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COVID-19 updates for November 2020

BY UA/AU | NOV 30 2020

November 30, 2020

COVID-19 cases on campus

Over the weekend, the Middlesex-London Health Unit updated the case count for an outbreak at University Hospital on the Western University campus. The latest numbers show 26 patients and 28 staff members have contracted the virus. The increase in cases has prompted the hospital to postpone non-urgent surgeries and procedures.

McMaster University and the University of Windsor have each reported one new case of COVID-19, both involving an individual who had recently been on campus. Two cases were identified at the University of Waterloo over the weekend, plus one case was reported there last Thursday.

Eight players on University of Calgary’s women’s basketball team have tested positive for COVID-19. The province informed the public of these cases last Tuesday. Since then, the university’s COVID case tracker website has been updated and lists a total of 12 cases within the past 14 days.

An outbreak at Nipissing University also involving student athletes has reached 16 positive cases. One case involves a student living in residence.

Atlantic University Sport cancels all play

With cases among the student-athlete population a growing concern – and with cases on the rise in Atlantic Canada more generally – it’s little surprise that Atlantic University Sport had decided to cancel all regular season play, post-season activities and championship games for the remainder of the academic year.

MtA to finish fall term online

The spread of the virus in Canada’s Atlantic region has led Mount Allison University to cancel in-person classes. On November 26, the university in Sackville, New Brunswick, announced that the remainder of the fall term will take place entirely online. The institution is one of the few Canadian universities that offered a full slate of face-to-face courses and activities this year. As of November 25, all campus buildings were made accessible only to current students, faculty and staff.

Dalhousie prof runs pop-ups for rapid COVID testing

An infectious disease researcher with the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University coordinated a testing site on campus last week. The pop-up at the university’s downtown Sexton campus offered rapid COVID-19 tests for hundreds of Haligonians. Dal News explains that unlike the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s assessment centre, the downtown pop-up testing site was intended for people who are asymptomatic as “a way to identify cases that might not be captured through standard testing protocols.” The researcher, Lisa Barrett, told CBC News that the point of the clinic is to “get a sense of how many people are out there who don’t know that they’re actually infected and who need to know so that they can take precautions for themselves and their family and friends.” Dr. Barrett has also been involved in pop-ups at a bar in downtown Halifax and at Alderney Gate Public Library in Dartmouth.

Surveys suggest student mental health is suffering

Several reports on student mental health have come out in the past few weeks and the results are all pretty stark: students are struggling more than ever.

Last week, the Toronto Star published an in-depth investigation into the state of mental health for students at postsecondary institutions. The results of the institutional survey conducted by the Star and the Investigative Journalism Bureau give the impression of “a postsecondary system overwhelmed by unmet need.” The reporters asked each school to report observations from the past few years on the change in: the number of mental-health counselling appointments; the number of mental-health accommodations and tailored supports; days between a student requesting and receiving counselling; budgets for mental-health services; the number of staff providing mental-health services, among other data.

The newspaper also interviewed more than 150 students who self-identified as dealing with mental-health challenges. The vast majority reported that school workload is a key factor in their struggles, followed by deadlines, family issues and isolation. Most had not sought treatment for anxiety, depression or other mental-health illnesses until after they had started postsecondary school.

A new survey by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations took a more focused look at the impact of remote learning on students and faculty members. The group found that, overall, “online learning has negatively impacted the quality of university education,” with some 62 percent of students and 76 percent of faculty members supporting that observation. The quality of education topped students’ concerns, but it was closely followed by mental-health challenges related to changes arising from the pandemic (55 percent reported this concern, which was tied with concerns about academic performance due to COVID-related changes). In an interview with the Canadian Press, OCUFA president Rahul Sapra noted that a lack of interpersonal connection is at the heart of these stressors: “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the scramble to move courses online, we have lost that human connection and educational quality has suffered.”

A summary of “COVID-19 and the Impact on University Life and Education” is available on the OCUFA website.

Data from Memorial University’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) supports the OCUFA findings. Memorial asked undergraduate and graduate students in October to identify the main challenge they faced in the fall 2020 semester. From 2,786 responses, they determined some major themes in student perceptions: an overwhelming workload in courses; a lack of timely and meaningful communication with instructors and other students; mental health, physical health and school/life/work balance related to workload; concerns with instruction quality; and a lack of understanding and flexibility on the part of instructors. The survey report is available on the CITL website. The centre’s director, Gavan Watson, shared the report – and a few thoughts about it – on Twitter last week.

