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COVID-19 updates for July 2020

BY UA/AU | JUL 31 2020

 July 31, 2020

CAUCE conference to continue online, while Congress prepares for multiple scenarios in 2021

Next year’s conference for the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education will take place online. The association confirmed the news in an email this week, stating that it has “made the difficult decision” to cancel the face-to-face conference in Calgary in May 2021 as a result of concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among these concerns are the travel restrictions in place at Canada’s borders and across the country. “Since we are not 100 percent confident that there will be a vaccine within the year, we will hold our conference virtually or as a hybrid model in 2021.”

Soon after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and host campus Western University were forced to abruptly cancel the 2020 edition of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which was set to take place from May 30 to June 5. Despite the Federation’s best efforts to move Congress online, the best they could do in the time they had was prepare a “Virtual Conference Week” featuring four scholarly associations (most years, some 70 associations participate in Congress, Canada’s largest annual scholarly conference).

The organizers for Congress 2021, which will be hosted by the University of Alberta, are starting to get their ducks in a row for next year’s conference and preparing for the possibility that large group events and air travel will still be largely discouraged next spring. To that end, the Federation has created a task force for “Congress contingency planning.” The eight-person panel will meet remotely to conduct a risk assessment, draft recommendations, identify any challenges associated with virtual programming, and find ways to innovate the conference. The group has already started its work and the Federation plans to have an update on program delivery by November.

National ‘exposure notification app’ launches in Ontario

Ontario residents can now download COVID Alert, a mobile app developed by Canadian Digital Service that alerts users when they have been in contact with another user who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact-tracing apps use a mobile device’s Bluetooth capability to emit a personalized, anonymous signal and to register the signals of other users in the vicinity. The app then compares those signals against a database of registered users and sends you a notification if any of those signals have been associated with a case of COVID-19. The federal government refers to COVID Alert as an “exposure notification app,” though it appears to work in similar fashion to contact-tracing apps.

iPolitics reports that while designing the app, the federal government considered concerns raised by Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien, who in May said that “everything hinges on design, and appropriate design depends on respect for certain key privacy principles.”

Additional information about the new app, including what kind of data it does and does not collect, is available on the Government of Ontario website and technical details are available in this blog post by staff at the Canadian Digital Service.

Nova Scotia universities make masks mandatory

Universities in Nova Scotia are joining their counterparts across the country in making face masks mandatory for anyone on campus. The Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents announced the new policies yesterday, less than a week after the province’s chief medical officer required non-medical face masks to be worn in indoor public places. Each university will implement its own policies and guidelines for mask-wearing on campus.

Dalhousie University published its rules yesterday. They stipulate that physical distancing must be practiced even when face masks are worn. Face coverings must be worn by anyone “travelling through or working/studying in any indoor common areas and public spaces including buildings, libraries, food establishments, residences, hallways, stairwells, elevators, and common study areas” and by anyone taking public transportation. They are not required “in areas such as laboratories and classrooms,” though “they can provide an added measure of protection to others while personnel are moving around within these spaces and their use in such circumstances is encouraged where practical.”

Controversial waiver stays put at StFX

Face masks aren’t the only new mandatory measure at St. Francis Xavier University. The university in Antigonish, N.S., has decided to stay the course with a controversial waiver it sent to students earlier this month, which absolves the institution of legal responsibility in the event that a student contracts COVID-19 while attending classes or activities on campus. According to Global News, the waiver asks students “to agree the college isn’t liable for ‘loss, damage, illness, sickness, expense or injury including death’ that students or their next of kin may suffer as a result of COVID-19 risks.”

In a message to the university community, StFX president Andy W. Hakin explained the decision.

“The StFX Board of Governors’ Executive determined that the new Student Community Protocols and the legal waiver remain the best way forward and a necessity in order for the university to welcome students to campus in the fall. It was also recognized that, to date, we’ve engaged in a very open and transparent planning process but that we should have done a better job of engaging students before sending out the waiver. I can understand why students were concerned and why further consideration, including consulting with the Students’ Union, was necessary before confirming a path forward.”

July 29, 2020

Feds publish guidance document for reopening postsecondary institutions

With about a month to go before the start of the fall term, the Government of Canada has published a document to help guide the reopening of postsecondary institutions during the pandemic. The guidance document was jointly developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and provincial governments, with input from local health authorities and public health experts. It touches on a wide range of issues, from strategies for mitigating the risk of an outbreak at a postsecondary institution and for addressing the mental-health needs of staff and students, to how to respond to and recover from an outbreak on campus.

