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COVID-19 updates for June 2021

BY UA/AU | JUN 30 2021

June 30, 2021

Important updates for incoming, returning international students and faculty

International students will be exempt from quarantine, the requirement to stay at a government-authorized accommodation and COVID-19 testing on their eighth day in the country if they meet a list of requirements, the government of Canada announced.

It’s part of the government’s easing of border measures originally announced on June 21 for vaccinated travellers entering Canada.

To be considered “fully vaccinated,” international students must have received two doses of a Government of Canada approved vaccine, or combination of vaccines 14 days prior to entering the country. Travellers can get their vaccine in any country, and must provide documentation supporting their vaccination in English, French or with a certified translation.

“For these new measures to apply to them, fully vaccinated travellers must still meet all other mandatory requirements, including pre- and on-arrival testing. Continued testing will allow public health experts to keep monitoring positivity rates at the border, monitor for variants of concern, and make further adjustments to border measures as needed,” the statement reads.

Fall plans

“In preparing for the fall term, it will be necessary to bring employees back to campus in order to ensure that we can once again provide the level of in-person service that is associated with the Acadia student experience.” This was the main message from Peter Ricketts, president and vice-chancellor of Acadia University, regarding returning to campus this fall. “By geographically staggering the return to campus, Acadia can allocate the resources required […] to make the transition back with as little disruption as possible.” He also went on to speak about the university’s Work From Home pilot project and how some staff will have the option to work from home: “Our students come to Acadia for a personal experience, including face-to-face learning, service, and support […] While the options for working from home will be limited, please let your supervisor know if this is something of interest to you.”

The University of Alberta is taking a phased approach to the reopening of their campuses for the fall semester. Faculty and staff will start coming back in stages throughout the summer, and the plan is for the university to be fully reopened by January 2022. Health measures will be in place for those who are learning and working on campus, which will include strict cleaning and sanitization protocols with a focus on high touchpoints as well as HVAC systems that pass industry standards. As the plan is for Alberta to lift most restrictions on July 1, physical distancing in classrooms is not anticipated at this time. However, the university won’t be hosting any large gatherings for the start of the academic year.

The plan is also to welcome back students to campus at Redeemer University. “Chapel, clubs, launch weekend, sports, events, internships and many more activities are likely to resume in a way similar to their pre-COVID formats,” states the university’s communications manager Shannon McBride in a news release. She goes on to state that in the last year, nearly 80 per cent of students chose to attend classes in person when Ontario lockdowns were not in place. “The same option is available to students again for the fall 2021 term, while many of the campus activities inside and outside the classroom are expected to return.”

Ryerson University is planning a gradual return to campus over the next several months and will include some in-person courses this fall. This is according to Saeed Zolfaghari, interim provost and vice-president, academic, at Ryerson. He goes on to say that the university is reviewing and updating many practices and protocols, including masking protocols, physical distancing protocols, contact tracing, ventilation and air purification, and increased cleaning and disinfection.

“As deans continue to plan for a partial return, they are identifying which classes can be taught on campus in September and which will continue to be offered remotely. Classes that require in-person instruction, such as labs and studios, will be prioritized – this will look different faculty to faculty.”

The University of Prince Edward Island is also preparing to welcome students, faculty and staff back to campus this fall. “Our current plan [is] to return to primarily in-person classroom learning and campus life, with online components, for the fall of 2021,” reads the statement.

U of G vaccination clinic exceeds 50,000 doses

The University of Guelph is reporting that its vaccination clinic has given more than 50,600 doses since March. “On June 22 alone, the U of G clinic gave 1,717 doses – the highest number of vaccines administered in one day by any Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph (WDG) Public Health clinic,” said the release.

The clinic, located on the main floor of the University Centre on campus, is staffed by members of the Guelph Family Health Team and U of G’s hospitality services.

The U of G clinic.

U of T played host to vaccine pow wow

A group of health care units in Toronto hosted a vaccination clinic at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium. The groups included Na-Me-Res, a Toronto emergency shelter for Indigenous men, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, Well Living House at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health at Women’s College Hospital. The goal was to create an Indigenous COVID-19 response program called Auduzhe Mino Nesewinong, which means “place of healthy breathing” in Anishinaabemowin, and to provide First Nations, Inuit and Métis people with a culturally safe place to receive their vaccinations.

While people received their vaccine, volunteers danced and played hand drums. “One of the things that happened during this pandemic is that it exposed some of the inequities within the health sector, particularly for Indigenous people,” Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, said to U of T News. “So, there was some hesitancy from our community to access some of these services, especially if they had experiences with discrimination and racism before.” Mr. Teekens and others helped organize the mass clinic, with logistical support from U of T, in order to speed up vaccinations.

Nearly 200 people received their first or second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the clinic.

Photo courtesy of Johnny Guatto/UofT.

VIDO reports positive Phase 1 results for COVAC-2 vaccine

The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan has announced that the COVID-19 vaccine they have been testing, COVAC-2, is safe and well tolerated. This is according to results from their Phase 1 clinical trial. Only headaches and mild injection site pain have been reported after immunization. COVAC-2 is a protein subunit vaccine; it contains purified viral proteins that are not infectious and is easy to store and transport. Currently, the clinical trial is taking place in Halifax, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology. A new clinical trial site will also open in Saskatoon later this summer. The trials for the vaccine are expected to be completed by February 2023.

CBU and StFX launch vaccination campaigns

Cape Breton University students now have the chance to win over $10,000 worth of prizes if they get vaccinated for the start of the fall semester. The “Never Miss a Shot” campaign is offering four top prizes of a $5,000 tuition waiver, a $3,000 tuition waiver and two $1,000 tuition waivers. Eligible students must submit a screenshot or photo proving they have been vaccinated or have received a COVID-19 test.

Meanwhile, at St. Francis Xavier University, the More2gether awareness campaign aims to amplify the message that has already been shared by public health officials in Nova Scotia: the more people are vaccinated, the more quickly we can return to normal life with fewer restrictions.

“Although taking the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandated for employees and students returning to campus, the university is strongly recommending that all members of the StFX community follow the advice of public health officials and receive two doses of an approved vaccine at the first available opportunity,” said Andy Hakin, president and vice-chancellor of StFX in a statement.

Dal piloting a rapid testing clinic

Dalhousie University is piloting a self-swab COVID-19 rapid screening program for faculty, staff and students at their Carleton Campus in Halifax. In a self-swab model, participants will take their own sample and put it into a collection tube under the supervision of a trained swabber who will be wearing a mask, gloves and face shield. Participants will receive their test results by text message or phone call in about 30 to 40 minutes.

There are also plans to have an on-campus rapid testing for faculty, staff and students at the university’s Truro campus this fall.

Chatbot developed at Ontario Tech collects pandemic experiences

A research team at Ontario Tech University has developed a free web-based application called COVID Connect, available on all platforms. The app allows users to interactively share their pandemic struggles and triumphs, while also finding comfort, affirmation and hope in the recounted experiences of others. The chatbot anonymously collects stories and presents them to others in text bubbles.

