residence to self-isolate. They are also asking any Loyola Residence students who may have spent any extended time in Rice from April 26 to May 3, to self-isolate as well, until they have received a negative COVID-19 test result. Nova Scotia Public Health is asking those living in Rice Residence to get tested for COVID-19, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

One new case is being reported by the University of Waterloo. The individual is in self-isolation and did not have any known close contacts while on the campus.

The University of Toronto is reporting four new cases on its campuses. Three are at the St. George campus and one is at the Mississauga campus.

Fall plans

Concordia University students are being told to prepare to be back on campus for the fall semester. The university released a statement, saying “expect opportunities to meet in person with professors, staff and classmates, all in accordance with public health guidelines.”

May 3, 2021

Despite calls from faculty association, U of Saskatchewan not implementing vaccine requirement

The University of Saskatchewan faculty association wants to see everyone returning to campus later this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The association recently passed a motion calling for a vaccine requirement, aside from those medically exempt, ahead of a possible return to in-person teaching and learning in the fall.

Allison Muri, an English professor and the faculty association chair, told the CBC that there have been anti-vaxxer demonstrations in Saskatoon and that the coronavirus variants of concern are worrisome, infecting more young people and sending them to hospital.

“We’re among the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country. Vaccination rollout is lagging,” Dr. Muri said. “There’s so many reasons why this return to campus is not really safe without having everyone vaccinated.”

But, according to another story by the CBC, the university expects everyone returning to campus in September to be vaccinated – although it won’t make vaccination a requirement. In a statement, U of S said most of the campus community will be vaccinated by the fall term and those returning to campus are expected to take the necessary precautions. The university added that it will be following the direction of public health officials, who have not made vaccines mandatory, and that it doesn’t look like any other university in Canada has implemented a vaccine requirement policy.

In the statement, U of S said it will “review and consider all perspectives on pandemic safety and vaccination policies. … The COVID-19 pandemic has proven highly unpredictable and fall term plans will incorporate all new information and developments as they occur between now and September.”

Returning to campus in B.C.

On April 30, the British Columbia provincial government released a COVID-19 Return-To-Campus Primer to help universities and colleges in their planning efforts for the fall 2021 term. The document also provides details about key public health assumptions – mainly, that COVID-19 transmission will be low and that adults in the province will have had the opportunity to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by September – and safety measures to help guide a resumption of campus activities.

In a statement, the University of Victoria released its plans for returning to campus based on public health and the provincial government’s guidance: a return to in-person activities in September, with faculty and staff returning sooner. The first step of the university’s plan takes place in May and June and will see all academic, ancillary, administrative research and student support services develop plans to gradually re-open services during step two, along with online summer programming for students. In the second step, in July and August, academic, ancillary, administrative research and student support services will be expected to implement their plans to gradually increase in-person services and activities.

Ontario asks feds to suspend arrival of international students

Ontario premier Doug Ford has requested that the federal government suspend the arrival of international students to the province. According to CTV News, Justin Trudeau said Ontario is the only province that has made this request. The federal government is “happy to work more narrowly with them” on this issue, the prime minister said.

Currently, international students are allowed to come to Canada, but must provide a valid study permit or letter that shows they were approved for a permit. If arriving on an international flight, they must take a COVID-19 test when they arrive and isolate in a hotel while they wait for their test result. And if the test comes back negative, they can wait out their 14-day quarantine period somewhere else.

Read archived updates from previous months:

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021

December 2020

November 2020

October 2020

September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

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  1. J.Creagh / March 13, 2020 at 10:58

    What about Guelph University, what is their status?
    Thank you

  2. Sam Silverstone / March 13, 2020 at 15:59

    If I were a secondary- education institution (whether vocational school, college, CEGEP, university
    or otherwise) and have the option to end inperson classes and to go online instead and let students
    stay home and complete their year online, I would take that option given the current uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. Most of these post-secondary institutions (except for those in Ontario) have
    not exercised this option instead wilfully hoping all will be well or until a student or staff or family member of any of these institutions gets the COVID-19! The legally responsible action for any educational institution at this point in time and given the above online option for students is to exercise that option and send students and staff home, NOT to wish and wait until there is one or more COVID-19 cases, suspected or otherwise on campus. This especially true for institutions offering residence accomodations for their students. CAUTION to all such institutions: it is not so farfetched that any student or staff suffering damages or injury (or death) from the COVID-19 could sue the institution for gross negligence in not having exercised the closure and online option instead of the high risk option of maintaining inperson classes in face of the unknown. I wonder whether legal counsels for theses educational institutions
    are being involved in discussions and decisions to continue student inperson attendance or instead
    to stay home and continue classes and work online in greater safety?

  3. Helen / March 20, 2020 at 13:21

    Would now be a good time to point out to university administrators that their heavy reliance on contract instructors perpetuates the social determinants of health issues which arise in relation to precarious employment? We have an entire cohort of PhD’s saddled with the related student debt, who have been earning a fraction of what their permanently employed counterparts earn facing unemployment at the end of the semester. Since nobody is in a hurry to shake hands, not a lot of job interviews will be happening for the foreseeable future. So much for equity in academia.

  4. Karsten Loepelmann / March 23, 2020 at 18:15

    This is incorrect: “…the University of Alberta extended the same offer [to have the choice to receive a letter grade for their winter term courses, or to opt for pass/fail] to students late last week.” UAlberta has gone with pass/fail only, which has greatly upset many people.

    It would be nice to have a tally of which Canadian institutions have gone with pass/fail vs. opt in to receive a letter grade.

  5. marko / April 1, 2020 at 11:51

    Are their still maintenance/cleaning staff and trades still working in Canadian universities and why?