Editor’s note: please check back regularly for more updates.
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 percent 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 percent 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 percent) report their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic, compared to 38 percent in the spring and 40 percent 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 percent), younger aged 18-24 (50 percent), students (48 percent), those who identify as LGBTQ2+ (46 percent) those with a pre-existing mental health condition (54 percent) and those with a disability (47 percent).
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
NO… the COVID-19 vaccines 💉don’t contain tracking devices, mercury, or nano-bots, but wouldn’t all three make for a COOL MOVIE!?!?! #TrustScience
— University of Regina (@UofRegina) May 10, 2021
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.
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 percent 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.”
British Columbia! 🇨🇦
Try texting +1 (833) 356-1683 with your postal code, you’ll get an instant reply with nearby vaccination sites 💉
Over 85,000 people in Ontario have already texted the phone number and found vaccine locations, and now you can too ❤️
Spread the word #Lazer
— Zain Manji (@ZainManji) May 4, 2021
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.
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.”
Me: it matters if poor messaging mean 2 or 3% of people don’t get the vaccine.
— Timothy Caulfield (@CaulfieldTim) May 5, 2021
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.
Thrilled that my cautionary tale about the dangers of vaccine hesitancy hits bookstores today!https://t.co/T5WvFgdbdj
— Daniel Kalla (@DanielKalla) May 4, 2021
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.
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.
April 28, 2021
Atlantic universities under lockdown
The University of New Brunswick is reporting an outbreak at its Magee House residence. As of Monday, the university confirmed six cases of the virus. Students and staff at Elizabeth Parr-Johnston residence may also have been exposed and are currently being tested. The CBC is reporting that the university has now “locked itself down.” This extends to St. Thomas University as well, due to the proximity of both campuses. According to the article, St. Thomas president and vice-chancellor Dawn Russell advised students and staff in an email Monday that effective at 1 p.m., STU would be moving to an essential services model.
Meanwhile, the CBC is also reporting that Nova Scotia will enter a provincewide lockdown for two weeks starting today as a “circuit-breaker” measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and the Canadian Forces have been deployed to the province due to the rising number of cases. As a result of the lockdown, all schools are closing and most universities are switching to online learning. All faculty and staff who can work from home, should. St. Francis Xavier University also cancelled their spring convocation. Cape Breton University is officially delaying its return to campus plans for the spring semester. Students are asked to email professors with any questions.
At least seven Dalhousie University students are facing possible suspension after attending a house party on April 23. According to CTV, Halifax police ticketed 22 people at the large social gathering, resulting in $22,000 worth of fines. Students then boasted on social media over the weekend about being caught, using the hashtag #worthit. In response, Dalhousie administration is considering suspension, as well as other forms of discipline for the students, according to Halifax Today, including receiving a warning, probation, loss of privileges, restitution, work assignments, conditions on attendance, and expulsion.
Update to our community: we’re taking this situation very seriously. The health and safety of our community is paramount. We have now identified Dal students in attendance, and are considering immediate suspension and all other options available under the Code of Student Conduct. https://t.co/VhHhzGNjmo
— Dalhousie University (@DalhousieU) April 24, 2021
Cases on campus
Queen’s University is dealing with an outbreak affecting nine students in both the Victoria Hall and Chown Hall residences. Global News is reporting that a “significant amount” of students have been kicked out of residence for their actions in March, “where cases have been particularly egregious,” said president Patrick Deane. The university previously stated that 40 students were going through disciplinary processes for non-compliance with COVID-19 rules. Since the start of the pandemic, the university has accounted for just under a quarter of all cases in Kingston.
Two new cases are being reported at Brock University. The university states that both individuals last visited campus on Monday, April 12, and that contact tracing has now been completed.
Carleton University is reporting one new case on its campus.
Ontario Tech University has also confirmed one case on campus. According to the university, “this case has been linked to a case previously reported in the Business and Information Technology building, and is therefore, by Durham Region Health Department’s definition, considered an outbreak.”
McMaster University confirmed a staff member has tested positive. The individual was last on campus Thursday, April 22, in the Commons Building and Les Prince Hall.
