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COVID-19 updates for February 2021

BY UA/AU | FEB 28 2021

February 24, 2021

More universities announce fall plans

McGill University will return to on-campus teaching this fall. In a statement posted to its website yesterday, the university said that while some courses will continue to use components of online teaching, “students and teaching staff should plan for a return to more regular rhythms of on-campus academic activity by September.” The university will open campus residences and all eligible first-year students will be guaranteed accommodations. “We will likewise continue to develop plans for a progressive return to on-campus work for administrative and support staff, with the goal of achieving a regular presence by September 2021.”

At nearby Concordia University, spring and summer sessions will continue online, and it’s planning for an announcement about fall term in May. At the moment, the university is considering a blended learning approach.

The University of Alberta aims to “welcome a significantly increased number of our university community members back to our campuses this autumn” by relying predominantly on a blended model. The university will follow the most recent updated provincial health orders to determine class sizes. In recognition that these orders will continue to change as the province continues its vaccine rollout and infection rates fluctuate, U of A has pushed its fall registration period to May in the hopes that course schedules and formats will be finalized by late April.

In New Brunswick, St. Thomas University is planning a blended model of online and in-person learning for fall 2021. It will make a final announcement between May and June. In an article published by The Aquinian, STU’s student press, the university noted that it has spent $600,000 on remote-learning technologies that allow the institution to keep its options open.

Feds fund COVID-19 research in prison populations

The federal government has pledged nearly $1.2 million to help fund four studies of incarcerated peoples and correctional service employees in Canada and their rates of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The studies are funded through the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and involve federal institutions across the country as well as prisons in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec. In a press release, Theresa Tam said “COVID-19 outbreaks in correctional facilities have significant impacts on incarcerated individuals and staff. These studies will help us develop more effective strategies to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus within these facilities.”

Study participation is voluntary, and participants will be able to access confidential serological test results. Researchers will test participants several times over the course of the study period. “Understanding how antibody levels change over time is a first step to understanding the risk of re-infection,” said Correctional Service Canada study lead researcher Michael Martin, who is also acting director of epidemiology.

The provincial component of the studies will be particularly significant to prevention and treatment plans. “Daily movement of staff in and out of correctional facilities can introduce SARS-CoV-2 infection inside, and contribute to transmission outside,” said Nadine Kronfli from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, principal investigator of the Quebec provincial prisons study. “It is important for us to focus on both populations to inform public health policy recommendations.”

N.B. universities call on province for emergency support

The University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University have asked the province for $10.6 million over and above the funding the province typically provides to postsecondary institutions. The request comes as these institutions claim enrolment losses due to the pandemic. When asked about the request on a CBC Radio panel, Trevor Holder, New Brunswick’s minister of postsecondary education and training, said that he’s “not in a position today to say one way or the other whether I have $10 million to give the universities.” He added that the request would be considered just as any other budget ask from any sector. “The whole world’s in an emergency right now,” Mr. Holder said. “We’re all facing challenges with COVID and the government of New Brunswick is no different.”

Ontario Tech U jointly hosts COVID clinic

Ontario Tech University has partnered with Durham College, the Regional Municipality of Durham and Durham Region Public Health to host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The clinic will operate out of the Campus Ice Centre, which is located at Ontario Tech U and Durham College.

February 22, 2021

B.C. allows postsecondary institutions to run COVID-related deficits

Earlier this month, the Government of British Columbia said several postsecondary institutions would be exempted from the province’s balanced-budget rule. Twenty of the province’s colleges and universities are facing deficits for this academic year, and 17 are also projecting losses for next year. The deficits total $178.9 million for 2020-21. For 2021-22, the total is $75.2 million in deficit financing, reports Victoria News. Postsecondary institutions are seeing a decline in revenue that can be directly tied to the pandemic – with campuses closed and international travel restricted, there has been a loss of income from ancillary services and international student fees, even as the costs for health and safety planning and online learning technologies rise. 

B.C. partners with research coalition for data on COVID in rural areas

In another announcement from the province last week, B.C.’s Ministry of Health has funded a number of COVID-related research projects through the Interior University Research Coalition.

A total funding envelope of $150,000 will support five projects being carried out collaboratively by researchers at Thompson Rivers University, the University of British Columbia Okanagan and the University of Northern British Columbia. According to the UBC Okanagan news site, the projects being funded will cover a range of areas, “from identifying the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to developing telehealth programs that will engage older adults outside urban centres. Other projects include a focus on improving the lifespan of N95 masks, as well building a better understanding of whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health-care practitioners.”