“It is our hope that this dataset will be used to study the effects of the pandemic as well as plan mental-health supports to address the issues it has caused, as the mental-health effects of COVID-19 and the societal tremors surrounding it are predicted to last for a long time,” said Christopher Collins, Canada Research Chair in linguistic information visualization and faculty member at Ontario Tech.

The chatbot script revolves around 10 COVID-19-related challenges: online schooling, working from home, alcohol use, food, child care, finances, employment, relationship problems, sleep problems and loneliness. As the conversation progresses, users find background comments from others that are in some way similar or relevant to the current user’s own experiences.

Canadian researcher links COVID-19 to strokes

Adam Dmytriw, the Canadian lead for the North American Neurovascular COVID-19 Consortium, is currently studying how some patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are suffering from strokes at an unusually high rate. The research is still ongoing, but Dr. Dmytriw told Ryerson Magazine that he suspects the strokes are being caused by the ability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to attack the walls of blood vessels. The consortium’s findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology last fall.

Queen’s researcher explores the impacts of COVID-19 on newcomers to Canada

When Setareh Ghahari, an associate professor in the school of rehabilitation therapy at Queen’s University, heard that an international group of researchers had developed a survey tool to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 on undocumented migrants in Switzerland, she knew she could use it for her own research here in Canada. Her study uses the Swiss-developed survey tool to collect information on how the pandemic has affected Canada’s newcomers’ food security, employment prospects and general health.

“Over the past year, numerous initiatives have attempted to understand the extent to which COVID-19 has impacted Canadians, and many have called for increased services and support for vulnerable populations. Yet, often missing from these statements and reports, are the struggles unique to marginalized groups, notably for newcomer populations in Canada,” Dr. Ghahari told the Queen’s Gazette.

“I’m hopeful that this study will help us open up public discourse to better understand how to bring forth tangible support for newcomers amidst the wake of COVID-19, and the aftermath that is yet to come. My first goal once this is completed will be to present my findings to the general public and to policymakers to improve funding for settlement organizations.”

Online portal developed at Ryerson helps Canadian assess their plans

PressFrom is reporting that a new online tool developed at Ryerson University can help users determine if they are making COVID-safe plans. The tool, called My COVID-19 visit risk calculator, was created by researchers at Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing, and is an individual risk assessment portal that allows Canadians to plug in details about their plans and find out if they are being safe. The article also states that the entire process of sing the app is anonymous, prompting Canadians to answer queries about their age, health and vaccination status. It also asks questions like whether people you’re visiting tend to visit others without masks and distancing, and whether COVID-19 is actively spreading in your community.

In a statement issue on June 26, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said “this user-friendly online tool provides reliable, science-based information to help you reduce your individual risk when visiting and gathering with others.”

June 28, 2021

Vaccines required for students in residence at Ontario Tech

Ontario Tech University announced that students living in on-campus residences in the next academic year will required to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and their second dose booked. The university’s campus partner, Durham College, will also have this requirement in place.

In a statement, Ontario Tech said the dose must come from a World Health Organization-approved vaccine, which so far are the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm and Sinovac shots. The university added that it’s recommended that students receive their dose 14 days before moving in.

“The university recognizes that increased vaccination rates play an important role in re-establishing a sense of normalcy and reducing on-campus transmission, while keeping our community safe,” the statement reads. “It is our goal to ensure that students enjoy the full benefits of their residence experience when they arrive in the fall, and mandatory vaccinations as a condition of residence occupancy will help make this possible.”

Some exceptions to the vaccine requirement will be permitted for medical reasons or grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. More details and guidelines for students in residence will be available to students when they receive their official on-campus residence acceptance, the university said.

Cases on campus

McMaster University confirmed one new COVID-19 case on campus. According to a statement from the university, the case involves a staff member who tested positive on June 22 and was last on campus on June 18 in the psychology building.

USask surgery professor suspended after questioning COVID-19

Francis Christian, a surgery professor based in Saskatoon, has been suspended by the University of Saskatchewan and terminated from his role with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, reported the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. As we previously reported on June 14, Dr. Christian had publicly questioned the severity of the pandemic and the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

In a statement released by the university, Preston Smith, the dean of the College of Medicine, said the suspension follows the university’s policies and that Dr. Christian’s “recent actions and public statements” are being reviewed.

“The university encourages public debate of important societal issues,” said Dr. Smith. “However … our medical faculty are subject to the ethical and professional standards governing the practice of medicine, and USask is responsible to review concerns raised about its medical faculty in relation to these standards.”

Helping international students at Cape Breton University book vaccine appointments

The Cape Breton University Students’ Union is coming to the aid of international students who are unable to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments online.

In Nova Scotia, international students are not issued a health card, which is needed to book an appointment online, until they have been in the province for 13 months. These students can still book over the phone, but according to student union president Madlyn O’Brien, there are still barriers to that method – many students don’t have a lot of minutes left on their phone plans, she said. “Many max out at 60 [minutes] and they call the booking line and the wait time is about 80 minutes,” she told the CBC.

To help, the students’ union launched a secure booking program that gathers the information needed to make phone bookings. Then, the four executive members of the students’ union take turns calling to book appointments.

“Once they get their email with the appointment confirmation, they are able to reschedule it to a time that works for them through the booking portal,” she said.

“The students are willing to get their vaccines,” Ms. O’Brien added. “They know that it’s the right thing to do to protect their community. They were just blocked by the provincial government by these various barriers.”

McMaster researchers working on orally dissolvable COVID-19 vaccine

McMaster University researchers are working with biotechnology company Rapid Does Therapeutics (RDT) to create an orally deliverable COVID-19 vaccine that dissolves like breath strips available at any pharmacy, according to Global News. The strips wouldn’t require a needle and would be stable at 40 degrees, which could eliminate the need for refrigeration.

RDT has its own “proprietary oral fast-dissolving drug delivery system” called QuickStrip, which is able to deliver pharmaceuticals, emulsified oils and other over-the-counter drugs when placed inside the cheek or under the tongue. The McMaster research team and RDT have successfully completed the first stage of creating the technology for a COVID-19 vaccine version, said Dr. Alex Adronov.

“With these positive results we are moving quickly into stage two of the investigation and expect that this research will lead to new technologies in vaccine delivery in the future,” Dr. Adronov said.

June 23, 2021

OCAD U releases more details for the fall

Students at OCAD University in Toronto can expect to see many courses offered in a remote format in September. The university is also piloting a small number of hybrid courses. “These courses, being co-developed with students, will combine online and in-person components where students can choose to participate in the course and complete assessments in a variety of ways,” said Deanne Fisher, vice-provost, students and international, in a release. Once the winter semester starts, there will be fewer remote classes offered.

She also said students will not have to provide proof of vaccination before returning to campus. “OCAD U has chosen to prioritize efforts to educate our community about the benefits of vaccination, and to actively encourage all who are able to do so, to get vaccinated.”