Western University is still dealing with seven outbreaks on its campus. Global News broke down the current number of positive cases by residence: 10 cases have been reported at London Hall, 12 at Essex Hall, 15 cases at Elgin Hall, 20 at Delaware Hall (plus one case that is currently under investigation), 31 cases at Perth Hall, 34 at Medway-Sydenham Hall, and finally 55 (plus three probable cases) at Saugeen-Maitland Hall.
April 26, 2021
Nova Scotia universities adapt to new restrictions
Public health restrictions have returned to Halifax after an increase in COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia where 66 new cases were reported today. The restrictions – which include closing gyms, hair salons and restaurants to seated service – will be in place from April 23 to at least May 20.
In response, local universities have had to change plans. Mount Saint Vincent University announced some summer courses that were planned to take place on campus will shift online, its gym and fitness centre are closed for the time being, the campus bookstore will suspend in-person service, and faculty and staff have been asked to work from home as much as possible. St. Mary’s University has halted in-person meetings and any booking on campus. It has also restricted library access to staff and student assistants only but is maintaining pick up and drop off services.
Dalhousie University announced the new restrictions will not impact the university’s academic offerings, research labs and other employees who are approved to be on campus, but will affect some university services and operations. There will be limited library access, the gyms will be closed, and on-campus meetings may be cancelled depending on number of attendees.
Universities outside the Halifax region also implemented new measures. St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, which was the only university in the province that had offered in-person classes during the pandemic, will not be allowing parents, friends or guardians to come into residence buildings to help students move out. Instead, the university is hiring small teams of people who can help move out heavier items. As for Acadia University, one family member or friend of a student will be allowed inside a residence building, for a maximum of 30 minutes, to help with moving out.
Vancouver Island University is planning for a “safe return to on-campus instruction” for fall 2021. When the university’s fall/spring timetable becomes available, the system will indicate on a course-by-course basis whether a class is in-person, blended synchronous or asynchronous or online synchronous or asynchronous.
Brescia University College at Western University is looking forward to the next academic year “with great optimism.” In anticipation of its region and the country recovering from COVID-19 as vaccines become more accessible, the institution is planning a return to a majority of in-person learning on campus and resume in-person support services and activities in the fall.
Support for students concerned about flight restrictions
British Columbia is offering support to postsecondary international students in the province who are struggling with news of flight restrictions between India, Pakistan and Canada. The federal government suspended incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days after a massive increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.
The province says students who are stressed or anxious about the new restrictions, or who are unable to return to their families, have access to supports 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can speak to a trained counsellor in several different languages, including Punjabi, online or on the Here2Talk app. They can also speak with a counsellor by phone toll free at 1-877-857-3397, direct at 604-642-5212 or +1-604-642-5212 from outside Canada.
Brock study on online COVID-19 conversation reveals Anti-Asian racism
Brock University assistant professor Antony Chum and graduate students Andrew Nielsen and Zachary Bellows set out to examine online conversation about Ontarians’ views of COVID-19 measures. They looked at 1.5 million tweets posted in Ontario about COVID-19 between March 12 and Oct. 31, 2020 and found that much of the conversation was measured and nuanced. But that measured and nuanced conversation also came with a high volume of racist tweets.
“The most important thing we found was that the full lockdown in Ontario versus the partial lockdown was associated with the most negative public opinion and the most disagreements among Twitter users,” Dr. Chum told the CBC. “The other finding that sort of surprises us was when we looked into the negative tweets, there were quite a bit of anti-Asian and racist tweets among them.” About 10 percent of the negative tweets used racist hashtags “like China virus or Wuhan virus, which were more racializing in tone, and they tend to have a more blaming tone,” he added.
Dr. Chum said it’s important that public health practitioners and policy makers take this racist sentiment into consideration and come up with ways to address false perceptions and COVID-19 myths, which can harm Asian communities.
While Dr. Chum and his team were able to download the negative tweets, many have been deleted by Twitter due to its strong anti-discrimination policy or by the users themselves.
Cases on campus
The University of New Brunswick has confirmed new cases of COVD-19, although the university did not say how many. The CBC reported that the cases are within the Magee House student resident on the university’s Fredericton campus, which houses students 21 years and older, as well as their families and children. The campus has returned to essential services for 72 hours and campus access will be prohibited because of the new cases.
