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COVID-19: updates for December 2021

BY TARA SIEBARTH | DEC 31 2021

December 23, 2021

 

Winter 2022 semesters will mostly start online across the country

 

British Columbia

Most universities in British Columbia are planning on returning to in-person learning for the Winter 2022 semester. This comes after a statement released by Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer wrote a letter to BC institutions, recommending universities return to in-person learning in January. “Moving to online instruction can be harmful as it is not an effective means of reducing transmission, may result in increased time in higher risk settings, and be detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of students,” she said. Some universities, like Emily Carr and Capilano were already delivering their courses in a hybrid method (online and in-person) and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Others, like the University of British Columbia, decided to delay in-person learning until Jan. 24. The semester will start as scheduled but will be online for the first few weeks. “Campuses will remain open, including student housing, student services, and all libraries. Managers and supervisors are encouraged to be flexible in allowing remote work, where academic or operational requirements permit; however, where in person work remains necessary, remote work arrangements may not be possible. Our intention is to enable a safe return to fully in-person learning and instruction on January 24,” said UBC president Santa Ono in a statement.

Alberta

Several institutions in the province have recently changed their plans for the resumption of studies in January due to concerns about Omicron’s spread. MacEwan University said it will move winter term classes online from Jan. 5 to 21. The University of Alberta also released a statement saying it will begin the term “primarily online,” as will the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge. In its own release, the U of Calgary said classes will be held remotely until Jan. 31. . Meanwhile the U of Lethbridge said all classes on both of its campuses will be delivered online through Jan. 21.

Saskatchewan

The University of Regina said winter-term classes will now begin on Jan. 10 to allow time for a transition back to remote learning. Classes will be offered online until Jan. 22, although the situation will be re-evaluated in mid-January.

Manitoba

A handful of schools are switching to remote classes temporarily. The University of Winnipeg said the measure will remain in place until reading week, which runs Feb. 20-26. At L’Université de Saint-Boniface, classes and student services will be offered online until Feb. 18. Brandon University said its classes will be held online until the end of January, and the start of the winter term may be postponed to Jan. 10. At the University of Manitoba, classes and “non-essential activity” will be delivered online through Feb. 26.

Ontario

Most postsecondary institutions in Ontario have decided to delay the start of their winter semester until the end of January. When they do begin, many will be online. As Alan Shepard, president and vice-chancellor of Western University said in a statement, “A delayed start of classes will provide time for our faculty and staff to shift classes to virtual platforms, and to prepare to provide the best experience possible for our students.” Universities also reminded students, faculty and staff that if the stress of these rapid changes are affecting their mental health, to please contact their university’s mental health support services.

Quebec

Both McGill University and Concordia University are hoping to have students, faculty and staff all back on campus by the second week of January. McGill plans to have their first week back online, and to resume in-person learning on Jan. 10. For Concordia, all instruction will be delivered remotely, with the exception of certain labs, from Jan. 6 to 12. In-person classes are scheduled to resume on Jan. 13.

New Brunswick

All classes will start on their regularly scheduled date in January, but they will be delivered online. This online instruction period is “intended to allow for a full academic term and a resumption of classes, while beginning with less in person and on campus activity as a precautionary measure,” an update from Mount Allison University said.

PEI

The University of Prince Edward Island released a statement, letting their community know that the 2022 winter semester will begin as scheduled on Jan. 10, but teaching and learning will move to online delivery until at least Jan. 17. “With almost two years of pandemic uncertainty, this situation is challenging for everyone involved. However, decisions are driven by our priority to keep the UPEI community safe. I am very proud of how everyone has united through these common challenges by exhibiting compassion, understanding, and patience,” said UPEI president and vice-chancellor Greg Keefe.

Nova Scotia

The bulk of university classes in Nova Scotia will be delivered online for most of January. So far, the only institution that hasn’t announced modified plans for the winter semester is Acadia University. All others have either delayed the start of their winter semester or will be doing online learning until at least mid-month.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Memorial University will return to a primarily remote teaching and learning environment for the start of winter semester until Jan. 31, with classes starting on Jan. 10. “[This] delayed date was selected to provide additional time for employees and students returning from travel to self-isolate and facilitate maintaining the scheduled end of semester. The new start date will not change the university diary dates as outlined in the calendar. All other semester dates will remain unchanged,” said Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice-president, academic.

December 15, 2021

Infections rising on campuses across the country due to Omicron variant

On Dec. 12, Queen’s University announced it was cancelling all in-person exams for the rest of the year. This decision comes as Kingston, Ont., deals with a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. According to CBC News, the university made these changes in response to a rise COVID-19 cases within its student population. The Kingstonist reported that there currently over 300 positive cases on campus. In a statement released Dec. 11, the university said, “If a student has to miss a class, exam, or another academic requirement due to symptoms, COVID-19 illness, or a self-isolation requirement, timely academic consideration will be granted.”