Considering how different one university or college is from the next, coming up with a universal approach to reopening campuses is a challenge. In a nutshell:

“Postsecondary institutions are complex environments, and vary in geographic location, size (both in terms of infrastructure and student population), provision of services, and structure. They also comprise individuals who can vary widely in age, gender, ability, race, ethnicity/culture, and other factors, and may have underlying medical conditions and barriers to wellness. In addition to student instruction, they may also be engaged in activities such as housing staff and students, providing services to faculty, staff and students and the community, research, and hosting academic/social/cultural events and gatherings.”

While each institution will take an approach to reopening that best suits its community, this document from the federal government is a good place to start.

New grads could lose out on more than $25,000 in earnings over next five years: StatCan

Statistics Canada has published an analysis of how pandemic-related unemployment could affect the earning potential of the class of 2020 over the next five years. According to a simulation that the agency ran, new grads could lose out on more than $25,000 in earnings between now and 2025.

The agency notes the unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds has nearly tripled between February and May – May’s rate of 29.4 percent is “the highest monthly rate observed since the data have been tabulated, and even notably higher than during the last three recessions in the early 1980s, early 1990s, and late 2000s.” In short, this year’s graduating class is entering a dire job market, which will likely have a negative impact on their earning potential for the next several years. To gauge this impact, Statistics Canada calculated the potential total losses by simulating unemployment rates ranging from 16 percent to 28 percent. The total of $25,000 was based on an unemployment rate of 27.5 percent (the unemployment rate recorded for June) and on income recorded in the first five years post-graduation for previous cohorts.

The agency also estimated the earning differences between men and women, and between college and university graduates. Each scenario saw steeper decline in income for women. The analysis is available on Statistics Canada’s website.

Deadline extended for Stage 2 applications to Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council announced that the application deadline for Stage 2 of the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund has been extended to August 6. The program, a tri-agency initiative, offers income support for research personnel to help maintain the research enterprise at Canadian universities that have experienced funding challenges due to the pandemic.

 Ontario faculty associations support #SafeSeptember day of action for high schools

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and its member associations participated in a day of action today to call on the provincial government to prioritize a safe reopening of schools this September. In a call to members, OCUFA explained why it would be participating in the #SafeSeptember campaign: “As workers, parents, and educators, many of us have acutely felt the pressures of juggling our work and care responsibilities during the pandemic. We also share the concerns of our colleagues in the secondary system regarding the Ford government’s reckless and poorly-designed plans for reopening schools and campuses.”

Read the official statement of support from the Ontario Universities and Colleges coalition here.

Something nice: How Acadia profs are preparing for September

Each week in July, Acadia University’s community development program has tweeted out a short video from professors in the department saying hello to students and explaining how they’ve been preparing for the upcoming fall term.

In this video, professor Gabrielle Donnelly delivers an open, honest and reassuring message to students (while also giving us some great colour-coded bookshelf inspo).

July 27, 2020

Less than one in 100 blood donations have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies: COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and Canada Blood Services released the findings of their first round of tests on blood donor samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The task force has found that of 10,000 donors samples collected between May 9 and June 8, 2020, less than 1 percent tested positive for antibodies to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – which suggests that less than one percent of these donors were infected with the coronavirus at some point.

“What is clear is that only a small percentage of adult Canadians has been infected by SARS-CoV-2,” Catherine Hankins, task force co-chair, explained. “By far, the majority of us remain vulnerable to infection. We need to ramp up testing and tracing capacity across the country to interrupt any chains of transmission quickly to prevent unchecked spread.”

Co-chair David Naylor added that the results “suggest there are several undetected infections for every case confirmed with swabs and RNA tests,” and that they support public health advice to wear a face covering in public spaces, frequently wash hands and practice physical distancing.

CMAJ News notes that “a population seroprevalence of around one percent is a far cry from the 60 percent to 70 percent considered necessary for herd immunity.” In the CMAJ article, Dr. Hankins also points out that “blood donors are not necessarily representative of the Canadian population since they tend to be young (aged 17-70), healthy, urban, and exclude people in the North.”

The task force and Canada Blood Services will continue testing some 37,800 samples collected across nine provinces this spring. Héma-Québec will analyze 7,000 samples from Quebec. Additional initiatives by the task force will look at SARS-CoV-2 and the impact on pregnant women, Indigenous people and older Canadians, as well as a household study conducted by Statistics Canada.