According to an email sent to the campus community, the university will be restricting operations to “only those essential to the delivery of courses by alternative methods and business continuity processes.” Students living in residence are not permitted to leave campus, unless otherwise directed by Public Health.
“The closure will provide New Brunswick Public Health and UNB the opportunity to properly assess the current COVID-19 situation on our campus,” wrote the university’s president, Paul Mazerolle, in the email.
April 21, 2021
UCalgary researcher sparks controversy
John Conly, an infectious diseases physician and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, is facing some raised eyebrows after he downplayed the potential airborne spread of COVID-19 at a recent UCalgary event. Specifically, he denied that aerosol transmission is a primary route of transmission with the virus and claims that N95 masks can cause “harms.”
Dr. Conly is a top adviser to the World Health Organization, which makes his comments even more concerning, reports the CBC. “Any time you look at benefits, you need to look at harms, of which there are many harms with N95s — and I think to ignore them you are at your peril,” he told the panel. “There is acne, also issues with eczema, conjunctivitis, CO2 retention; there has been decreased O2 concentrations in pregnant women — many side-effects to this.” The article states that Dr. Conly holds considerable global influence in the pandemic as the chair of the WHO’s Infection Prevention and Control Research and Development Expert Group for COVID-19. The group makes key decisions on the research that informs the WHO’s recommendations.
Other researchers in the article state that Dr. Conly’s thinking about airborne transmission is outdated. “The science is very strong to support aerosol transmission [with COVID-19],” Raymond Tellier, associate medical professor at McGill University, told the CBC. The article states the WHO has come under fire for downplaying the risk of airborne transmission before, and other experts state the organization “needs to acknowledge aerosol transmission as a main driver of the pandemic.”
Watch the full panel discussion.
Cases on campus
McMaster University has received notification of a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus. It involves an international student who was already quarantining in residence.
There are currently five cases being reported at York University.
On April 18, the University of Toronto reported six new cases at its St. George campus. Four of these cases are connected to a previous outbreak at that campus. This brings the total number of cases to nine. There were also two new cases reported at the Scarborough campus.
For a seven-day period ending April 16, the University of Saskatchewan has been informed of 11 positive COVID-19 cases involving members of the university community, both on and off-campus, including five confirmed cases at Canadian Light Source, a national research facility on the university’s campus.
Should the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory?
This is the question that a new World Health Organization policy brief attempts to answer. The brief, led by Western University health studies professor Maxwell J. Smith, provides ethical guidance for countries and organizations who may be considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory. It identifies six ethical considerations:
- Necessity and proportionality: Mandatory vaccination should be considered only if it is necessary for, and proportionate to, the achievement of an important public health goal.
- Sufficient evidence of vaccine safety: Data should be available that demonstrate the vaccine being mandated has been found to be safe in the populations for whom the vaccine is to be made mandatory.
- Sufficient evidence of vaccine efficacy and effectiveness: Data on efficacy and effectiveness should be available that show the vaccine is efficacious in the population for whom vaccination is to be mandated and that the vaccine is an effective means of achieving an important public health goal.
- Sufficient supply: Supply of the vaccine should be sufficient and reliable, with reasonable, free access for those for whom it is to be made mandatory.
- Public trust: Policymakers should carefully consider the effect that mandating vaccination could have on public confidence and public trust.
- Ethical processes of decision-making: Legitimate public health authorities contemplating mandatory vaccination policies should use transparent, deliberative procedures to consider these ethical issues outlined in an explicit ethical analysis.
New funding announced for VIDO
In case you missed it in our budget story published yesterday, the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) announced it will receive $59.2 million to expand its research facilities, including setting up a new National Centre for Pandemic Research. “This major investment in USask’s VIDO will help Canada address COVID-19 and be well prepared for future infectious disease outbreaks,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff in a press release. Construction of the new centre will be completed over the next three years and will include a high containment facility, as well as a biomanufacturing facility. The federal three-year funding package also includes funds for an international program to hire and train researchers, VIDO director and CEO Volker Gerdts told the Star-Phoenix, plus $8 million to support Phase 2 trials of one of VIDO’s two COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
More fall plans are made, mostly on the East Coast
The University of Manitoba plans to resume more in-person instruction in the upcoming fall term. Classes will be limited to 20 students, and labs will be limited to no more than 25. Large classes will continue with remote delivery. All individuals (students, employees, contractors and visitors) in all indoor spaces be required to wear 3-ply reusable or disposable masks.