And students at the University of Prince Edward are feeling much the same way, according to a survey of 1,131 students conducted by the student union in early November. Some 63 percent of respondents said they’re struggling more with mental-health issues, though 13.7 percent had accessed on-campus supports, the CBC reports. “The student union is making several recommendations, including better access to a broad array of mental health counselling. Student leaders are also calling for improvements to online materials, including clearer course outlines and shorter, more concise online lectures.”

UPEI is one of many postsecondary institutions in Canada to offer its students an extended break between fall and winter terms in recognition of the tough year it’s been so far. (Read our news story, published today, on how Université de Sherbrooke, Concordia, McMaster and Acadia universities are coordinating a delayed winter term.) Many students are also seeking an extension of compassionate grading options for the fall and winter terms – and some universities, such as Dalhousie and Brandon (see our November 23 update) are complying with this request.

November 25, 2020

COVID cases on campus: update 

In an update posted yesterday, Bishop’s University reported 16 positive cases in campus residences and at least 12 cases off campus. Due to evidence of community transmission, eight of the residence cases are considered an outbreak. The university has also learned that a student contracted the virus from an outbreak at a local pub and brought it to residence. Many students who tested positive “have left campus and Lennoxville and are isolating elsewhere,” the university explains. “Those in isolation on campus are having meals delivered and they will remain in isolation as required. Those who have contracted COVID-19 are all recovering well.” As a result of the ongoing situation on campus, Bishop’s dean of student affairs, Stine Linden-Andersen, announced that the university will finish the fall semester online.

Nipissing University’s COVID-19 case count has jumped to six, up from two earlier this week. The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit has declared it a community COVID-19 outbreak as the six cases involve members of Nipissing’s student athlete community. The university notes that all affected individuals live off campus; however, three COVID-positive people have been on campus, at the R.J. Surtees Student Athletics Centre. The centre was closed on November 18 for a deep cleaning.

St. Mary’s University has confirmed a case of COVID-19 in its community. The news comes as cases are on the rise in Halifax and Nova Scotia introduces new travel and gathering restrictions that take effect tomorrow.

The University of Windsor has reported a new case in its community. It’s the second case the university has reported in as many weeks. The cases are unrelated.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is working with the London Health Sciences Centre to respond to a “significant” outbreak at London’s University Hospital, located on the Western University campus. According to a news release posted by the public health authority, an outbreak declared on November 10 has been expanded from a single floor to all medical floors at the hospital. Yesterday, 10 new cases of COVID-19 were linked to the hospital outbreak. “In all, there have been 34 cases associated with the outbreak including 16 cases among hospital staff, 18 cases among patients and one death. Additionally, there are currently six cases associated with a smaller, second outbreak on the ninth floor at University Hospital,” the release explains. The hospital has paused new admissions for seven days in an effort to get the outbreak under control.

For a daily look at case counts at Canadian postsecondary institutions, higher-ed strategist Ken Steele is tracking campus-related COVID cases in this live spreadsheet.

Exam woes

The CBC is reporting that some 100 students at the University British Columbia are currently under investigation for cheating on an online exam. According to the news outlet, the investigation became public knowledge after a note to students from the professor leading the course in question was circulated online this week: “I am extremely disappointed to tell you that there were over 100 cases of cheating. … If confirmed, the students involved will receive a 0% for the course (not just the midterm) and I will recommend their expulsion from UBC.” The CBC says it hasn’t verified the note or the identity of the note’s author, however UBC told the broadcaster that there is an ongoing investigation into widespread cheating in a first-year section of the math department. The news article notes that over 1,500 students are registered in UBC’s Math 100 online course, with classes divided into about 250 students each.

Meanwhile, students at Polytechnique Montréal are protesting the institution’s decision to hold face-to-face final exams. The institution confirmed this week that finals will be held in four halls at Montreal’s convention centre, the Palais des congrès, in order to allow for social distancing between students. Pierre Baptiste, Polytechnique professor and assistant director of training and research, told the Montreal Gazette that no more than 850 students would be writing exams at the conference centre at a time. The halls can accommodate a total of 10,000 individuals. The institution will allow anyone who is concerned about the in-person exam to push their tests to January instead, while students who are outside the country, living in remote areas, who are immunocompromised or have disabilities will be permitted to write their exams online.