A winning shot

Brandon University has launched a new campaign to encourage students to get their COVID-19 vaccine. The “Winning Shot” campaign is offering a grand prize of $5,000 towards a vaccinated student’s tuition and other fees, including books, residence or meal plan. There are also several secondary prizes, plus campus gift cards and BU gear.

Faculty and staff are also encouraged to participate and will be eligible to win prizes like an individualized season tickets package to the university’s athletic team, the Bobcats, and a year’s paid parking pass.

The campaign builds on previous BU initiatives to boost overall support for vaccination and encourage speedy vaccination, including the nation-wide Faster, Together campaign.

Cases on campus

The University of Calgary is reporting two new cases on its campus.

One new case has also been reported by the University of Ottawa.

The University of Saskatchewan has two new positive cases involving members of their community.

U of Ottawa students write about their experiences during COVID-19

Twelve University of Ottawa students have co-written a paper for the Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education in which they talk about their experiences of completing their PhD during the pandemic. “Although this paper is intended for graduate students, we feel that the sentiments and experiences expressed here may also offer valuable insight for both University and College administration,” states the abstract.

The paper was written by a cohort of students from the faculty of education at the U of Ottawa.

“These feelings are not unique to our cohort as there are thousands of students worldwide who are experiencing similar feelings of isolation, lack of motivation, and decreased levels of concentration,” the conclusion of the paper states.

Rapid testing now at U of Waterloo

The University of Waterloo has opened a rapid screening site in the Davis Centre on its main campus. Examples of those who can take advantage of this service are: researchers or instructors who cannot maintain physical distancing or who conduct human participant research; employees and students working in labs on campus; employees in housing, food services and plant operations; athletics coaching staff and front-line employees; and students living in residence, attending in-person classes, participating in athletics, or working on campus.

“If you have no symptoms of COVID-19, you come to campus regularly and you have regular contact with other employees, students or the public, you should consider participating in the rapid testing program,” said president Feridun Hamdullahpur in a news release.

Updated data

Last August we reported on and how they were tracking what last year’s fall semester would look like at over 150 universities and colleges in Canada. The company is continuing its work by also looking at what the upcoming fall semester will look like for students. According to their data, an average 48.4 per cent of Canadian postsecondary schools will deliver in-person learning this fall, while 30.1 per cent have chosen a hybrid model.

Check out their interactive table that is tracking plans for September. It includes summaries of schools’ safety and vaccination policies. They are also tracking which schools have instituted mandatory vaccine policies. So far, five institutions are requiring first dose vaccinations – for students living in residence only: Trent University, Western University, the University of Toronto, Fanshawe College and Ryerson University.

They are also tracking international student enrollment for the fall and are reporting that preliminary data from Universities Canada shows a decrease in international student enrollment at Canadian universities for the fall 2021. “So far 205,000 international students enrolled in full-time studies at Canadian universities. This is a decrease of about 2.1 per cent, compared to an average 10 per cent growth over the past five years,” states their website.

Special diploma delivery for Mount Allison grads

For the second year in a row, students graduating from Mount Allison University had to attend their convocation virtually due to pandemic restrictions. However, they could select to have their diploma arrive at their house via “special delivery.” This translates to the president of Mount Allison, Jean-Paul Boudreau, hand delivering it to them – on foot.

“Following our second virtual Conferring of Degrees ceremony and first diploma run last year, it was a natural fit to continue for 2021. It was wonderful to connect with some of our students in this way.”

An avid runner, Dr. Bourdreau delivered diplomas to 30 graduates, covering over 15 kilometres over two runs.

UCalgary postdoc studying chronic fatigue in COVID-19 patients

University of Calgary postdoctoral researcher and exercise physiologist Rosie Twomey is looking into some of the lesser-known symptoms that people who get COVID-19 experience. One of the main ones is fatigue. The CBC is reporting that Dr. Twomey led a study (published as a preprint) in which more than 200 people from Canada, the U.S. and Europe with long-term symptoms were surveyed.

“The overwhelming majority of people who took part … have chronic fatigue, many for more than six months and up to a year … and this fatigue is at least as severe as fatigue in several other chronic diseases,” she said.

Dr. Twomey told the CBC that many respondents also experienced a phenomenon known as “post-exertional malaise,” in which symptoms get worse after physical or mental exertion.

“There’s quite often a move to immediately go to exercise as a first point of treatment for people with long COVID-19, but actually it’s really important to be careful you’re not making symptoms worse.”

She also said clinical trials will be needed to determine the best way to treat long COVID-19. She hopes her research will highlight the extreme fatigue people experience and the need to focus on pacing and monitoring through their rehabilitation.

Athabasca prof studying how COVID affects transgender and gender non-conforming people’s mental health

Athabasca University women’s and gender studies prof Tobias Wiggins has started a project that aims to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on transgender and gender non-conforming people’s (TGNC) mental health in Alberta. His research will trace and catalogue the negative impacts of the virus, but also, trans people’s use of digital worlds for survival and resilience. “These community-based digital adaptations allow TGNC people to thrive through this time of acute struggle and uncertainty, and to collectively overcome institutionalized mental health barriers. I hope to employ digital storytelling methodologies, allowing my research participants to produce and disseminate their own visual representations about their experiences of COVID-19,” he said in a recent Q&A on Athabasca’s website.

Regarding the digital storytelling methodology, trans and non-binary research participants will undergo a series of storytelling workshops to foster dialogue about systemic injustice and resilience in the pandemic. “The end result – digital stories imagined, recorded, and edited by the participants – can then be shared within their various communities. For example, we may partner with the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria to create a permanent, open-access home for their finished pieces,” he said.

SFU study to assess COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness among people with HIV

Hasina Samji, Simon Fraser University health sciences professor, is co-leading a new study that will compare vaccine effectiveness in people living with HIV and those who do not have the condition. The goal is to follow 35,000 people living with HIV in B.C. and Ontario and track the COVID-19 vaccine uptake as well as rates infection and hospitalizations. Dr. Samji says researchers will also look at social determinants of health to see what effects they have, if any, on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness. The focus will be on those who have already received their first vaccine dose, or have already had COVID-19.

Previous research has found that most existing vaccines require higher or additional doses to provide optimal protection for those who are living with HIV. Researchers will investigate whether the same is true of COVID-19 vaccines.

June 21, 2021

Fall plans

Universities continue to announce their plans for the fall term, with many stating they will not implement mandatory vaccines to return to campus.

Brock University announced that it is preparing for a “significant return to on-campus instruction and activity” in September due to the declining rate of COVID-19 cases locally and across Ontario, and that it also will not require students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated before coming to campus.

Instead, the university is encouraging every member of its community to get vaccinated and will work with regional authorities to facilitate vaccination for students in September, so that those who haven’t received a second COVID-19 vaccine have the opportunity to do so when the fall term starts.

“While Brock will not require vaccinations for those returning to campus or living in residence this fall, we do strongly encourage anyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so before arriving on campus in September,” said Lynn Wells, the university’s provost and vice-president, academic, in a statement. “A safe return to on-campus instruction and activity relies on a high rate of vaccination among all members of the community.”