CFI and federal government commit $230 million to scientific research

Last week, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced $230 million to help cover operating costs at 14 national research facilities through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund. According to CFI, the funding “will further strengthen the facilities’ ongoing research activities and their efforts to combat COVID-19.” Some of the funded projects include:

  • SNOLAB, a lab specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics, is designing a simple ventilator
  • Érudit, an online database of Canadian social sciences and humanities publications, led by Université de Montréal, is offering articles about the pandemic under an open access license
  • CGEn, a national platform for genome sequencing and analysis is leading a COVID-19 host genome sequencing initiative

A full list of funded projects is available here.

The foundation is also looking for peer reviewers to evaluate applications to its Exceptional Opportunities Fund-COVID-19 competition.

Three universities team up on COVID-19 vaccine research

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac are collaborating with scientists at the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University to speed up work on the lab’s COVID-19 vaccine. Alyson Kelvin, a virologist and an assistant professor in pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Dalhousie, is researching respiratory virus infection and vaccination with animal modelling. Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pathogenesis of Emerging and Re-emerging Viruses at U of Manitoba, conducted his doctoral research at VIDO-InterVac.

More on residence move-in plans this fall

The University of New Brunswick has clarified its plans to bring students back to on-campus housing this September. UNB, which will run most courses online, opened residence applications to all students — however not all residences will be open, the CBC reports. Between August 14 and 20, some 56 students self-isolate in Saint John and 30 in Fredericton. During that time, the university will offer online programming and will have nursing staff monitor self-isolating students.

On the other side of the country, the University of Alberta has developed a full-service “isolation accommodation program.” Students, staff and faculty returning to any postsecondary institution in Edmonton can book an all-inclusive isolation stay on the U of A campus. The program includes airport pickup, accommodation in a residence hall, meal delivery, regular check-ins, and access to campus and community health services for a fee of $975.

A student explains why she’s moving back to her university town this fall

If all this news about residence move-in has you wondering why students are moving back to university towns for a term that will run largely online, an undergraduate student in her third year at Western University explains why she’ll be returning to London:

“Being in the city puts me in the mindset to do work. My home is many wonderful things, but it’s not the place I should be this fall. Moving back to London also means reliable internet access — something that my parents’ house has always struggled with. For many, living in a rural area means good internet access is more expensive. I’ve spent many hours this summer sitting in the library parking lot, computer on my lap, rotating the air conditioning on and off to save the car battery, attempting to load my political science lecture. And that’s just for one class, a full course load would be completely unmanageable. … Moving back to my university town means freedom.”

Western, for its part, is preparing for the return to campus by providing a university-branded reusable face mask to each member of the campus community – the university will issue more than 121,000 masks in total.

July 23, 2020

IRCC advises international students not to make travel plans to Canada, while U.S. drops controversial policy that would’ve led to student deportations

Last week we told you about some new temporary measures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that would make it easier for international students to pursue their Canadian study programs online and allow those study hours to be applied towards eligibility for a work permit after graduation. (See July 17 update for details.) Now, IRCC is asking many international students not to come to Canada to study until pandemic-related travel bans have been eased.

The Toronto Star reports that guidelines for Canada’s study permit program were updated this week to advise students whose study permits were approved after the border closure on March 18 that they shouldn’t make plans to travel to Canada and won’t be allowed to enter the country. The update notes that border agents will decide whether a permit-holder’s travel is discretionary or non-discretionary on a case-by-case basis at the point of entry. This also applies to students whose study permits were approved before or on March 18 (these permit-holders had previously been exempted from travel bans). Some of the aspects that border agents will consider include whether or not the traveller is “established, residing and studying in Canada”; if the student is required to be physically present for labs or other aspects of their programs; and if online studies are not possible in the student’s home country because of internet restrictions or bandwidth limits.

The Star notes that some postsecondary institutions, like the University of Saskatchewan, have advised international students who will be travelling to have a letter from the school administration confirming that their presence is required on campus.

In related news from the United States, the Trump administration has changed a controversial policy that would have required international students already in the country to leave or transfer schools if their program was going to be delivered online only this year. The rule would’ve put thousands of students at risk of deportation. Several universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brought lawsuits against the federal government, arguing that the new directive would put student safety at risk and lead to significant financial losses for postsecondary institutions. Immigration authorities dropped the new rule last week.