Despite these accommodations and the safety measures that the university says it will take – including temperature checks and regular disinfecting of surfaces – some students are unhappy with the decision. “We should not have to choose between our health and our education,” Malak Ismail, a 28-year-old industrial engineering student, told the Gazette. “I feel the school has not considered how the situation has evolved.”

November 23, 2020

COVID cases on campus: update 

McMaster University has reported three cases of COVID-19 on campus. Two unrelated cases involved employees – one is an employee with an external company working on campus who tested positive on November 19. That person was last on campus on November 16The other university employee was in the faculty of health sciences space in the McMaster University Medical Centre and the Psychology Building on November 14. The third case involved a student who had been at McMaster’s Innovation Park on November 17 and 18. 

Western University reported outbreaks at two student residences last week. Eight cases were confirmed at Saugeen-Maitland HallThree cases were identified in Perth Hall. All residents who have tested positive and some close contacts have been moved to a quarantine location. The university is offering these students support through food delivery, transportation, access to medical and mental health care as well as academic accommodations as needed. “As we see COVID-19 case numbers go up across the province and the country, we know this may be causing additional anxiety for our students at an already stressful time leading into the exam period,” Jennifer Massey, Western’s associate vice-president, student experience, said in a statement on the university’s website. “We have extra staff on hand over the weekend to help support our students and answer any questions they or their families might have.” 

Last week, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine at Lakehead University confirmed a case of COVID-19 within its community. The school clarified that the individual had been at the Balmoral Street Centre at Lakehead on November 10, but didn’t come into direct contact with anyone that day. 

According to CBC, the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus alerted its community over the weekend that some individuals may have been exposed to a case of COVID-19. The university took to Twitter to clarify that no case had been confirmed on campus, however. The broadcaster explains that several businesses in Saint John are taking similar steps to report potential exposure as cases rise in the region. 

Two cases have been confirmed at the University of Waterloo. One case was announced on November 19, the other on November 22 

Two Dalhousie University students living off campus have contracted COVID-19. The university confirmed the cases on November 22 and clarified that the students had been studying remotely this term.  

Nipissing University has also reported two cases in the community. Both involve individuals living off campus who had been at the campus athletics centre in the past two weeks.  

A unit at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon is managing a COVID-19 outbreak. The hospital is located on the University of Saskatchewan campus. The university reported seven positive cases for the seven-day period ending November 19. 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit confirmed a case of COVID-19 at the University of Windsor. The affected member of the campus community is self-isolating and all appropriate protocols and cleaning measures have been taken. 

Bishop’s University reported seven new cases on Friday involving individuals on an off campus. These new cases bring the university’s total to 15. Because of the steep increase in numbers, Bishop’s has suspended most in-person activities until the morning of Wednesday, November 25. The decision applies to all face-to-face classes, which will move online 

Brandon U extends pass/fail option 

Students at Brandon University will have the option to convert conventional grades to pass/fail this academic year. The university has extended the optional grading scheme it introduced for the previous academic year in response to challenges students have faced during the ongoing pandemic. In a news release posted to the institution’s website, Brandon registrar Andrea McDaniel explained the decision: “This is a time for compassion. These options offer much-needed flexibility for students, recognizing that they continue to face ongoing disruption, unpredictable circumstances, and new challenges.” 

Memorial delays return to campus 

Memorial University has postponed plans to welcome non-academic staff back to campus. The return-to-campus plan for employees was to start today, but the university has opted to delay it due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the province. (See our update posted on November 16 for more information on Memorial’s original plan.) 

U of T’s largest faculty moves to onlineonly courses this winter 

The faculty of arts and science at the University of Toronto has ditched a hybrid learning model in favour of online-only courses for the upcoming winter term. Dean Melanie Woodin made the announcement on November 20, the same day that Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a 28-day lockdown for the Toronto and Peel region starting today. According to The Varsity, the faculty had originally planned to offer dual-delivery courses for the 2020-2021 academic year. The faculty moved fall courses online on October 10. 

New figures on international student enrolment for 2020-21 

According to data from Course Compare, some 50 postsecondary institutions in Canada have seen a 9 percent average drop in international student enrolmentAtlantic Canada as well as the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec experienced “higher than expected enrolment as Canadian students and adult learners flocked to programs as the unemployment rate remained high.”  

The company notes that actual international student enrolment numbers range from a 7 percent increase to a 50 percent decrease compared to last year’s fall semester, with first-year student enrolment particularly hard hit. 