About two-thirds of all classes in September at Brock will have some kind of on-campus component, the university said. Other classes, in particular classes with large numbers of international students, will include online delivery to ensure students who can’t make it to campus can continue their studies.

“After consultation with the University community, including students, staff and faculty, Brock committed to being as open as possible this fall and to restoring the post-secondary experience students expect from us,” Wells said. “With careful planning in consultation with public health officials, I have confidence in the Brock community’s ability to navigate this next stage of the pandemic together.”

Carleton and Ottawa U

According to reports in the Ottawa Citizen, neither Carleton University nor the University of Ottawa are planning to require vaccination among their community members when classes start in the fall.

Carleton will offer a mix of online and in-person classes, with a limit of 60 people in a classroom, based on recommendations from a university working group. While vaccines won’t be required to return to campus, Carleton will be offering vaccinations to students, staff and faculty at an on-campus clinic beginning in June.

The U of Ottawa is planning on offering 30 to 50 per cent of its classes in person or in a hybrid format, with the remaining course to be taught online. Students will not be required to be vaccinated, but the university continues to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure a safe and progressive return to campus, which respects all applicable health directives,” Isabelle Mailloux Pulkinghorn, U of Ottawa’s manager of media relations, told the Ottawa Citizen.

Universities in Manitoba

Universities in Manitoba do not plan to return to full, in-person classes for the fall, the CBC reported. The University of Winnipeg will offer 42 per cent of its classes on campus, with priority given to courses that require hands-on instruction, and the Université de Saint-Boniface is aiming for 35 per cent of its students back on campus. The University of Manitoba plans only classes of 20 students or fewer on campus and labs of under 25 students. As for Brandon University, only 25 students will be allowed on campus per in-person class.

Laurentian to reopen campus in August

Even before the fall term begins, Laurentian University will reopen its campus for students, faculty and staff. As Ontario’s vaccination rates continue to increase, members of the Laurentian community will have access to student services, residences, the library, food services, the recreation centre and gym and the IT service desk on Aug. 16.

The reopening will be done safely and in steps, said president and vice-chancellor Robert Haché. “We will continue to fully comply with guidance from Public Health Sudbury and Districts.”

Some students uneasy about return to campus if vaccines are not mandatory

As universities announce their intentions to either require community members to be vaccinated before returning to campus or to simply encourage vaccinations before the fall term starts, some students are worried about the ramifications of not making vaccines mandatory.

“The residence is one thing that should definitely be mandatory,” said Nolan Babin, a first-year natural resources conservation student at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with NEWS 1130. “They should already be on top of it if other schools can manage to do that.”

Mr. Babin said he’s concerned about the spread of the virus if students in residences aren’t vaccinated. “It does make me worried because the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, of course, but just because you have it doesn’t mean you’re 100 per cent immune,” he said. “Not mandating this vaccine [means] that there will be students who choose not to get the vaccine. That’ll lead to higher infection rates, it’ll spread more.”

For Andrew Mrozowski, who’s the editor-in-chief of McMaster University’s student-run newspaper, The Silhouette, the worry is about the safety of his staff of full-time undergrads since the university will not require vaccination for students.

“I frankly feel uncomfortable sending them to cover events, to cover different news items that are happening within the Hamilton area, within McMaster if they’re not vaccinated,” Mr. Mrozowski told the CBC.

“In order to have that in-person education, you need to feel safe. You need to feel committed to coming to campus to learn,” he added. “How can you be putting all your focus on learning when you’re worried about if the person next to you is going to give you COVID[-19]?”

How COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black Canadians

A researcher at the University of Alberta says Black people in Canada are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and less likely to get vaccinated. Bukola Oladunni Salami, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the U of A, says pre-existing inequalities faced by the Black community contribute to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on them.

“Research data that has been collected from Ontario and Quebec shows being Black as a stronger influence on whether or not you get COVID-19 than any other social determinants of health, including your income status and similar determinants,” Dr. Salami, whose research focuses on the policies and practices that shape the health of migrants, told the Gateway student newspaper.

“For example, Black Canadians are more likely to be lower income,” Salami said. “Black Canadians are also more likely to work in occupations where they need physical contact, and work in the lower tiers of the healthcare workforce, where they are more in contact with people who have COVID-19.”

She added that many Black people in Canada mistrust the health-care system, and this mistrust has had an impact on vaccine rates in Black communities. To address these concerns, Dr. Salami said it’s important to engage with Black organizations and leaders to do outreach. “One of the things that has been instrumental and useful in terms of addressing [healthcare inequalities] is engaging Black community leaders, Black religious leaders, Black healthcare professionals to communicate information and to make sure that people have the information they need,” she said.

June 16, 2021

Mandatory vaccines come to Ryerson and York

CTV News is reporting that all Ryerson University students living in residence this fall will need to be vaccinated. The article states that in an email to CP24, university spokesperson Karen Benner said the decision was made due to the nature of communal living, the high volume of cases and incidence rates among young populations, and to foster a welcoming and engaging community for students on campus.

“This measure is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development, Ryerson’s mandate and commitments surrounding applied knowledge and research to address existing and emerging society needs, and to prevent and mitigate outbreaks and disruptions during the 2021-2022 academic year,” she said.

The university is recommending that students in residence get their dose at least 14 days prior to their move-in date, similar to the protocols put in place at the University of Toronto and Trent University.

In the same vein, York University is also requiring all students living in residence to be vaccinated before arriving on campus this fall. “This requirement is supported by Toronto Public Health, as it is recognized that vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect those who come in contact with others, especially in shared spaces. Through this commitment to protecting health and safety, the goal is to help students return this fall to the residence life experience they have come to know and expect,” said the statement released on June 15. The requirement will not apply to students living off campus or in York University apartments.

Fall plans

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is planning on having a hybrid fall semester, with a large component of online courses. It will function as a bridge semester for students who are awaiting visas or are still unsure if they want to return to in-person learning.

“If you plan to be in Vancouver and want to engage in more face-to-face instruction, register for “hybrid” courses. Working with whatever health measures are recommended at that time, these courses will have more substantial face-to-face instruction and access than was possible in the past academic year. Students taking hybrid courses will be expected to be on campus,” said Trish Kelly, vice-president academic and provost in the statement. “For Spring 2022, we are hoping to return more fully to face-to-face curriculum, while also planning for a variety of curricular options moving forward.”

Philip Steenkamp, president of Royal Roads University, said in a video update to his community that if the vaccination progress continues in British Columbia, students and staff should be able to return to campus in the fall. “We are deeply proud that there has been zero transmission on our campus,” he said. He reiterated that Royal Roads is the type of university that truly thrives when people work together in person. “While it might suit some of us as individuals to work remotely, that is not how we will build a vibrant community and culture at Royal Roads.”