Student group calls on feds to scrap Canada Student Service Grant and reallocate funds

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is asking the federal government to cancel the Canada Student Service Grant, estimated at around $900 million, and redistribute that money to programs that will directly support postsecondary students. To say that the much-delayed CSSG, which was announced in April as a means to financially support students through the summer, has been mired in controversy would be an understatement – the circumstances leading to the third-party administration of the program by WE are now subject to an ethics investigation and a scandal for the Trudeau government.

“The goal for the Government of Canada should be to get support to students as quickly as possible in an efficient and effective manner. The CSSG is coming too late for students to fully take advantage of the program, so it is time for the government to re-evaluate where best to support students with $900M of existing money,” says Bryn de Chastelain, CASA chair, in a press release.

In a similar vein, the Canadian Federation of Students has teamed up with the Don’t Forget Students campaign to create a petition demanding that the federal government reallocate CSSG funds to expand and extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, and to fill gaps in tuition relief plans. More than 700 people have signed the petition as of Thursday morning.

Universities in Atlantic bubble prepare for residence move-in

Earlier this month, the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador created the Atlantic Provinces Travel Bubble. The bubble allows for residents of these provinces to travel within the Atlantic region without needing to self-isolate for 14 days after crossing a provincial border. Travellers coming from outside the bubble must adhere to the self-isolation period. To help students navigate this rule and start their fall classes on time, postsecondary institutions are asking them to come to campus early.

Mount Allison Univeristy in Sackville, N.B., is starting a staggered move-in for campus residences on August 14, which includes airport shuttles, meal deliveries, sanctioned outdoor activities and virtual orientations programs. (The university has also provided useful tips for students living off campus on how to prepare for the quarantine period.) The Telegraph-Journal and Toronto Star report that the town has agreed to let the institution use a municipal ice rink as a student welcome centre. St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and the University of Moncton are also adapting their move-in schedules to accommodate students’ self-isolation needs. Acadia University in Woflville, N.S., will welcome students back to campus residences from September 2 to 20. The University of Prince Edward Island says it is “working on a plan to support students who will be required to self-isolate for 14 days as they return to PEI.” It will likely have an update as it enters phase three of its re-opening plan on August 3.

Canadian Mennonite University confirms in-person fall semester

This September, Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg will be one of the few postsecondary institutions in Canada to offer an in-person fall term. The university confirmed its plans for both fall and winter terms on July 15.

“CMU will hold on-campus, in-person classes in fall and winter terms 2020-21, with hybrid extensions available through online tools. Hybrid courses include both in-class work (in-person: seminar, discussion, workshop, lecture; and online: synchronous video and pre-recorded lecture materials), and out-of-class work (assignments to be completed, singularly, or in groups).”

Students can request online-only course attendance under specific circumstances. On July 31, the university will post a manual for returning to campus “including a community covenant to which students commit to the health and safety of all.”

Manitoba is also asking for travellers from abroad and from Eastern Canada to self-isolate for 14 days. CMU is offering students free accommodations and meal delivery during their quarantine period.

July 17, 2020

Federal government eases rules for international students studying online

On Tuesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced additional measures, including faster and easier study permit processing, to make it easier for international students to study online with a Canadian postsecondary institution this fall from abroad.

The new measures include:

  • providing priority study-permit processing for students who have submitted a complete application online, to ensure that permits are processed as quickly as possible;
  • allowing students to count the time spent pursuing their studies online abroad toward their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, if they have submitted a study permit application and if at least half of their program is completed in Canada;
  • providing reassurances to international students who cannot submit all of the documentation needed to complete processing of their applications, and who choose to pursue programs through distance learning, by implementing a temporary two-stage approval process.

The minister for IRCC, Marco Mendicino, said the changes will give students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel and health restrictions are eased within Canada and their own home countries. “They mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they need to begin their studies online from overseas this fall,” he said.

These measures are in addition to changes made by IRCC in mid-May easing rules for international study permits. According to the Reuters, Canada issued 30,785 study permits in May to new foreign students, up 11 percent from 27,810 permits in May 2019. IRCC estimates that international students contributed $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supported nearly 170,000 jobs in 2018. Nearly 54,000 people who studied at Canadian institutions as international students became permanent residents in 2018.