Almost all classes (including large ones), faculty, staff and students will be returning to campus this fall at Dalhousie University, says president Deep Saini. Dr. Saini says that if the current provincial vaccine rollout stays on track, everyone 16 years and older should be fully vaccinated by the end of September. International students will also be welcome back and will be able to be vaccinated in Nova Scotia. Residences and dining halls will also be open at a much greater capacity than they were this year.
The University of King’s College (affiliated with Dalhousie) has similar plans to return to in-person learning this fall. “Revised safety plans will allow us to hold our classes in person, even for larger classes (100+),” says King’s president and vice-chancellor William Lahey in a statement. “Our decision to return to in-person classes will reduce the barriers international students have faced in coming to King’s.” Like Dal, King’s will follow all public health guidelines when welcoming back students and staff. This will include physical distancing, wearing masks in some settings (i.e. classrooms) and ongoing improvement of ventilation systems and procedures.
Fall/Winter 2021 registration has been delayed at Mount Saint Vincent University, but the plan is to “offer a significant increase in on-campus learning opportunities at MSVU,” says Julie McMullin, vice-president academic and provost. However, the university will also continue to provide opportunities to learn online.
Saint Mary’s University is planning a “complete and vibrant on-campus experience with in-person classes in the fall.” The university’s residences, dining, athletics & recreation and library facilities (and more) will also be open and ready. However, the university will continue to be flexible and offer some graduate programs online. “When registering, students will notice that a very significant number of courses are scheduled to be delivered in person. Students will also see more online course sections as well as courses with online options,” says the statement.
April 19, 2021
Calls for more support for students in federal budget
After navigating the shifts to learning online, paying higher tuition fees during the pandemic, worrying about finances and taking on precarious part-time jobs considered essential, students are asking for help. Student leaders – like Bailey Howard, Newfoundland chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, and Simon Fraser Student Society president Osob Mohamed – as well as policy experts are calling on the federal government for more support in today’s federal budget. According to the CBC, they’d like to see another freeze on student loan repayments and a new version of the Canada emergency student benefit.
Ms. Mohamed, who’s finishing her final semester at SFU, told the CBC she’s apprehensive of what’s next for her because of the pandemic. “It is feeling a little more bleak, I think, than anything … particularly now looking at the job market and thinking about what my next steps and my prospects are,” she said.
Ms. Mohamed added that her student society has done their best to help students, but they can only do so much. “At the end of the day, we just don’t have the resources to help students the same way that the university does and the same way that the provincial and federal governments would be able to if they were to make those a priority.”
COVID cases on campus
Peterborough Public Health reported an outbreak at the Champlain College residence at Trent University. According to the university, there are currently 13 active cases in students living on its Peterborough campus.
Western University saw its 14th outbreak on campus, and the ninth active one on Western’s campus (including one at King’s University College). The Western Gazette reported that the outbreak at the London Hall residence is connected to six cases. Of all student residences on main campus – not counting affiliates – only Alumni House hasn’t faced an outbreak.
Looking to the fall
The University of Regina is planning a “transitional” semester in the fall, with students back on campus but also learning remotely. The university’s acting provost, david Gregory, told the Regina Leader-Post that right now it is impossible to know how many students will be in face-to-face classes in the fall, but it will mainly depend on demand. Dr. Gregory added that students will know which courses are in-person or online by the end of the month.
As reported in a previous update, Mount Royal University’s president and vice-chancellor Tim Rahilly addressed the MRU community via YouTube. He stated that, despite the COVID-19 challenges in Alberta at the moment, the university is planning as if it is returning to campus in the fall.
Deborah MacLatchy, Wilfrid Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor, shared an update with students earlier this month. She said the university is approaching the fall with “cautious optimism.” Her goal is to, after transitioning to more in-person activity in the fall term, return to regular operations with “minimal restrictions” by winter 2022. She added that the university will offer as many in-person classes in the fall as possible, with priority given to classes with significant levels to interaction/hands on learning, those capped at 100 or fewer students, first-year courses and multi-section courses where remote and in-person sections can accommodate student and instructor requirements.
