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COVID-19: updates for November 2021

BY TARA SIEBARTH | NOV 30 2021

November 24, 2021

USask will bring back in-person lectures of 200 or more students

The University of Saskatchewan is announcing more in-person instruction for the winter team, according to the Star Phoenix. Thirty classes of more than 200 students each are “on deck” for the winter term, including “a very isolated few” in the 400 to 500 range, said university deputy provost Patti McDougall during an update from the university. The article also stated that the university plans to monitor the situation for the first few weeks of the winter term before moving to add any more in-person activity or reduce restrictions any further.

Unvaccinated Ryerson students will not receive winter timetables

Global News is reporting that any Ryerson University student who is unvaccinated or has not yet declared their vaccination status will not receive their winter timetables or be able to add courses. The article also stated that all undergraduate, graduate and law students who remain “non-compliant” by Dec. 15 will be removed from any in-person courses next semester and “may lose access to key Ryerson systems.” This is according to the school’s updated policy.

UBC prof receives award for work on Pfizer vaccine

Pieter Cullis, a University of British Columbia professor and co-founder of Acuitas Therapeutics, has been named a co-winner of the 2021 Prince Mahidol Award for medicine for his work on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. According to the Globe and Mail, the US$100,000 award is one of the first high-profile international science prizes to acknowledge the pioneers behind mRNA vaccines. Dr. Cullis is sharing the prize with Katalin Kariko, the senior vice-president at BioNTech, based in Mainz, Germany, and Drew Weissman, the director of vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cullis’s research helped vaccine-makers encase the fragile RNA molecules inside a lipid bubble, or “nanoparticle,” which protects RNA from degradation and allows it to penetrate cells. The system is essential for the vaccines to work, the article stated.

New OUSA survey reveals students dislike online learning

The Toronto Star is reporting that the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance has conducted a survey of 5,700 undergraduate students and found that many respondents were not happy with online learning. The article stated that fewer interactions and less personal connections were listed as concerns, and students were finding it “not motivating, not engaging or hard to focus.”

OUSA said communication with students must be improved, and the province also needs to do a better job giving schools COVID-19 guidance. It also said that while remote learning can be of benefit to students with disabilities, many “have not had their access needs and accommodations met or respected during online learning” and called for improved supports and course quality.

The article stated that the organization is asking for free, rapid testing to be widely available on campuses to keep students safe, and that the government boost money and supports for mental health after the pandemic. They are also asking that the province take into account the economic impact of COVID-19 on the ability of students and their parents to work  when calculating student loans, and offer a tuition rebate if campuses close down and full online learning returns.

November 17, 2021

Yukon U announces vaccine mandate

Yukon University says that all students, employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated at all 13 of its campuses. In addition, all students and visitors will need to be fully vaccinated to attend the Ayamdigut campus in person. That’s according to a news release from the university. The new rules take effect Feb. 18, meaning that anyone who is unvaccinated will need to get their first vaccine dose by Dec. 10, and their second by Feb. The university said it was taking the measures for the “continued health and safety of students, employees and visitors.”

U of Winnipeg releases more details on winter term

Jan Stewart, interim provost and vice-president, academic at the University of Winnipeg, has released a statement with more information detailing what the winter term will look like at the institution. It says approximately 70 per cent of classes will be delivered in person. Vaccine and mask mandates will remain in place, and access to campus will remain limited to anyone for “teaching, learning, research, work, and other specifically authorized purposes. Building access will continue to be controlled at designated points. Entry will be granted only to those who have a green ‘campus access’ sticker, which indicates proof of full vaccination.”

U of Windsor to co-host discussion panel on vaccine hesitancy

The University of Windsor and St. Clair College are planning to hold an online discussion panel on vaccine hesitancy among young adults in the region. That’s according to an article in the Windsor Star, which says that residents aged 18 to 24 are the least vaccinated age group locally. The student-led initiative, which will be accompanied by a social media campaign, “is meant to provide educated answers to questions young adults may have about COVID-19 vaccination,” the article said. Anyone in the community can take part in the event.

U of Toronto joins ‘post-COVID alliance’

The Universities of Toronto, Manchester and Melbourne are setting up a “post-COVID alliance” to encourage more student exchanges and joint research projects, according to a press release. The move will take advantage of “new ways of studying, working and collaborating that have emerged during the pandemic” to allow more collaboration. Together the three institutions, which boast 187,000 students and 45,000 staff, will offer opportunities at the graduate level and will enable researchers to access “specialist facilities” and joint programs in areas such as “environmental sustainability, cancer treatment and advanced materials.”

University Health Network vaccine mandate is a matter for arbitration, court rules

An Ontario court has dissolved an interim injunction that kept several workers in Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) from being terminated for their vaccination status. That’s according to an article in the Law Times. The UHN announced its vaccine mandate in August, in line with provincial guidelines for high-risk settings. Employees had until Oct. 22 to be fully vaccinated or face termination. A day before the deadline, six unvaccinated workers “served an urgent court motion seeking injunctive relief to stay their terminations,” the article stated. That led to the interim injunction, which the Ontario Superior Court has now dissolved, saying the dispute should be a matter for arbitration, not civil action.