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The University of Northern British Columbia has entered Step 2 of its four-step back to campus plan, with the goal of having the majority of courses delivered face-to-face on campus with full classroom/lab/theatre occupancy in September. “We have faced exceptional circumstances over the past 15 months. In our current mindset, it is challenging to look ahead and see that September is going to look vastly different than today from a public health perspective. But it will,” said interim president and vice-chancellor Geoff Payne. He cited the high rate of vaccinations as well as the declining number of cases in the province as steps in the right direction. “We are not ‘going back to the way things are,’ and we are not ‘going to a new normal’ either. We are doing a bit of both, which requires a lot of planning and participation from all of us.”

More than 35 per cent of classes at the University of Winnipeg will be taught in person beginning in September. The majority of winter term course instruction will be in-person. Remote learning alternatives will also be available for those who prefer that mode of delivery. “UWinnipeg operations teams have implemented protocols to ensure all campus buildings meet ventilation and cleaning standards for a safe reopening,” said the statement. “With vaccination rates rising and the pandemic’s third wave receding, we anticipate a back-to-school experience that looks and feels much more open and ‘normal.’”

Most courses will be offered in-person at Dalhousie University this fall. The university also expects to resume most on-campus activity, including on-campus events and programming, library access, food services, study spaces, access to fitness facilities and more. Residences will be open and all staff and faculty will be expected on campus as well, with faculty and unit leads managing flexible work schedules where appropriate.

Cases on campus

Carleton University is reporting one new case on its campus.

For the seven-day period ending Friday, June 11, the University of Saskatchewan is also reporting one positive case involving a member of the university community.

SFU launches COVID-19 rapid screening pilot

On June 8, Simon Fraser University launched an eight-week COVID-19 rapid screening pilot project on its Burnaby campus. Students currently living in on-campus residences, and varsity athletes from invited sports teams, will be eligible to participate in the pilot.

“We know that it’s possible for people to contract COVID-19 and unknowingly spread it to others, even if they are asymptomatic. Rapid screening will allow us to detect possible cases early on, prevent the spread and protect the safety of the SFU community,” said Martin Mroz, director of SFU health and counselling services.

The project does not replace or affect any of the existing COVID-19 guidance. All SFU community members are encouraged to keep wearing masks, practice physical distancing while on campus and get vaccinated as soon as they are able. However, the pilot does provide an extra layer of protection for the more than 420 students currently living in congregate housing or participating in sports with a higher risk of contact.

UCalgary documentary showcases the struggles of immigrant women health-care aides during the pandemic

Naomi Lightman, a University of Calgary assistant professor in the faculty of arts, has released a documentary film in conjunction with one of her students. Titled Caring during the COVID-19 Crisis: Immigrant Women Working in Long-Term Care in Calgary, the film highlights the struggles faced by health care aides working in long-term care during COVID-19. The interview subjects share details of reusing personal protective equipment, working long hours, the inadequate treatment of patients, and more. “It was difficult to find participants who would agree to be filmed, even though we did not have their face to the camera,” said Dr. Lightman. “It gave me an even greater understanding of how fearful they are of losing or threatening their job in any way. I so appreciate the women who agreed to be filmed, they’re really passionate women who believed in the project and wanted to have a voice.” Dr. Lightman also plans to publish a policy report at the end of June that builds on 25 interviews done with immigrant women health care aides about their experiences during COVID-19.

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UBC study looks at physician burnout

New research out of the University of British Columbia is showing that two out of three Vancouver physicians faced burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers from UBC’s faculty of medicine published their findings in the BMJ Open journal. They reviewed survey responses from 302 internal medicine physicians who worked at the Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital between August and October 2020. The survey found that burnout was prevalent among 68 per cent of physicians and noted more than 20 per cent of surveyed physicians were considering quitting the profession or had already quit a position.

“I think that this issue is not unique to just these two hospitals. It is widespread. I would say global,” said Nadia Khan, research lead and a general internal medicine professor at UBC. “It’s also not just amongst physicians but likely affecting other healthcare workers.” The survey also found that burnout was prevalent among 71 per cent of women compared to 64 per cent of men. It was found to be highest, 74 per cent, among younger physicians, 36 to 50 years of age.

Instead of just focusing on coping skills, the majority of respondents said improving work conditions and better management of work quantity are needed to combat the burnout.

USask researchers using smartphones to collect COVID data

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan want to understand people’s thoughts about the effectiveness of public health messaging and the perceived risk of COVID-19 in their lives. “This study is about trying to capture data on people’s perspectives, viewpoints and behaviours to see if the evolving strategies are effective and how they can be improved,” said Patrick Seitzinger, a physician and member of the research team.

Participants will be able to access the surveys on their phones. The unique study combines self-reporting surveys and GPS data into one project, said Dr. Seitzinger. If users enable the location data feature, GPS data will help researchers understand the population’s trends and their patterns of mobility across the province. Participants’ responses will help researchers create predictive models and inform public health strategies and messaging. Any Saskatchewan adult who has access to a smartphone or computer with internet access can join the study, which will be open between June and October 2021. Participants will initially complete one very short survey per day for the study’s first five days to collect baseline information on risk perceptions, behaviours and knowledge about COVID-19.

June 14, 2021

UBC plans to return to campus in the fall

In a press release shared on June 9, the University of British Columbia announced the institution plans to resume on-campus activities in the fall.

With public health leaders confident in the safe return to campus activities, progress in vaccinations, public health measures and the decline of COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, UBC will take a phased approach to help faculty and staff return to campus and normal social contact for the start of the fall term on Sept. 7.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank those faculty and staff who have been on campus throughout the pandemic, providing key aspects of UBC teaching, learning, research and operations,” said UBC President Santa Ono in the statement. “Together we will bring vibrancy to our campuses, as we see the increased resumption of in-person teaching, learning, and research activity this fall.”

Along with encouraging members of the community to stay home when sick, wear a mask when required and wash hand often, the university emphasized the importance of vaccinations.

“Every adult in B.C. is eligible to be vaccinated. Now is the time to support each other and raise the rate of immunization,” Dr. Ono said. “If you haven’t yet received your vaccine, please register and encourage your families and friends to join the ‘This is our shot’ campaign at”

U of S professor questions pandemic, vaccine efficacy

A University of Saskatchewan professor appeared in a controversial video questioning the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of vaccines to fight it, to which the dean of its College of Medicine reacted by saying it does not endorse the content of the video but defended the researcher’s academic freedom.

Francis Christian is a surgeon, clinical professor of surgery in the U of S’s College of Medicine and the editor of the Journal of Surgical Humanities. He and a handful of other doctors appeared in a video posted to BitChute – a video hosting platform that’s considered a home for hate speech – on June 4, expressing their skepticism about the pandemic.

In the video, which was reported on by the Star Phoenix and CTV News, Dr. Christian said he is “pro-vaccine” but that the COVID-19 vaccine is an “experimental injection.” Questioning whether the world is experiencing a real pandemic, he said, “I think there is a very strange and very sinister thing going on all over the world. Scientists are being struck down.”

He also urged people to seek out “alternative” information, outside of mainstream media. “It was the media that was pushing this nonsense and the media has been lying to us through its teeth from the beginning,” he continues.

According to the Government of Canada, only vaccines that are proven to be safe, effective and of high quality are authorized for use. Additionally, all vaccines have been rigorously tested and carefully reviewed by Health Canada.