Trent University’s president and vice-chancellor announced the plans for a full return to campus in the fall. Leo Groarke said that both the Peterborough and Durham campuses will be open, with some courses available online. More information and details about plans for the fall will be shared in the coming weeks and months.
In an email to students, the University of New Brunswick said the fall semester will most likely be combination of in-person and online classes, reported Global News. The article also stated that the province’s minister of postsecondary education, training and labour is confident there will be in-class learning in the fall, but that how and when students will return to campus will be up to universities.
April 14, 2021
Western COVID-19 woes
The London area has seen a significant uptick in positive cases in recent weeks, and accounts for the greatest rise in cases related to a postsecondary institution in the country. Global News reported the increasing test positivity rate in London is driven mostly by social gatherings, including outbreaks at Western University. Earlier this week, CTV News reported that the postal code N6A, where Western is situated, has the highest positivity rate in Ontario (during the week of April 3, 29 percent of COVID-19 tests in that area came back positive). The rate has led local officials to ask the provincial government to consider the postal code a hotspot, which would bring mobile vaccination units to the area.
On Tuesday, there were 73 new COVID-19 cases reported in London and those infected are skewing young – 65 percent of cases involve people under the age of 40 and 50 percent are under 30 years old.
As of Monday, the active cases at Western residences were as follows:
- 44 cases at Saugeen-Maitland Hall
- Seven cases a King’s Commons
- Eight cases at Essex Hall
- Nine cases at Perth Hall
- 10 cases at Elgin Hall
- 16 cases at Delaware Hall
- 17 cases at Ontario Hall
- 27 cases at Medway-Sydenham Hall
More than half of all students living in the university’s residences have cleared out early. On April 1, Western asked students to move out of residence by April 11 due to rising case numbers and the greater transmissibility of variants, according to the London Free Press. The university opened its residences at 70 percent capacity at the beginning of the academic year, allowing 3,200 students to live on campus instead of the usual 5,300.
COVID-19 cases on campus
Elsewhere in Ontario, McMaster is reporting one more COVID-19 case on campus. It involves an employee who tested positive on April 9 and was last on campus on April 1 in the Nuclear Reactor building.
The Martlet, the University of Victoria’s independent newspaper, reported that students attending in-person classes at the university’s School of Music were notified of a positive case by email. The individual is self-isolating at home.
‘You’re not invincible just because you’re healthy’
Peter Soliman, 22, doesn’t have any underlying conditions. He’s young and was healthy. But in March, he tested positive for the B117 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, and spent nine days in the hospital.
“You’re not invincible just because you’re healthy, just because you work out,” the psychology major told CBC.
Mr. Soliman’s family contracted the virus after his father learned he had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive. His mother was the first member of the family to be admitted to hospital. When Mr. Soliman’s oxygen levels became dangerously low, he was also hospitalized. A few days later, his father went to hospital after his airway became blocked. Thankfully, Soliman’s sister, who’s a nurse and has had her first vaccination shot, didn’t get sick was able to keep an eye on her family.
After his time at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Mr. Soliman shared his experience on social media to try to convey how serious the illness is, especially with the variants of concern. The message was a wake-up call for some, he said. “People’s feedback has just been amazing, so I’m just hoping that this does make a difference.”
Planned return to Halifax campuses
Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College are planning to resume in-person classes in September. According to a CTV News article, the two institutions, which have a longstanding association with each other and often share the same policies, announced their planned return to campus via social media on Tuesday. William Lahey, president of King’s, said the university will be reopening with a plan that includes physical distancing and modified classroom capacities. It will also continue to offer an online option for some classes.
April 12, 2021
COVID-19 cases on campus
The Middlesex-London Health Unit has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Western University’s Perth Hall residence and at a student residence at King’s University College. According to the Western affiliate’s president, David Malloy, King’s is aware of seven positive cases among students. Currently, there are seven active dormitory outbreaks on the Western campus.
On April 9, McMaster confirmed a student tested positive for COVID-19. The student had last been on campus on April 6 in the Institute for Applied Health Sciences building. McMaster stated that all impacted areas have been cleaned and that public health authorities will be contacting anyone relevant to contract tracing efforts.