In an interview with the CBC, Kathy Lewis, UNBC’s acting vice-president of research, said that these institutions are perfectly situated to be advising the province on health policy and program development. “Our researchers live amongst everybody else [in the same region]. They do have a better understanding because they have the experience,” she said. She also noted that the coalition expects to make some research findings available within the year.

A full list of the funded projects, and the researchers leading them, has been posted to the UNBC website. 

Universities supporting COVID-19 projects in Indigenous communities

Researchers at the University of Manitoba have developed a mobile app that enables Indigenous communities a hub for maintaining health-related information.

“The COVID-19 Indigenous app (available on iOS and Android) has been designed to be easily adapted to the diverse needs and priorities of individual communities while adhering to the principles of data sovereignty and community ownership, control, access and possession of information. No one outside of any given community will have access to these data without their express permission.”

The app was developed to be used by health officers in and community leaders as they roll out their COVID-19 response plans. It was funded through a COVID Rapid Response grant offered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

At the University of Saskatchewan, researchers are working with local Indigenous communities and the City of Saskatoon to collect and analyze wastewater for the presence of COVID-19. A team at U of S has received $137,392 from the Public Health Agency of Canada for a six-month COVID-19 wastewater surveillance project located in Saskatoon and at five First Nations communities in the province. The goal is to detect early signs of an outbreak.

Kerry McPhedran, an engineering researcher with the project, noted that the team’s approach differs from some other wastewater surveillance because it “can detect the virus from the feces of both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. Identifying the presence of asymptomatic cases is very useful since many people without symptoms are not tested for the virus.

The researchers have partnered with the Indigenous Technical Services Co-operative, which includes five First Nations Tribal Councils (Agency Chiefs Tribal Council, File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, Saskatoon Tribal Council, Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, and Yorkton Tribal Council).

Queen’s defers student centre reno, suspends fee increase – as students across Canada protest higher-ed

Queen’s University has decided to delay the renovation of its student centre for a year, partly due to challenges posed by the pandemic. The deferral allows the institution to also suspend a planned increase to a building fee it has been charging undergraduate students that funds the construction. Student will ultimately pay for $50.5 million of the $62.3-million project.

In a press release, Alma Mater Society president Jared den Otter said that his committee agreed to the delay due in part to financial concerns raised by students. “Many students were concerned about an increase in fees being introduced in such a period of uncertainty,” he said. “Deferring the introduction of additional fees until September 2022, and reducing overall risks to the project, is welcome news.”

Restoration of the John Deutsch University Centre is now slated to start in May 2022. The fee increase will come into effect in September 2022.

While students at Queen’s are getting a small and temporary financial reprieve, others at institutions around the country are making their financial frustrations known. An article published by the Globe and Mail details some of the pushback that students have raised against tuition and fee increases, as well as what they see as inconsistent and ineffective teaching formats, during the pandemic. The story mentions the “Don’t Freeze our Future” protest that students took to Alberta’s legislature, protests against online proctoring services, and a number of petitions that have circulated among various student bodies demanding tuition cuts.

More tales of partying students have officials worried in lead-up to St. Pat’s

Over the weekend, RCMP on campus at the University of British Columbia issued several tickets to students at social gatherings that contravened COVID-19 health orders. The police force says four fines totalled $5,000.

Meanwhile, officials in the Kitchener-Waterloo region – home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University – are raising the alarm about annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. According to the CBC, thousands of people attend informal festivities on Ezra Avenue near the U of Waterloo campus. The party attracted 33,000 revellers in 2019, though no crowds were reported on St. Patrick’s Day last year, which coincided with the first COVID-19 lockdown in Ontario. Still, Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky is keeping an eye on March 17, especially in light of a party-related outbreak that occurred at nearby University of Guelph last month. The city has continued to work with U of Waterloo and emergency services to plan for any possibility.

Laurier to resume some in-person operations today

With Ontario’s stay-at-home restrictions relaxed in many regions of the province, Wilfrid Laurier University will resume some on-campus business as of February 22. With reading week over, some courses will return to the classroom, and students will now be able to book a limited number of study spaces on campus. Dining and athletic facilities will also reopen.