In a statement shared with the Star Phoenix, the College of Medicine and the U of S stress that institutions aim to be places where ideas can be shared respectfully and where academic freedom is “essential.” The university defends the rights of academics to research and publish and does not adopt positions on research unless human rights or the law are violated, the email continues.

However, the dean of the College of Medicine at the U of S, Preston Smith, is taking a stronger approach. He addressed the online video in a blog post shared later that week.

“I categorically state that I and the College of Medicine do not endorse the content of the video that questions the very existence and severity of this pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, as well as the many conspiracy theories and assertions cast at many incredible people and valued institutions in our country and around the world,” Dr. Smith wrote.

“In the context of a university, I want to emphasize the importance of academic freedom for university faculty and the absolute need for the protection of faculty to freely communicate in the areas of their scholarly work,” he added. “This is particularly important where that scholarly work is supported by recognized credentials and expertise.”

Acadia University Singers research virtual choirs in the age of COVID-19

When the world went into lockdown mid-March last year, members of the Acadia University Singers couldn’t do what they normally would do to process difficult emotions: sing together.

Like many musical groups, they turned to rehearsing and performing online, says Michelle Boyd, an instructor of musicology at Acadia, at the start of the documentary Isolated Bodies, United Voices: Virtual Choir in the Ages of COVID-19. For choir singers, this is a challenge – you never hear your voice blending with your peers while singing and can only hear the full choir retroactively. It can be time consuming, labour intensive and lonely, she adds.

But COVID-19 has “proven that musicians are a determined lot, and that humanity needs music,” Dr. Boyd said.

The documentary, posted online on June 12, is the culmination of a research project spearheaded by Dr. Boyd and the Acadia University Singers. They embarked on the Isolated Bodies, United Voices project in June 2020 and met regularly throughout the summer to rehearse and record four choral songs online.

Dr. Boyd said the purpose of the project was to better understand the process and experience of choosing virtual choir. What aspects of musicianship can be developed through the virtual choir process? What new skills, ideas or approaches can be gained?

You can watch the documentary, discover Dr. Boyd and the Acadia University Singers’ learnings and hear them in virtual song below:

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Study links social media misinformation to spread of COVID-19

A new study from York University and the University of British Columbia found that social media use was linked to a higher spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, and that researchers believe this could be explained by widespread COVID-19 misinformation.

Jude Kong, an assistant professor in York’s faculty of science and the research lead in the study, says the findings were surprising. “This highlights the need to consider the dynamic role that social media plays in epidemics,” he says in an interview with CTV News.

Researchers from York and UBC examined social media use across 58 countries and discovered a possible correlation between the use of social media at the beginning of the pandemic and the spread of the virus. The findings suggest that as false information spreads – filling an important information void for people – the more the case count increased.

The study also states that over a year after the pandemic began, there’s a lot more scientific information, research and experience available – and social media could, instead of spreading misinformation and speeding the pandemic back up, help slow the spread of COVID-19 by promoting facts.

June 9, 2021

Vaccines now mandatory in U of T residences

The University of Toronto announced on June 8 that all students living in residence for the 2021-22 academic year will need to be vaccinated. “The measure, supported by local public health authorities in Toronto and Peel Region, will apply to residences across the three campuses beginning this fall. That includes residences operated by the federated colleges,” said the release.

Students are expected to have received their first shot before they arrive on campus and the university is “strongly recommending” they receive it at least 14 days beforehand. If they are unable to get vaccinated ahead of time, they will have two weeks to book an appointment once they are moved in. The university will help students get access to vaccines if need be. Students are also being asked to keep all emails, receipts and records pertaining to their vaccination so that they can confirm their vaccination status.

“It’s really important that students be able to interact safely with one another and participate in the in-person programming that we know they value so highly,” said Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students in the release.

Cases on campus

The University of Calgary is reporting one new case at their University Research Centre. Contact tracing is complete, and no close contacts have been identified.

There are five new cases on University of Manitoba campuses. There has been a total of 87 positive COVID-19 cases at the U of M since the beginning of the academic year.

One new case has been reported by Carleton University. Any individuals who may have come into close contact with these individuals will be contacted by Ottawa Public Health.

The University of Saskatchewan has been informed of five positive COVID-19 cases involving members of the university community for the seven-day period ending June 3.

Peterborough Public Health backs Trent’s vaccine requirements

Rosana Pellizzari Salvaterra, Peterborough’s medical officer, has written an open letter to incoming Trent University students stating she supports the university’s decision to make vaccines a requirement for those living in residence. “I support Trent University’s requirement for immunization of residents of its postsecondary residences as an important measure to protect the health and safety of all prospective occupants. As medical officer of health, I urge you to seek immunization as soon as possible so that you are fully protected by the end of August.”

She also states that vaccination against COVID-19 is the single most important intervention in reducing its transmission. “Ensuring a high amount of vaccine coverage in Trent students, particularly in those who live in residence, will be critical to ensuring that studies and lives are not disrupted by outbreaks.”

Mask recycling stations set up on USask campus

Disposable mask recycling stations have been set up across the University of Saskatchewan campus to minimize the environmental impact of using 3-ply single-use masks, keeping them out of landfills. Like many other universities, the use of 3-ply masks will be mandatory while on campus grounds at USask, effective immediately and through this summer.

‘Faster, Together’

Officially launched last week, the ‘Faster, Together’ initiative is asking Canadians to get vaccinated and providing them with accurate and timely information about the vaccines and the benefits of vaccination. Co-founded by Brandon University, several other Canadian universities are also participating. “Vaccine rates keep climbing across the country, and we are all rolling up our sleeves to get those rates as high as possible,” says Grant Hamilton, director of marketing at Brandon. “Everyone who gets fully vaccinated helps us all get back together quickly, so we can get back to doing the things we love with the people we love.”

Face masks designed by Queen’s students highlight Indigenous artists

CTV News is reporting that two Inuit students from Queen’s University have created a line of face masks that supports Indigenous artists and helps fellow Indigenous students attend university and achieve their dreams. The twin sisters, Amira and Nadya Gill started their company, Kanata Trade Co., in November. They decided to commission Indigenous artists from across the country and use their artwork on masks, journals and cards. The article states that so far, they’ve sold and donated 3,000 masks and raised about $6,000 for Indspire, a charity that provides scholarships to Indigenous people across the country, with more expected to be donated in the coming weeks and months. On the back of each mask is the artist’s description of the art and the meaning behind it. The artists also get commission from the masks.

New study out of U of A finds link between COVID-19 and hypoxia

University of Alberta researchers have published new findings in the journal Stem Cell Reports that shows SARS-CoV-2 infects immature red blood cells in those who have the virus, reducing oxygen in the blood and impairing immune response.