Mount Royal University president Tim Rahilly took to YouTube to deliver a message about the university’s COVID-19 plans. He stated that the university must continue to plan as if it will be returning to campus in the fall, “but be ready to adapt to whatever situation and restrictions are in place at that time.” In the message, Dr. Rahilly also reported that there have been 26 confirmed cases in the campus community since January and 93 since the pandemic began.
Brock University reported that 54 cases of COVID-19 on campus have been resolved and five cases remain active among students living in residences. Including these five students, there are 18 students currently self-isolating after an outbreak in the university’s dorms.
The Ryersonian reported that Toronto Public Health is investigating a suspected outbreak in Pitman Hall on the Ryerson campus, which has led to three positive cases of COVID-19. According to the student paper, the cases are connected to contract cleaning staff.
Kingston’s public health unit declared a COVID-19 outbreak involving 70 active cases in adults aged 18 to 29 in the Queen’s University district. The health unit’s investigators found that transmission is taking place during “close, unprotected contact between individuals in social settings (including large gatherings) where physical distancing is limited, and face coverings are not being worn.”
USask and U of Regina survey asks for Canadians’ opinions on COVID-19 measures
University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina researchers, in collaboration with Environics, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme and others, released the findings of a national survey that looked at Canadians’ views on mask-wearing policies, vaccines, lockdowns and their trust in the scientific and medical community.
The 2021 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of 5,814 adults was conducted online between Jan. 25 and Feb. 17, and online and by telephone in the territories between Jan. 25 and March 1.
A report on the survey’s findings, released April 8, suggests many Canadians are supportive of the actions taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some of the report’s findings include:
- 75 percent of respondents said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated if a vaccine were available to them, while 17 percent would probably or definitely not choose to be vaccinated
- 39 percent of racialized individuals said they will definitely get the vaccine; 57 percent of those who identify as white said they would choose to get vaccinated
- 82 percent of those surveyed with a university degree said they would definitely or probably get the vaccine, compared to 68 percent of respondents with only a high school education
- 84 percent of Canadians have confidence in scientists, whereas only 52 percent have confidence in governments
Federal student loan interest rate set to zero
On April 1, the interest rate for the federal portion of student loans was dropped to zero. The interest rate freeze is part of the federal government’s Bill C-143 — the implementation act from its fall economic statement in November 2020 — and will last until March 31, 2022. Last spring, when the first wave of the pandemic hit, the federal government put a freeze on student loan repayments for six months. That isn’t the case this time around — the government will still require graduates with student loan debt to make monthly payments this time around. The interest moratorium also does not apply to the provincial portion of student loans.
U de Sherbrooke research teams finds link between COVID-19 and major depression
It’s no secret that the pandemic has been tough for many. CTV News reported that, according to research from the Université de Sherbrooke, people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are twice as likely to develop major depression and four times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general public.
Mélissa Généreux , the principal research and former director of public health for the Estrie region, and her team monitored the impacts of the COVID-19 and its collateral effects since the pandemic began last March. She told CTV News that she wants the public to be aware of the threat represented by “long COVID” and the effects of the virus that last after its acute phase has passed. So far, symptoms of long COVID include headaches, fatigue and brain fog, but it isn’t confirmed whether these symptoms have an impact on depression and suicidal ideation.
April 7, 2021
Ontario pulls the “emergency brake”
What does the latest lockdown in Ontario mean for universities? As it turns out, not that much. While some universities like Western are shutting down their campus completely (due to raging cases in residences – see below) the majority of campuses in the province will remain open with limited staff and students. Most universities were already conducting remote learning for almost all courses and had most faculty and staff already working from home. That being said, some universities are tightening the number of people on campus by cancelling in-person meetings, any remaining in-person classes that were happening, as well as closing athletic facilities and libraries. Students in residence will be able to access food to go, but are otherwise asked to stay in their rooms.
What this new Ontario shutdown means for researchers
Some of the bigger universities have released updated guidelines/reminders for academics who are currently conducting research. At the University of Waterloo, “on campus lab research (except human participant research) is not affected by these new measures at this time. Researchers may NOT travel into or out of other public health regions to conduct research during the shutdown.” At Carleton, pre-approved on-campus research that cannot be done remotely can continue. Western University stated that “all field research, or research projects requiring face-to-face contact with off-campus human participants, require a two-level approval process – sign-off from the dean’s office (or delegate) and the office of the vice-president, research.”