November 10, 2021

81% of university students feel optimistic, despite pandemic

According to a survey conducted by Maclean’s over the summer, many university students feel equipped to deal with their problems some or most of the time. Of the 19,000 students surveyed, 79 per cent reported feeling optimistic about their future, and 68 per cent said they felt productive some or most of the time. But the article also said students don’t uniformly feel positive right now. An equivalent number of students feel lonely (69 per cent), anxious (77 per cent), and worried about their health (63 per cent) or the health of their loved ones (79 per cent). It is also important to note that the survey does not capture students who haven’t been able to make it to a postsecondary institution or those who didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to fill out a survey. But still, the article said, it does suggest that thousands of young people seem to be doing OK right now.

USask student evicted for not receiving vaccine

A University of Saskatchewan student says that his religion does not allow him to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and this has resulted in him being evicted from his campus residence. The student, Jimmy Ding, has been staying at St. Andrew’s College while pursuing a degree in geological engineering. CTV News reports that the principal of St. Andrew’s College, Richard Manley-Tannis, said the living space at the college is communal with a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms, and because of the building’s age, it has no ventilation system.

“It became clear that a significant amount of the current residents were not comfortable with having somebody unvaccinated, even with rapid testing in place, and owing to the context of the building,” he said.

Mr. Ding has since been in contact with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) about his eviction. USask is currently working with him to try and find alternate accommodations. However, starting Jan. 4, 2022, anyone accessing the USask campus will be required to show proof of double vaccination.

VIDO receives $6 million for vaccine research

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has awarded $6 million to the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan. CTV News is reporting that the money will be used to help advance the development of vaccines that provide broad protection against COVID-19 variants and other coronaviruses. This includes identifying vaccine targets, formulating vaccines, manufacturing them and preclinical testing.

Memorial plans to lift cap on classroom sizes for winter semester

After a “transitional” semester this fall, CBC News is reporting that Memorial University plans to lift its 100-person cap on classroom sizes for the winter semester.

“We know there’s been challenges with student events and getting people together that is so essential as part of the student experience, but it’s been tough to manage the risks of COVID,” said Greg McDougall, the university’s chief risk officer.

The article says Memorial has had about 30 per cent of its classes in person for the fall semester, and the remaining 70 per cent are being conducted online.

Carleton to welcome more students back to campus for winter 2022

“The winter 2022 term will see more in-person classes than fall 2021, and we are also planning some classes with increased capacity limits.” This is according to a recent statement released by the university. “As of November 15, 2021, we will safely increase capacity limits in our athletics facilities and dining locations. Throughout the winter term, we are looking to provide more opportunities for additional in-person student engagement activities on campus outside of the classroom.”

The university is also anticipating restarting some in-person conferences in May 2022, and is also exploring holding in-person convocation ceremonies in June.

McGill to offer rapid COVID-19 testing for students and staff

CTV News is reporting that McGill University is now offering voluntary rapid COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic students and staff through a pilot project. According to the article, between four and eight tests can be conducted every 20 minutes. The test involves a nasal swab and must be self-administered. Participants must be asymptomatic when taking the test and any negative results cannot be used for travel or any other purposes, said the university. According to the article, McGill is Montreal’s first university to bring rapid testing to campus.

November 3, 2021

Saint Mary’s suspends daily check-in requirement

Thanks to a high vaccination rate on campus as well as most of the community voluntarily uploading their vaccination status, Saint Mary’s University decided to suspend the daily check-in requirement as of Nov. 1. Free on-campus asymptomatic screening is now available on campus. Take-home kits are also available at multiple locations on campus for increased convenience.

Western opens dining halls

The Great Hall in Somerville House and Alumni Hall at Western University are currently open for indoor study, providing a space where students can work, eat and drink while seated. However, beginning the week of Nov. 8, these areas will also be open for restaurant-style dining. According to a recent update from the university, these spaces have controlled entrances that will feature a health and safety ambassador checking vaccine passports and IDs. Individuals will be permitted to sit together, however masks must be worn when not seated, eating or drinking. Those with exemptions from vaccination are not permitted to access these restaurant-style dining spaces.

USask plans for winter term

Effective Jan. 4, 2022, anyone accessing the University of Saskatchewan’s campuses and workplaces will need to show proof they have received at least two doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines. Submitting rapid test results will no longer be an option for campus access.

“We are providing two months’ notice of the upcoming change to allow enough time for everyone deciding to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 to be able to do so. We encourage anyone not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated immediately to avoid any interruption to their studies or work as the Winter term begins,” said president Peter Stoicheff in a recent statement.

“I reiterate that if you are not fully vaccinated or choose not to upload your vaccination status by Jan. 4, 2022 you cannot access campus for any reason. This includes the PAC, Huskie games, libraries, dining facilities, and any building, office, and classroom on our campuses. This requirement also extends to all vendors and contractors.”

Cases on campus

Cape Breton University is reporting one new case on its campus.

Two new positives cases are being reported at the University of Manitoba.

Wilfrid Laurier University has been notified that two students living in separate residences on the Waterloo campus have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The university has also shared that there are three additional student cases, not living in residence, that have been deemed low risk by the public health authority.

The University of Saskatchewan is reporting eight positive COVID-19 cases involving members of the university community on and off campus.

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