“Low blood-oxygen levels have been a significant problem in COVID-19 patients,” said Shokrollah Elahi, study lead and associate professor in the faculty of medicine & dentistry. “Because of that, we thought one potential mechanism might be that COVID-19 impacts red blood cell production.” The researchers found that as the disease became more severe in patients, more immature red blood cells flooded into blood circulation, sometimes making up as much as 60 per cent of the total cells in the blood. By comparison, immature red blood cells make up less than one per cent, or none at all, in a healthy individual’s blood. According to the researchers, immature red blood cells do not transport oxygen—only mature red blood cells do. As immature red blood cells are destroyed by the virus, the body is unable to replace mature red blood cells—which only live for about 120 days—and the ability to transport oxygen in the bloodstream is diminished.

The researchers decided to test the efficacy of dexamethasone to see if it could help patients. “For the past year, dexamethasone has been widely used in COVID-19 treatment, but there wasn’t a good understanding as to why or how it worked,” Dr. Elahi said in the U of A release. “So we are not repurposing or introducing a new medication; we are providing a mechanism that explains why patients benefit from the drug.”

The sound of Convocation 2021

June 7, 2021

Fall plans

“It’s time for us to finally be together again,” said Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, in an online message to the U of C community announcing it will be returning to campus in September. “More classes will be held in-person, more labs will be open for research activities, and more student and public services will operate on campus than we have seen since the start of COVID-19.”

The decision was made based on the latest health guidelines and an increase in vaccination rates. In Alberta, anyone over 12 can access a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 60 per cent of the province’s eligible population has already received a first dose.

“We have hit some significant milestones in terms of public vaccination,” said McCauley. “As the number of vaccinated people grows, health guidelines around physical distancing and public gatherings can finally ease. This is what enables us to safely begin moving back to campus for the fall.”

Concordia University recently shared that while it expects many on-campus activities to resume in the fall, it needs a bit more time for contingency planning before the fall term. However, it said all students will need to be in Montreal for the first day of classes (Sept. 7). International students will also need to be in the city for the start of the fall term.

Debating mandatory vaccines

Following Western University and Trent University’s announcements that students in residence will be required to have received at least a first COVID-19 shot – and McMaster University’s decision not to go that route – other institutions are weighing their options.

Algoma University’s outlook for campus life in the fall isn’t fully determined yet, but a plan similar to Western’s isn’t off the table according to the CBC. Laurentian University isn’t planning to require vaccines but said it will follow the recommendations from their local public health offices. For the time being, York University isn’t requiring community members to be vaccinated before participating in on-campus activities but is “closely watching how universities around the world are or are not considering required vaccinations.”

The University of Winnipeg is still mulling whether it will make vaccines mandatory in residences, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The University of Manitoba, Saint Boniface University, Brandon University and University College of the North will not require vaccinations among residents of student housing.

Cases on campus

The University of Waterloo reported one new case of COVID-19 in its community. The individual was last on campus May 11 and likely did not come into close contact with anyone while there.

The University of Toronto confirmed one new positive case of COVID-19 on its St. George campus.

Memorial to celebrate ‘exemplary’ work after a tough year

Memorial University is collecting employee experiences for an initiative called Exemplary Together, which will celebrate employee efforts during the pandemic. Instead of recognizing a limited number of people with the Presidents Awards for Exemplary Service, the university said it wants to highlight the efforts of as many people as possible

Employees are invited to reflect on the past year and send in their stories, quotes and pictures – either about their own experience or about someone else whom they feel should be recognized. The university is also asking those sending in entries to provide a suggestion as to what it can do to commemorate the year and the “extraordinary efforts” of Memorial employees. After consideration, a chosen suggestion will be announced at the President’s Awards Ceremony in December.

Submissions can be sent to [email protected] and will be featured on a website this summer.

Study finds new mothers particularly vulnerable to pandemic anxiety

The pandemic has been challenging for pretty much everyone, but a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests it has been particularly difficult for new mothers. The study, led by Simone Vigod, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital, looked at demographic data and mental health visits for over 137,000 people in Ontario during their postpartum period between March and November 2020.

Dr. Vigod’s research team discovered that mental health visits for postpartum individuals in the province increased by more than 25 per cent compared to previous years – and from April to November, the rate of people accessing care each month went up between 16 to 34 per cent. “We’re talking about a massive amount of increased need” from people who are feeling isolated, anxious and burnt out, Dr. Vigod told the CBC.

She also said that although the study’s findings were based on Ontario data, the situation is likely the case in other areas of the country. According to the study, its findings suggest there is an increased need for effective and accessible mental health care for postpartum individuals as the pandemic goes on.

June 2, 2021

Vaccines required for all students returning to Trent residences

Following in the footsteps of Western University, all students who want to live in residence at Trent University this fall will be required to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “This new requirement will help ensure a safe, accessible and enjoyable residence experience for our new students, as well as a dynamic on-campus experience for our whole Trent community,” reads a statement made by the university on June 1. For students who are unable to receive a vaccine prior to move-in day in September, the university will help them obtain their first dose within 14 days of their arrival on campus. Students will also be expected to commit to getting their second dose of the vaccine on schedule.

Vaccines not mandatory for students in residence at McMaster

Global News is reporting that COVID-19 vaccinations will not be required for students in residence at McMaster University this fall. “As you’re trying to track, see who’s vaccinated, who isn’t,” says Sean Van Koughnet, associate vice-president and dean of students. “Then you’re faced with students who may have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine.” He hopes that 75 to 80 per cent of the student population will be willingly vaccinated to avoid major outbreaks. Right now, the university is planning on having their residences be at 93 per cent capacity, which equals about 3,600 students. “The only reason we’re not at 100 per cent capacity is that we are keeping aside some rooms for isolation, in case we do have students that do fall ill,” he says. He also added that lecture halls will be operating at about one-third capacity this fall.

Mandatory vaccines are a form of discrimination, says Montreal bioethicist

“One of the key principles of public health ethics is proportionality; you want to ensure that public health measures have benefits that outweigh the burdens you’re creating, that the risks are justified,” Vardit Ravitsky told CBC’s The Current on May 31. Dr. Ravitsky is a professor at the Université de Montréal and president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Committee. “If you’re blocking the access of someone to a concert or a restaurant, that’s one thing. But here we’re talking about education. We’re talking about getting your degree. So if you’re blocking access … the risk is very serious.”

So far, only Western University and Trent University have announced they are making vaccines mandatory for students returning to their residences. Dr. Ravitsky says before other universities follow suit, they should consider alternative measures, such as mask mandates, physical distancing, providing rapid testing, and offering support to international students who may not be able to get vaccinated before arriving in Canada.

“The way to look at it is, before I infringe [on] someone’s liberty, what alternatives do I have?” she told Matt Galloway, host of the show. “And here in the context of requiring vaccines, we do have alternatives.”

Expanding fall plans

The University of Saskatchewan announced its Safe Return Transition Plan on May 28. This is a “staged transition plan designed to provide guidance in safely increasing on-campus activity and assist those responsible for planning a transitional return in the fall.” This is part of the university’s staged return to campus. Currently, USask is in Stage 4 of 5. Details of the transition plan include regulations for being on campus (wearing a mask, social distancing, etc.), course delivery, cleanliness, how research will be conducted, living in residences, as well as a contingency plan if in-person courses are interrupted as a result of COVID-19.