February 17, 2021

USask-developed COVID vaccine starts human trials in Halifax

Researchers have begun human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan. Volunteers received an initial dose of COVAC-2 last week through the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax. The center says the placebo-controlled study will administer two doses to each volunteer, 28 days apart.

According to a CBC report, COVAC-2 is the first of two subunit vaccines by VIDO to begin clinical testing. “Subunit vaccines contain purified viral proteins that are not infectious, and employ technology already used in vaccines for hepatitis, diphtheria and whooping cough,” the broadcaster explains.

Researchers to study student transmission of COVID at Queen’s

Researchers at Queen’s University are looking at the student population’s rate of transmission and immunity to the coronavirus causing COVID-19. The team is recruiting participants among the university’s health sciences students who are attending classes in person. The project aims to test 500 asymptomatic students for COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibodies. Participants will provide three samples over eight months.

Principal investigator Anne Ellis says the project has two primary goals: “First, we want to identify carriers of the virus with no symptoms to determine the prevalence of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection among these students. Second, we will evaluate antibody levels for any change from negative to positive or vice versa over the eight-month period to see whether it can be linked to immunity.”

The researchers will also use questionnaires to evaluate changes to students’ mental health as they proceed through the study.

Feds expand post-graduate work permit to students completing programs online

Last week, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced changes to a work permit program for international students who graduate from Canadian postsecondary institutions. The new rules will extend Post-Graduate Work Permit eligibility to international students who complete their full postsecondary program online. The federal government issued a press release about the changes it’s made to the PGWP program:

“With the prospect of many international students continuing online learning from abroad for several more months, temporary changes to the [Post-Graduate Work Permit] Program put in place earlier in the pandemic are being extended and expanded. These measures will assist international students by ensuring that studies completed outside Canada will count towards a future PGWP, and by allowing international students to complete their entire program online from abroad and still be eligible for a PGWP.”

Last year, the government had expanded work-permit criteria to accommodate online learners during the pandemic on a temporary basis. The PGWP program previously required international students to have some degree of in-person learning experience in Canada.

February 10, 2021

Universities encourage students to stay put over reading week ahead of gradual return to in-person instruction

It’s winter reading week season once again. But this year, universities are asking students to stay put to help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 throughout their communities.

The University of Guelph is asking students living on campus to stay in residence over the break. Anyone living in residence who travels over the week will be required to report their departure and return dates to housing staff and self-isolate for two weeks upon their return. Students who feel sick while outside residence are also asked not to return to residence until after a two-week isolation period elsewhere. U of G has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak in student housing since January 21. As of yesterday, the university reported a total of 67 cases related to the outbreak, with 62 of those cases now resolved.

Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo and Queen’s University are both reminding students and staff that various levels of government are strongly advising against non-essential travel. While post-travel isolation is mandatory at U of G, it’s highly recommended at U of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. The latter has also asked students who will be travelling to consider limiting their contacts for 10 to 14 days before leaving campus.

In Nova Scotia, chief medical officer of health Robert Stang has made a similar plea to university students. “If you’re considering travel plans, I ask that you stay in the province during this time,” he said during a briefing last Friday. Anyone who travels outside of the province must quarantine for two weeks once they’ve returned. (Yesterday, N.S. extended this mandatory order to those travelling from Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that was previously exempt from quarantine.)

Several Ontario universities are also asking students to limit their travel to ensure that the institutions can move forward with plans to offer some in-person learning at the end of the month. With the province-wide lockdown scheduled to end in many regions by next week, several universities, such as U of Waterloo and Western University, are preparing to resume a small number of face-to-face teaching and learning activities the week of February 22.

A return to residence at Western as UBC launches rapid-testing pilot in campus housing

At the end of the fall term, Western University shut down residence buildings and delayed residence move-in for the winter term to February. Students will return to campus housing this week with scheduled move-in times to allow the university to minimize the number of people in campus housing. Ahead of move-in, Western has informed residents that the expectations around health and safety measures will be much higher this term.

The Western Gazette reports that director of housing Melissa White has strongly encouraged students to get tested for COVID-19 at a campus clinic before moving in. Students who opt to be tested have to self-isolate for 24 hours in their rooms and must wear a wristband until February 22. “Students returning to residence will be coming from all corners of the province and country, which all have varying rates of [COVID-19] prevalence,” she said. “[The] testing will provide you a sense of security that you have not been infected while you were away and also to your fellow students a sense of safety.”