On Dec. 14, Western University announced it would also be moving its exams online. “While our case counts remain low, we are watching what is happening across the country and have decided some proactive steps are prudent in the face of Omicron,” the university said in a statement. It goes on to say that students should expect that exams scheduled for Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 will be held in-person, unless otherwise notified. Exams scheduled from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23 will shift online with the exception of clinical and some other assessments that are required to be completed in-person.

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, the University of Victoria also announced it was cancelling in-person exams due to rising cases on its campus. CTV News reported that the university announced in a statement Dec. 12 that it would be “adjusting” its examinations for the remainder of the December 2021 exam period, effective Dec. 13.

“To reduce the frequency and number of students sitting together for extended periods of time in examination gyms and rooms, we will not be holding further in-person exams and we are asking instructors to offer their assessments online or in another format,” the statement read.

So far, at least 30 positive cases have been linked to the university. Island Health’s top doctor, Richard Stanwick, told CTV News that the cluster of cases had been traced to two off-campus parties held last weekend by business students and varsity athletes. The Province is also reporting that the UVic men’s rugby team is specifically part of the reason cases are rising. The team participated in a tournament in Kingston, in late November and several cases have arisen after some of the parties, many with the Omicron variant.

“It looks like that outbreak has been driven by Delta, as well as an introduction partway through of Omicron related to a rugby tournament that has, sadly, spread Omicron to university communities across the country,” said Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.

On the East Coast, Dalhousie University, Cape Breton University and Acadia University have announced they will stop offering in-person exams as of Dec. 14, while Saint Mary’s University is also making changes, in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses, according to CBC News. According to the article, Saint Mary’s is continuing with some in-person exams, but with new guidelines beginning Dec. 15, which will include students having to wear masks during their exams.

On Dec. 14, Mount Allison University also announced it was cancelling in-person exams due to rising cases on its campus. According to CBC News, there are five confirmed cases of the virus on campus. The article states that the university is also asking employees to work from home if possible, and asking students who can return home for Christmas break to do so as soon as possible.

St.FX grapples with an outbreak, gives option to have exams online

After St. Francis Xavier University hosted a graduation event on Dec. 3, 125 students were put in isolation after several positive cases were reported on campus. While health protocols were followed during the ceremony, some unsanctioned off-campus events are being investigated, according to CTV News. “While we know that news of these new cases will cause anxiety, please be assured that university officials continue to work closely with Public Health to monitor the overall status of the outbreak,” said Andy Hakin, president of St.FX, in a statement. Dr. Hakin later tested positive for COVID-19 as well, according to another CTV News article. “I was notified of my positive status last evening [Dec. 12]. [Several senior staff members who tested positive] are all fully vaccinated and experiencing mild flu-like symptoms,” Dr. Hakin said in another statement. “All public health protocols are being followed and we are able to work virtually while we isolate. The focus of our team remains on supporting our students and our community.”

The outbreak has forced the school to push final exams online, according to CBC News. The article states that the university announced on Dec. 8 that it would be offering two options for exams: “1) In-person exams can go ahead. However, students who are unable to attend or uncomfortable writing them in person can defer/postpone the exam until January. 2) Online exams or take-home ones will be permitted, but it’s up to the professors to make the decision.”

According to the CBC, Martin van Bommel, the president of the St. FX Association of University Teachers, sent an email to faculty, stating: “Given the current environment, we would suggest individuals move their examinations online where feasible.”

Adding insult to injury, according to Global News several of the cases identified in the outbreak were because of the Omicron variant, which is spreading throughout Nova Scotia and into other provinces.

Long lines, in-person exams leave McGill students angry

CTV News is reporting an online petition was launched at McGill University, calling on the university to switch to online exams for their finals, citing safety concerns related to rising COVID-19 cases. According to several students, they have been forced to wait in long lines to write their exams, only to enter packed lecture halls.

“First-hand accounts of students returning to campus for in-person midterms report sitting in a crowded lecture hall with hundreds of their peers, scribbling their answers as they rub elbows with their neighbours,” reads the petition posted to the change.org website. “Only to find out a few days later (by email from McGill) that they have been in contact with a reported case of COVID-19. It is almost expected to receive this news under these conditions.”

The university responded, saying it is addressing the issue, after videos and images began circulating on social media. “We have listened to the feedback re yesterday’s exam issues (downtown) and have implemented new entrance protocols beginning today to resolve problems identified,” it said in a Twitter post.