The King’s University in Edmonton has released more details regarding its back to campus plans. They include a return to most campus services in-person, although they will keep some of these services online as they work better that way, having all instructors back on campus, the opening of residences and cafeterias, the (slow) return of on-campus activities as well as a return to play schedules for some of their sports teams.

A “significant return to on-campus instruction and activity this September” is the plan for Brock University. However, the university is not ruling out other possible scenarios and has three plans in place: one with significant return to on-campus instruction, complemented with online and hybrid delivery elements to support students who may wish to study online; the second is course delivery with some return to on-campus instruction, with significant online and hybrid delivery elements; and the third is course delivery almost entirely online. “Brock’s approach to fall term planning is flexible and the university will be ready to adapt to any of the three scenarios in the months ahead as the situation changes,” reads their statement. All regular campus services will also open, with appropriate safety guidelines in place.

The University of Guelph is also planning on bringing students back to campus this fall. Staff are expected to start returning to campus this spring, and a “significant number of courses at all year levels [will be] offered face-to-face or include in-person components such as labs or tutorials.” The university is also guaranteeing that all first-year undergraduate students will be able to live in residence if they want to.

The fall will be a transitional term at Simon Fraser University, but it intends to have approximately 70 to 80 per cent of its classes be conducted in-person, with safety plans in place. The university also plans to make safety standards consistent across campus, ensure enhanced cleaning practices remain in place, open up campus amenities and increase student programs and activities.

McMaster University has released its Return to McMaster Oversight Committee report. It “provides overarching guidance on what to consider when planning for the fall,” says Susan Tighe, provost and vice-president at McMaster. “Using the report’s recommendations as a foundation, other key university planning committees have already begun examining the critical areas of vaccination and testing on campus; space design, use and capacity; parking and transportation; food service and eating on campus; student services and student life activities; and workplace best practices.”

Some of the report’s recommendations include mandatory masking indoors, social distancing, allowing professors the flexibility of choosing how their courses will be delivered (either in-person, online or a blended option), as well asking the university to explore the types of assessments that should occur in person or online and consider the use of online proctoring tools.

Faculties at York University have begun the work of identifying priorities for in-person instruction based on an assumption of being able to use about 25 to 30 per cent of the university’s space. “Understanding the significant impact on our students, our goal has been to ensure that all students have access to some in-person instruction, while also being mindful of the needs of students who may still require remote access to courses. We also indicated that we would continue to closely monitor for any updates impacting the higher education sector. Over the past few weeks, a number of new developments have led to a more optimistic outlook for the fall and winter terms,” said Rhonda Lenton, president of York. “While we do not yet know exactly what the fall will look like, current guidelines indicate that it will be possible to significantly increase in-person learning and co-curricular opportunities on our campuses this fall. We are therefore preparing a more optimistic scenario with closer to 50 per cent of courses being offered in-person, focusing on offerings for first- and second-year students, whose transition to university has been greatly impacted by this pandemic.”

The Queen’s Gazette is reporting that Queen’s University is anticipating a return to full in-person, on-campus instruction starting in the fall of 2021. “We are supported in this plan by advice from public health and other health professionals, who have indicated that a return to in-person instruction can be done safely this fall based on the progress of the vaccine roll-out and the expected lifting of restrictions,” the article states. It goes on to say that a Fall Planning Operations Working Group has been established at the university to support senior leadership in planning for the transition.

On May 27, the university also hosted a town hall for faculty and staff where president Patrick Deane, Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for Kingston, and other senior leaders at Queen’s addressed the ongoing planning and efforts for a safe and effective transition back to on-campus learning. The meeting covered a wide range of topics, including vaccinations, public health procedures and safety measures, building ventilation, travel and human resources.

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The University of Toronto is preparing its three campuses for a safe return to in-person academic instruction this fall. Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students, spoke with U of T News, saying the university is “planning for as much on-campus activities as we can based on public health guidelines, which we will be assessing on an ongoing basis and making adjustments as necessary.” She also goes on to say that the university is also planning on holding onto areas where online activities and online appointments have been really helpful and made things easier for students. “There are certainly services that we will continue to offer online to give students that flexibility.”

President of Thompson Rivers University Brett Fairbairn released a video statement to his university’s community on May 25, encouraging students to start planning for the fall as most should expect to be taking courses in-person in September. “What we heard in surveys, is that that’s your preferred choice,” he states in the video.

Arja Vainio-Mattila, president of Nipissing University, announced on May 28 that the university is excited to welcome students back to campus in the fall. “We look forward to returning to a more vibrant campus life this year and offering an exceptional student experience for which we are known, however we will remain nimble and are planning for all scenarios should it be necessary to reduce in-person activities at any point,” she said in the statement.

She also states there will be a complete return to residence events and programming, students services will once again be offered in person, and the library and athletics centre will both be open with appropriate safety guidelines in place.

Cases on campus

There is currently one confirmed case at York University.

Two confirmed COVID-19 cases involving employees at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus have been classified as an outbreak. The two individuals are in self-isolation and are being monitored by public health.

No physical distancing required at Quebec institutions in the fall

CTV News is reporting that neither university or CEGEP students will have to maintain physical distancing in the classroom this fall. This is according to a statement the provincial government made on May 31. According to the article, Quebec higher education minister Danielle McCann stated that in order to have more relaxed rules at postsecondary institutions, “75 per cent of the student population must be vaccinated and there must be a ‘stable’ epidemiological situation.” Students will also be able to participate in extracurricular activities without physical distancing if these targets are met. Postsecondary institutions are expected to have a backup plan in case the virus starts to spread on campuses, which would include solutions that can be “deployed quickly.”

Ontario government paying nursing students to help lighten COVID load

The Ontario government has pledged more than $117 million to get student nurses into hospitals where they can provide extra hands to assist senior colleagues, reports the Globe and Mail. Called an “externship,” the program was launched to relieve some of the strain on hospital staff during the pandemic’s second wave. Students are paid slightly more than the hourly minimum wage to perform work in a role similar to a personal support worker. The article states the program was extended in April to 38 hospitals, with plans to hire more than 4,000 students over the next year. The funding has not been guaranteed beyond March 2022, but the ministry of health said it is monitoring the program as it considers its future.

Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, said the externships can address two issues: the extraordinary burden on full-time nurses during the pandemic, and the loss of clinical placements that were put off because of health and safety concerns. “This is a valuable program. but it is also a temporary program right now. We would love to see it become permanent.”

Bonnie Henry answers B.C. students’ questions

On May 28, a town hall was held for student leaders of B.C. postsecondary institutions. The province-wide event was held for students to ask members of the provincial health office including Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief medical officer, about what a safe return to campus will look like in the fall. Questions were asked about campus mask wearing, how to deal with peers who do not want to get vaccinated, what steps will be taken if there are cases on campuses again, and how international students will be affected. Watch the full town hall here:

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Read archived updates from previous months:

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021

December 2020

November 2020

October 2020

September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

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