Stage 2 of research continuity fund opens

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council announced on Wednesday that Stage 2 of the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund is now open. The federal government announced the creation of the CRCEF on May 15 as part of a suite of temporary financial aid programs to help employers and workers through financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is administered by SSHRC on behalf of the three main federal research granting agencies.

The program, which has a total budget of $450 million, provides wage support to universities and health research institutions to help them retain research-related personnel during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and helps with the costs associated with maintaining essential research during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ramping back up to full research activities as physical distancing measures are eased and research activities can resume.

PISA postponed

An email has been sent to the media, including University Affairs, announcing that OECD member countries have decided to postpone the next two PISA surveys due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will now take the test in 2022, not 2021, and the results will be published in December 2023. The following PISA survey will then be published in 2026, not 2025.

PISA, or the Programme for International Student Assessment, measures 15-year-olds’ abilities in reading, mathematics and science. Many countries rely on PISA results as a guide to how their educational systems are doing relative to other nations. In the latest survey, from 2018, students in Canada scored higher than the OECD average in all three areas.

July 14, 2020

More mandatory mask policies

We reported on July 3 that Brock University apparently became the first university in Canada to mandate the wearing of face coverings within all indoor campus spaces, as of July 1. The policy has now spread (pun intended) to at least a half-dozen other Ontario campuses, including the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University, Western University, Ontario Tech University and Carleton University. In some cases, the universities are responding to local public health authority directives. Some of the universities have also indicated that they will supply university-branded masks for those who don’t have a mask of their own. For instance, York reports that its non-medical mouth and nose coverings are “red in colour with the York logo in white,” and will be available in packs of two to any approved York community member, including staff, faculty, instructors, researchers and students.

Quebec universities will also soon be required to have mandatory mask policies, following the announcement yesterday by Premier François Legault that face coverings will be required in all indoor public spaces across the province beginning Saturday, July 18. “It’s better to wear a mask than to be confined at home,” said the Quebec premier in making the announcement Monday afternoon. “It’s not fun wearing a mask, but it’s essential.” The policy applies to everyone aged 12 and up. Université de Sherbrooke got a jump on the new directive, announcing its own mandatory mask policy on July 9, although that policy wasn’t scheduled to go into effect until August 10.

Several other universities across the country are recommending the wearing of masks, but are not making it obligatory. Emily Carr University of Art & Design, for example, says students will be provided with a non-medical fabric mask and “everyone is asked to wear a mask to protect one another when physical distancing is not possible.”

A liability waiver at StFX

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is requiring all students to sign a liability waiver by August 1, indemnifying the university for any loss or injury resulting from COVID-19. The waiver, sent to students on July 9, reads in part, “I am aware of the COVID-19 risks at StFX and the COVID-19 risks that result from participating in StFX activities, and I freely accept and fully assume all such … risks and the possibility of loss, personal injury, illness, death, damage, and expense resulting therefrom.” Students who do not sign the waiver will have their student account suspended and will be unable to return to campus in September.

Many students have expressed their anger at the new requirement. According to the Chronicle Herald, at least 349 students and staff signed an open letter sent on Monday to StFX president Andrew Hakin, saying they were “appalled and disappointed by the waiver” and that the terms laid out in it are “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

In response to the growing backlash, Dr. Hakin sent a letter to members of the school community in which he wrote, “To be clear, the waiver, by no means, absolves the university of doing everything it can to meet the standards expected by public health. …  The safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as the wider community remains our top priority as we prepare for September.”

The effects of the pandemic on women researchers

Our regular contributor Diane Peters recently reported on the concerns by women researchers that the pandemic is squeezing their research productivity. A recent article by University of Lethbridge researchers in the journal EMBO Reports also chronicles the growing gulf between researchers who are active parents, women in particular, and those who are not. The article, entitled “Parenting researchers — an invisible divide,” was authored by researchers H.J. Wieden and Ute Kothe, along with graduate student Luc Roberts.

“The current structure of the academic system – funding, publishing incentives and career options – disadvantages parents and women in particular,” says Dr. Wieden in an article on the U of Lethbridge website. “The present pandemic deepens the already existing divide between parenting researchers and their peers without such obligations. In the long run, this will negatively affect recruiting and retaining junior researchers and maintaining a diverse talent pool.”

The authors call for a complete overhaul of the academic system as it is currently constructed. “Now is the time to completely rethink the academic system,” they argue. “It is critical that we analyze the effects of the pandemic on parenting researchers and trainees and seize the opportunity to thoroughly revamp the academic system and not simply go back to the old routine once it is over.”