St. Francis Xavier University ran a wristeband program at the start of the fall term. Green wristbands signaled that a person coming from outside the Atlantic Bubble had finished their self-isolation period and they’d agreed to follow the university’s student community protocols. St. FX said the program, which ended on October 1, was a “resounding success with nearly 100 percent compliance!”

On the other side of the country, the University of British Columbia has started a pilot project to offer rapid COVID-19 testing to students living on campus. The tests are being administered by nursing students under the supervision of a nurse-instructor, and are available to any student or staff member who lives and works in first-year residence buildings. To encourage participation, the university is offering incentives like prizes and free food. Participants who test positive will be provided with free campus accommodations for self-isolation.

The trial is part of a study looking at COVID-mitigation strategies among young people living in communal housing and participants will be asked to get tested one to three times each week until April 8. Researchers expect the UBC testing clinic will be able to handle 222 tests a day.

Memorial changes course as COVID cases rise in NL

Memorial University has reversed course on its full return to in-person work as Newfoundland and Labrador faces a rising COVID case count. In a message posted online yesterday, the university said it would be implementing a “circuit breaker” approach to help slow the spread of the virus around St. John’s.

“Memorial is transitioning to a fully remote teaching, learning and work environment at the St. John’s, Signal Hill and Marine Institute campuses. This change is in effect from Feb. 10-23. The university will continue to monitor the situation and will communicate any changes to this plan in advance.”

Most staff have been asked to work remotely, if possible. Some essential employees may continue to work on campus with prior approval, and faculty members can still access their campus offices. The university clarified that research activities will only be permitted to continue after they’ve been approved under the processes set out by the COVID-19 Research Working Group.

Fall brings return to campus at U of Lethbridge

The University of Lethbridge is planning “a significant return to campus” for fall 2021. The Alberta university announced its plans yesterday, with president Mike Mahon praising the community for its patience and flexibility.

“We acknowledge the past year has been tough on our campus community. I am so proud of the resiliency our community has shown during this time and excited about the prospect of seeing the lively, energetic campus atmosphere we’ve all missed so much. It will be great for our students to begin to once again experience the social and academic benefits a more traditional in-person setting offers.”

The group tasked with planning the return to the classroom will also be looking into increasing the number of face-to-face and blended “labs, seminars, student services, work-integrated learning opportunities and on-campus events.”

The summer term will largely take place online as previously planned.

February 8, 2021

Quebec’s gradual return to campus starts today

Quebec has given postsecondary institutions the green light to reopen campuses. The province announced last week that universities and CEGEPs could gradually return to in-person instruction one day a week, starting today. The sector’s reaction to the decision has been mixed. Several people have been critical about the late notice given by the province, the pressure that this puts on instructors to quickly pivot teaching modalities and manage classroom sizes – all while new variants of the coronavirus sweep the country. Still others, particularly students, are happy for the opportunity to break the isolation that many have felt throughout this socially distant year.

In a press conference, Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann said that student mental health was a primary factor in the province’s decision. “What we want here is to break isolation that several students say they are suffering from. We’re looking for a balance between the protection of physical health and maintaining good mental health for the student population,” she said. Ms. McCann added that this should not be seen as a return to normal. “It’s not a presence on campus like we saw during normal times – it’s a first step.”

The number of students permitted in class varies depending on the region and the public health advisories in that area. Classes in red zones, for example, will be capped at 50 percent capacity. The province requires that physical distancing measures be respected both in and out of class, and that students and staff wear government-issued face masks at all times.

Pandemic spurs interest in nursing programs

The spotlight that that the pandemic has put on health-care professionals has led to a rise in applications to university health-care programs, the Toronto Star reports. According to the article, nursing programs at Ontario universities have been especially popular, with applications up by 73 percent for the 2021-22 academic year. Other programs that have seen a boost in applications include biological and biomedical sciences, and psychology. Higher-ed researcher Glen Jones says the pandemic has swayed how future students are planning their postsecondary careers. “We are talking about daily media conversations about the tremendous importance of health care … and the importance of these fields are resonating with young people who are trying to make decisions of where to go next,” he told the Star.