Currently, the university has no plans to switch to online exams.

December 8, 2021

N.S. MLA questions Dalhousie’s role in COVID-19 relief funding distribution

The Cape Breton Post is reporting that Nolan Young, the Progressive Conservative member for Shelburne, N.S., wants to know if other institutions were considered before the provincial government entered into a $100 million contract with Dalhousie University to administer relief programs to assist individuals and businesses at the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

“I think it’s the management capacity that they (Dalhousie) have, they have numerous faculties that they would be able to draw on in uncertain times. We look at a business school, we look at a legal faculty, we look at a medical faculty. There is a lot of capacity that they had, not knowing what gaps might need to be filled,” said Geoff Gatien, associate deputy minister of the finance department and treasury board .

This comes after auditor general Kim Adair delivered two performance audits concerning the government’s practice of funnelling taxpayers’ money into external agencies that are outside of government control.

Outbreak declared at U of Windsor

Four positive cases have been identified at University of Windsor’s Alumni Hall residence. According to CTV News, the discovery was made after the virus was detected in daily wastewater screening from the building  last Saturday. According to the article, Alumni Hall residents are under modified quarantine, meaning students are asked to access the university’s testing facilities, avoid close contact with others in residence and the community, limit contact outside their residence to essential trips as much as possible and continue to follow other public health measures until the outbreak is rescinded.

St.FX cancels classes

St. Francis Xavier University cancelled classes this past Tuesday due to what appears to be an outbreak of COVID-19. The Cape Breton Post is reporting there are at least 12 positive cases on campus. According to the article, a string of social events that were held on campus are to blame.

“The formal events were closely following public health protocols, proof of vaccination, masking where necessary. We’re clearly looking at if there are indications of non-compliance (in non-formal gatherings) with public health measures, whether proof of vaccination or large parties,” said chief public health officer Robert Strang.

Currently, St.FX does not require its students or staff to be vaccinated.

USask introduces three-dose vaccine policy

True North is reporting that the University of Saskatchewan is requiring its students to have “at least two doses” of COVID-19 vaccine in order to set foot on its campus starting in January, and will require a third dose whenever they’re “eligible.”

The university’s website states, “[…] when you are eligible for your third COVID-19 booster shot, proof of that will be required for you to continue to be considered fully vaccinated.”

Starting Jan. 4, any student who cannot show proof of full vaccination will be deregistered from their courses. According to the article, rapid testing, which was allowed in the fall term, will no longer be accepted.

December 1, 2021

Dalhousie implements vaccine mandate

When the winter term starts at Dalhousie University, all staff and students will be required to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Previously, anyone who didn’t provide that proof had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test twice a week. But, according to the CBC, the university said 80 per cent of the people that policy applies to haven’t been doing that.

“While we have been working through compliance measures to increase this percentage, it is one of several factors that have led us to consider a revised approach to the winter term,” Dalhousie spokesperson Janet Bryson told the media outlet.

“For those who haven’t [registered their vaccination status], the transition to a requirement for proof of full vaccination will start in the coming weeks and continue through the winter term,” she said.

Outbreak declared at Western University residence

On Nov. 27, Western University reported five positive cases of COVID-19 at the Saugeen-Maitland Hall residence. All of the positive cases are students. According to a statement released by the university, there has been no evidence of classroom transmission.

“We want to assure you that the health and safety of our campus community remains our number one priority,” said Chris Alleyne, Western’s associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services. “Western is prepared for this scenario and we are coordinating closely with the [Middlesex-London Health Unit] to ensure students are receiving appropriate care and that proper precautions are being taken to minimize further risk of transmission.”

Organization demands USask rescind its vaccine mandate

Global News is reporting that an organization called the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is threatening legal action if the University of Saskatchewan’s vaccine mandate is not rescinded.

“Our concern with the university’s approach is it’s using one hammer to address all of the concerns,” said JCCF lawyer Andre Memauri. “There are a number of tools that can be used.”

The university has responded to the demands by stating that vaccination is the most effective way to combat COVID-19, and that testing protocols “are not preventive and should only be resorted to when no other option exists,” according to Darcy Marciniuk, chair of the USask Pandemic Response and Recovery Team, in a statement to Global News. He added that staff and students with extenuating circumstances are able to request an accommodation under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

U of Manitoba to resume in-person learning

Starting in the winter team, the University of Manitoba will welcome students and staff back to in-person learning. According to Global News, the university will require all employees and students to be fully vaccinated and upload proof in order to be allowed on campus, and that rapid testing will no longer be available. The article also states that students who do not submit vaccine proof before the winter term starts will be de-registered from courses. Any staff members who don’t show proof will be put on unpaid leave.

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