July 8, 2020

COVID cases traced to student-visa holder and students entering P.E.I. may soon quarantine in hotels

Three cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island have been traced back to a man in his 20s who travelled to Canada on a student visa in June. The man flew from the United States to Toronto and on to Halifax, but was ultimately denied entry to Prince Edward Island, where he had intended to study, because he lacked a pre-approval from the province’s Emergency Measures Organization. (It also seems he had yet to enrol with one of the province’s postsecondary institutions.) While in Nova Scotia, however, that student had contact with a P.E.I. resident who ultimately contracted the disease from the international traveller before returning to the island. According to P.E.I.’s public health officer, both of the men either had very mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

On Tuesday, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said the province is looking into booking hotel rooms to house out-of-province and international students during their 14-day self-isolation upon entering the province. The provincial government would pay for the temporary accommodations and work with the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College to stagger the students’ arrivals in 150-person cohorts. According to the Cape Breton Post, 114 returning students have so far applied for entry to P.E.I. and to date, more than 80 have been permitted entry.

An update on face masks

More universities in Ontario are making face masks mandatory for indoor spaces, with the University of Toronto temporarily requiring them as of July 7. The regulation comes shortly after the City of Toronto voted to make masks a requirement for anyone in a public space where physical distancing isn’t possible.

Last month, a group of Canadian scientists and physicians working under the banner Masks4Canada wrote a public letter to federal and provincial authorities to “respectfully request” that they consider mandating face masks in their jurisdictions. The Globe and Mail clarifies that the group doesn’t want a one-size-fits-all approach to masking requirements, but that they should be mandatory “in areas with high population density and where there’s community spread of COVID-19.” The Globe also lists several reasons why many politicians or public health authorities may be weary of such a measure, including how to ensure equitable access to face masks for anyone who needs one, what to do for those who cannot wear a face mask, and how and when they should be worn.

Whatever comes of that appeal from the scientific community, it’s clear that for many of us, face masks are now a part of our daily lives. As temperatures rise around the country, here are some suggestions from David Price, McMaster University’s chair of family medicine, on how to make mask-wearing a more comfortable experience.

An update on course delivery

Hundreds of students in Ontario will return to college and university campuses this month to resume coursework. The students are part of a pilot project the province announced in June to help students in trades, health care and other practical programs who were “stranded” last term when classes shifted online, leaving some without any alternatives for the hands-on learning required by their course of study (see the June 11 update on this page).

Meanwhile, universities continue to solidify their plans for the fall term, with most suggesting it’ll be a hybrid learning – mostly online with some possibility for in-person activities. Redeemer University, for one, announced that it is “preparing for dual-delivery this fall by investing in classroom technology.” Students may opt for remote or in-person learning, with that choice applying to all courses the student takes. The university will provide face masks or other personal protective equipment to students, faculty and staff when it is required. The university announced back in late April that it was planning for in-person, on-campus courses in September (see update posted April 27), so the shift to dual delivery is notable.

At Carleton University, president Benoit-Antoine Bacon noted that the institution is now looking ahead to winter 2021:

“We remain hopeful that it will be possible to welcome some students back to campus in January; however, it seems very unlikely that the pandemic will have fully resolved by then. … Even if public health restrictions are eased such that some face-to-face instruction could resume, many students may not be able – or may not be comfortable – returning to campus. We will need to ensure that winter 2021 courses are developed in a manner that will allow them to be delivered to our students who will be taking them remotely.”

Many universities south of the border, where the pandemic rages on, are making more firm pronouncements about the next winter term. Harvard University recently announced that all courses for 2020-21 will take place online, and a limited number of students will be permitted to move into campus residences.

Trent restarts in-person campus tours

Now that summer is here and Ontario is in the process of reopening, Trent University is once again offering tours of its Peterborough campus to prospective students. The 90-minute tours are pre-booked and capped at eight people. All participants are required to keep an appropriate distance and wear face masks while touring buildings, including the university’s new student centre.

Something nice – a yeehaw for online square dances

Square dance clubs have refused to let the pandemic box them out of their favourite pastime. By dosey doe-ing their dance clubs over to Zoom, they’ve even managed to make some exciting new partnerships with clubs around the world. The University of Calgary published an interview with sociologist Liza McCoy and Barbara Schneider, a professor emerita of communication, media and film at U of C, who are not only documenting the rise of online square dance clubs, but joining in.