The increased interest in nursing is a boon as many health regions face a nursing shortage. The problem has become so critical in Quebec that the province recently introduced a financial incentive to get student nurses into the workplace. In January, the province launched scholarships for Quebec students pursing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Eligible full-time students can receive up to $13,500, and part-time students up to $6,750, for committing to full-time work in the province’s health and social services network between Jan. 17 and May 8, 2021. Participants must resume their studies the following school year.

Tri-council agencies to fund research on vaccine confidence, COVID-19 variants

Vaccine hesitancy

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) will soon launch $2.25-million funding to promote vaccine confidence in Canada. The agencies say the new funding is “targeted at Canadian non-profit organizations, non-federal museums and science centres, and academic institutions with a strong track record of science and/or health promotion. Researchers with an expertise in combating vaccine-related misinformation may apply, either individually or in collaboration with science and/or health promotion organizations. Proposed activities should address one of the following two themes: 1) Delivering vaccine-safety information to key communities and groups, or 2) Building capacity in the community to promote vaccine confidence.”

The competition will open in early March. Researchers can apply for up to $50,000 a year.

(In a similar vein, the City of Toronto announced $6.8 million to launch the Black Community COVID Response Plan, the cornerstone of which is the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity, which will address vaccine hesitancy and other challenges around vaccine equity in Toronto.)

COVID-19 variants

CIHR will soon launch a new campaign to encourage original research on COVID-19 variants. Between now and the end of March 2021, CIHR will make funding available through a rapid research response to address SARS-CoV-2 variants, prioritizing the “biological characterization of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants to inform clinical management and evolving public health initiatives, and to provide critical, time-sensitive understanding of emerging variants to inform therapeutic and public health strategies.” This forthcoming rapid research fund aims to offer real-time assessments and guidance to decision-makers on issues like drug therapies, vaccine effectiveness and public health.

The agency says it will distribute $25 million through three new linked initiatives.

February 3, 2021

Universities’ summer plans: primarily online

Universities are starting to announce their plans for the spring and summer sessions, and it appears most will be continuing with primarily online instruction.

Moving east to west, Dalhousie University announced last Friday that the spring and summer terms “will be much like the fall and winter: largely online, with in-person instruction focused mostly on accreditation needs and experiential learning.” As for the fall, class-size restrictions may keep larger lecture classes online, “but our hope is that many tutorials, labs, and small-to-medium-sized classes (less than 100 students) will be able to be offered safely in person.”

Mount Saint Vincent University president Mary Bluechardt announced on Monday that, following consultation with members of the university community, a motion was approved at senate to continue with primarily online course delivery for summer 2021.

Likewise, at Carleton University, president Benoit-Antoine Bacon announced yesterday that the summer term will be held mostly online, although “we anticipate that some on-campus learning may be possible depending on public health developments.” Looking further ahead to fall 2021, “we will need a clearer idea of the progress of vaccination programs before we can make informed decisions,” Dr. Bacon said.

The Varsity student newspaper reports that the University of Toronto is expected to deliver courses mostly online this summer. In an email to the newspaper, a U of T spokesperson wrote that “based on current public health restrictions, we expect summer 2021 to look much like winter 2021.”

In a message to the community last Friday, University of Windsor president Rob Gordon said that, given the continued public health risks posed by COVID-19, the summer/intersession terms will be offered primarily remotely and online. However, as has been the case with the winter semester, “in-person courses may be available in some programs where current health guidelines allow and learning outcomes require it.” He additionally noted that with vaccination programs expanding their reach in the coming months, “we are planning a safe and measured return to face-to-face programming and on-campus activities in fall 2021.”

It’s a similar message at the University of Alberta. Given the current public health environment, the university says, “the safest approach for our community” during the spring and summer is to continue with to primarily offer courses remotely. However, “we will prioritize in-person learning where it is essential for program completion or progression.”

Limited return to campuses in Quebec?

As we reported in Monday’s update, the Quebec government is hinting that students may soon be able to return to classes. Yesterday, Quebec premier François Legault added to the speculation, saying university and CEGEP students should be able to return to in-person classes “at least once a week,” reports Le Devoir (in French). “It is time, at some point, for young people to be able to see their friends, see their teachers and have some social activity,” said the premier, adding that online learning has been “difficult for mental health.” Further details are expected to be unveiled within the next few days by higher education minister Danielle McCann.