COVID-19 cases on campus
In March, Ryerson University officially reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on its campus. There are also an additional three cases that are under investigation. An external contractor of the university also reported two cases among its workers. Ryerson has notified employees who may be at risk of exposure.
Peterborough Public Health has declared at outbreak at Trent University’s Champlain College Annex residence building, with three cases reported. There are also at least four other cases on campus as well, though the university states “not all active cases may be related to the current outbreak at Champlain College Annex.” This news comes as an outbreak at another Trent residence, Gzowski College, ended.
According to the University of Victoria independent newspaper, The Martlet, residents in the Sir Arthur Currie building received an internal notice stating there was COVID-19 exposure between March 24-29. The Marlet quoted from the notice: “For privacy reasons, we cannot provide any other details on the COVID-19 exposure. No information specific to the individual or individuals will be released by Island Health.” This lack of information sharing from both the university and Island Public Health has led to frustration among students, reported the Marlet.
The situation at the University of Waterloo has not gotten better. Since we last reported on the outbreaks, an additional 16 cases involving people who either live on or have visited the campus have been reported. This brings the total to 37 cases. “For people who have acted recklessly and gathered repeatedly with people outside your household: we care about you and we are worried about your wellbeing. However, know that you’ve let us all down badly. Your behaviour risks your health and your education, and it needs to stop, now,” said UWaterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur in a news release.
Brock University is reporting that 46 students living in residence who were diagnosed with COVID-19 are recovered, while four cases are still active. Currently, there are 42 students currently isolating due to the outbreak on campus.
In the last 14 days, the University of Calgary reported five new cases. These cases were traced back to Murray Fraser Hall, the Kinesiology A building, the Biosciences building and the Kinesiology complex.
Two new cases have been added to the outbreak at Carleton University, bringing the total to 16. According to the Charlatan, Carleton’s independent weekly, this is the largest on-campus outbreak of the year. All positive tests in residence are from students in Prescott House.
As stated above, Western has shut down their campus and moved all classes and final exams online due to six outbreaks in residences, resulting in 83 cases, according to the CBC. The university has also asked students in residence to move home if they can, and then quarantine for two weeks. “Those able to depart by Sunday, April 11 at 1:00 p.m. will receive a refund prorated to the day they move out,” said president Alan Shepard in a statement released on April 1. “We will continue to provide housing and support to students unable to return home until the completion of exams, including anyone currently in quarantine or isolation.”
Attempting to restore the Global Public Health Intelligence Network
The Globe and Mail reported on April 6 that a group of scientists is looking to restore the GPHIN to its former status as a pandemic surveillance system. The article states that a proposal was submitted to an independent panel in Ottawa that is reviewing the system’s future. The group would like the GPHIN to work with the World Health Organization and have the network be based at the University of Ottawa’s Bruyère Research Institute.
“GPHIN has achieved world-wide recognition as a rapid provider of accurate information regarding a variety of global events of public health importance,” the proposal says. “Future versions of GPHIN must build on and maintain this pre-eminent position. It’s Canadian origin and Canadian support during its lifetime is recognized and should be retained.” The goal is to have the network run as a non-profit, which will allow it to receive grants in addition to partial funding from the federal government.
Two more universities announce fall plans
Queen’s University president Patrick Deane released a statement through the Queen’s Gazette about tentative fall plans. “There are of course still many things unknown, but we are hopeful that by the time classes resume in September, most of the restrictions will be lifted and our daily operations able to return to a condition much closer to what prevailed prior to the pandemic.” The plan includes flexibility for staff with “a gradual return so that we can be ready to support in-person teaching and learning in September.”
The Sault Star is reporting that Algoma University is planning on bringing students back to campus for the fall semester. Students have been learning virtually since March 2020. “I think mostly people are hoping that we’ll see a significant increase in a return to campus this fall,” Algoma president Asima Vezina told the local paper. “That’s really what we’re targeting right now on all three of our campuses.” She says students can expect a gradual return to campus with a mix of online, in-class and blended instruction to start the 2021-2022 academic year. “We’re not going to return all at once,” said Dr. Vezina. “But I think you’re going to see a pretty significant increase of face-to-face (delivery).”