July 6, 2020

Classes at U de Sherbrooke to take place outside, in concert venue and religious spaces

Le Devoir reports that about 20 departments at Université de Sherbrooke plan on offering 40-100 percent of their courses in person this fall. In order to fit this number of students in a properly distanced way, the university in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is seeking out non-traditional classroom spaces, including 12 outdoor sites on campus that could hold up to a 100 people each, a campus performance venue, plus four off-campus buildings: a convent, two churches and a cathedral.

McMaster asks landlords to give student renters a break in exchange for free housing listings

As a way of helping students who rent accommodations off campus, McMaster University’s housing and conference services has created Student First Rentals. The program encourages landlords to offer McMaster students flexible lease terms, rent reductions and thorough cleaning arrangements in exchange for a free, two-month premium ad on the university’s housing listing site. More than 20 landlords have already participated in the program.

“We welcome any landlords willing to provide considerate leasing terms which prioritize the health of our students and recognize the financial hardship and uncertainty as a result of COVID-19 to apply, and encourage students looking for properties to consider a Student First Rental,” says housing director Kevin Beatty.

Hundreds call for mandatory masks at UTM

Last week, Brock University apparently became the first university in Canada to require face masks be worn by anyone entering campus buildings. Now, hundreds of people are hoping that the University of Toronto Missisauga will follow Brock’s lead. More than 300 people have signed a petition created by UTM PhD student Rebecca Rook, who’s asking the university to “take steps to ensure our health and safety as we begin the process of reopening the university” by making face masks and physical distancing mandatory for anyone working on campus.

Ms. Rook told the CBC that she created the petition after returning to campus a few days a week following Ontario’s Phase 1 reopening and noting that “it doesn’t seem to be running very differently compared to pre-pandemic.”

July 3, 2020

A quick note from the editorial staff at University Affairs before jumping into our first COVID-19 update for July: since March 12, UA has been publishing updates on the pandemic and the Canadian higher-ed sector nearly every day. Starting this month, we’ll be taking a more flexible approach to publishing these updates, with the aim of posting three times a week to this page. Thank you for your continued readership – and if there’s anything we’ve missed, please let us know by emailing nsamson@univcan.ca.

Controversy erupts – and quickly flames out – around student volunteer platform

The long-awaited Canada Student Service Grant has been mired in controversy pretty much since it was officially launched by the federal government on June 25. The program, which includes a one-time grant between $1,000 and $5,000 as well as a platform called I Want to Help, is intended to connect postsecondary students and recent graduates with volunteer opportunities in the not-for-profit sector during the pandemic. It turns out the federal government awarded the contract to administer the grant program to WE Charity, a non-profit that counts both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as volunteers and supporters. NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus told the Globe and Mail that the decision to outsource managing more than $900 million in federal funds to WE “stinks of cronyism” and he worried that the charity would not be subject to federal Access to Information policies. After a few days of intense criticism, the government announced today that it has pulled out of the contract with WE.

Antibody testing to start this summer

The federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force will soon reach a new milestone. The task force, co-led by David Naylor, a professor of medicine emeritus and former president of the University of Toronto, and Catherine Hankins, a professor of public and population health at McGill University, was struck in April with the goal of connecting experts in academia and public health to undertake a large blood-testing program to better understand COVID-19 immunity. Late last month, Canadian Blood Services told the Toronto Star that it had been saving samples from blood donations over the past several months and that it would begin testing them for COVID-19 antibodies in the coming weeks.

“The antibody tests don’t show whether someone has COVID-19, like the nasal swab tests. They instead show whether someone has had it in the past and recovered. Canadian Blood Services will also test donors going forward, to help the task force get to the goal of at least 1 million samples. Héma-Québec, the non-profit that supplies blood in Quebec, will also support the project, a spokesperson confirmed.”

The testing will contribute to research being carried out by the Immunity Task Force over the next two years.

Masks mandatory on Brock campus

Brock University got the jump on Canada’s most populous city this week by announcing on Monday that masks would be mandatory for anyone entering campus buildings as of July 1. Employees working in single-occupancy offices won’t be required to keep the face coverings on, though they will be required when keeping two metres of physical space between individuals is not possible. The university will provide masks at no cost. (The university decision may have pre-empted a municipal bylaw – St. Catharines city council will meet on Monday to vote on a mandatory mask measure.)

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