UBC students behaving badly

According to the Vancouver Sun, the RCMP is looking into reports of large nighttime gatherings of University of British Columbia students on Wreck Beach, which is located a short, steep walk down from some campus residences. UBC’s director of university affairs, Matthew Ramsey, said the university expects staff, students and faculty to follow provincial health restrictions, which currently ban social gatherings of any size, even outdoors.

Also at UBC, there was controversy at the Peter A. Allard School of Law over a list of “rule breakers” that had been compiled by a group of students at the law faculty, which they apparently had planned to share publicly. According to a letter addressing the controversy, distributed by the law school’s career services office, “Any students involved in creating such a list are asked to immediately delete and destroy it and refrain from otherwise sharing the information … While it is absolutely frustrating to see people skirt public health orders, public shaming of this nature is completely inappropriate and unlikely to lead to increased accountability or change in behaviour.”

February 1, 2021

COVID cases on campus

Last week, a staff member at McMaster University tested positive for COVID-19. That person was last on campus at the McMaster Innovation Park on January 25.

The University of Calgary COVID dashboard reports three cases on campus in the last 14 days.

As of Friday, the outbreak at the University of Guelph has grown to 61 confirmed cases. The outbreak has been linked to parties in student residences in mid-January. Most of the positive cases involve domestic students who are taking classes online. To prevent further spread of the virus, COVID-positive students have been moved to a single residence. An additional 200 students are self-isolating in campus residences, which currently house more than 800 student residents. The university’s student affairs team checks in on self-isolating students daily. As a result of the outbreak, U of Guelph says it has strengthened “measures, monitoring and enforcement to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 on campus.” Some of these changes include new security cameras and an increased presence for campus security at student residence halls.

Student housing and COVID protocol enforcement

U of Guelph isn’t the first university in Canada to face an outbreak in student housing. And a recent story published by The Varsity, the student newspaper at the University of Toronto, leaves the impression that it won’t be the last Canadian university to deal with this problem if COVID-related protocols aren’t consistently applied on campuses. The article reports on the different approaches that U of T’s colleges are taking in their enforcement of health and safety measures in their student housing buildings and suggests that each one has issued its own interpretations of government health orders. It finds that, “U of T’s COVID-19 residence policies are largely decentralized, with colleges mostly deciding which measures to implement and how they will be enforced. This has left the seven individual protocols at U of T a patchwork of different measures.”

U of T’s COVID dashboard currently reports three cases of COVID-19 that were in contact with the St. George campus at some point, and six total cases involving U of T community members.

SSHRC announced winners of PEG COVID-19 Special Initiative program

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has revealed the latest recipients of funding for COVID-19 research through a special grant initiative. The special fund, folded into SSHRC’s existing Partnership Engage Grants program, was created last spring to support two competitions. This second and final round has awarded more than $2.5 million to 111 projects. SSHRC reports that the PEG COVID-19 Special Initiative has awarded more than $7.1 million in funding to nearly 300 research projects.

One of the projects approved in this round of funding will examine how children and youth across Canada view the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected their well-being. The work will be conducted through a partnership between Brock University researcher Heather Ramey, Heather Lawford at Bishop’s University, UNICEF Canada and the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement at the Students Commission of Canada. A full list of the latest competition winners and descriptions of their projects can be viewed on the SSHRC website.

Quebec minister hints at a return to campuses after provincial lockdown ends

Danielle McCann, Quebec’s minister for postsecondary education, says that after much consultation with public health, education stakeholders and students, the government will soon have news about a return to in-person learning for the postsecondary sector. The minister hinted at a return to campus during an interview conducted in French with newspaper Le Soleil that also touched on the topics of student and instructor mental health and vaccination. She said it’s possible that the government will take a regional approach to campus re-openings following the rollback of the province-wide restrictions after February 8. Read the full interview at Le Soleil.

CBU goes back to campus

One institution that’s already transitioning back to campus is Cape Breton University. Faculty, staff and students have started their return to the Nova Scotia school this week. Classes will continue to be held remotely until the spring term, but the university decided to slowly re-open campus to its community members to ease them back into in-person learning, which is slated to resume in May. Tanya Brann-Barrett, CBU’s associate vice-president, academic and research, told the CBC that the university doesn’t expect faculty and staff to “pull all of that [remote work] up and move it onto campus. The last thing we want to do is cause that kind of disruption in the middle of a semester.” But the university is encouraging staff to be on campus for at least part of the day “by doing things like keeping virtual office hours while at the university, or working in their labs.”

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