November 18, 2020

U of Alberta clarifies province’s new pandemic restrictions, confirms remote work through winter

In Monday’s update (November 16) we mentioned that Alberta’s provincial government had put in place new pandemic-related restrictions, including a temporary ban on in-person artistic performances, which would lead to the cancellation of performance arts and music classes on campus. The province and the University of Alberta have clarified that the new restrictions do not, in fact, apply to singing, dance and theatre activities at schools. “Therefore, at this time fall 2020 singing, dance, and theatre activities that are a part of approved in-person courses will continue unaffected by recent provincial restrictions.”

U of A also confirmed that faculty and staff currently working remotely will continue in this format through to at least April 30, 2021. Administration will revisit the university’s remote work plan in mid-March.

More Canadian universities to welcome international students this winter

Immigration and Citizenship Canada has updated the list of designated learning institutions that are permitted to welcome international students to campus. To make the list, the institution’s COVID-19 response plan must be approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. International students registered at approved DLIs will be exempt from travel bans at Canadian borders.

Several institutions in Ontario have been added to the list:

  • Brescia University College
  • Huron University College
  • King’s University College
  • Université de Hearst
  • Laurentian University
  • Nipissing University
  • OCAD University
  • Renison University College
  • Ryerson University
  • University of Waterloo
  • Western University
  • University of Windsor

The next update is scheduled for December 1.

COVID-19 cases on campus

A staff member at Université de Moncton has tested positive for COVID-19. In an announcement posted to its website on Monday, the university noted that this is the first case associated with the institution and it has been deemed low risk by public health authorities.

The University of Calgary posted four new case notifications since Monday.

Last week, the University of Saskatchewan reported two positive COVID-19 cases in the community, both on and off campus.

In an email to the community yesterday, the chair of Bishop’s University’s COVID-19 task force, Stine Linden-Andersen, confirmed an outbreak at the institution. Five people tested positive this past weekend and three of those cases were contracted through community transmission. This brings the university’s total count to eight cases. (The regional health authority website linked to above also notes that Université de Sherbrooke is currently reporting less than five cases.)

Over last weekend, Toronto Public Health alerted the University of Toronto to four cases of COVID-19 that were traced back to an unofficial sports activity held at the St. George campus downtown. The event happened on November 8. The health authority determined the cases to be of low risk to the community.

York University has one confirmed case listed on its COVID-19 website. The site was last updated on November 16.

At Trent University, one case was reported on November 15. The individual lives off-campus and was last on campus November 13.

Hybrid terms for ECUAD, Royal Roads

Two institutions in British Columbia have decided to go ahead with hybrid course models for next term. Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s spring term, which begins in January 2021 will “look very similar to our current fall term. Seventy percent of courses will be delivered entirely online. The remaining 30 percent will be … a mix of online and in-person delivery.”

Royal Roads University plans to offer five programs through face-to-face instruction on campus this January. Three of the programs are at the master’s level and two are undergraduate degrees. In total, about 200 students have registered for the five programs.

November 16, 2020

Sherbrooke universities move courses online as Eastern Townships deemed Red Zone

The Eastern Townships is the latest region in Quebec to be declared a Red Zone, the province’s highest risk level for COVID-19 infections. As a result, Bishop’s University and Université de Sherbrooke have both moved all hybrid and in-person classes to online-only (with a few exceptions, such as for courses with a clinical component). This change is in effect for the rest of the fall term.

U de Sherbrooke noted that despite these latest changes, it will prioritize in-person learning for the winter 2021 term. The francophone university said 60 percent of its courses were offered in person for the fall term and that it will maintain those offerings this winter.

New restrictions for Manitoba universities as province heightens COVID response

As Manitoba struggles with record-high positivity rates, the provincial government has imposed new restrictions while transitioning its pandemic response to critical, or red, level. According to the University of Winnipeg, “additional restrictions do not affect the classes, labs, and research activities that are already authorized to take place on campus – as these adhere to safety protocols under the existing public health order.”

The University of Manitoba clarified some of the health and safety measures that would be put into place, including: mandatory disposable three-ply masks for campus visitors involved in academic and research activities; requiring all work be done remotely where possible; the closure of common spaces except those that are essential; reduction of available study spaces. The full list is on the U of Manitoba website.

COVID-19 case counts on campus

An outbreak of COVID-19 has been declared at MacEwan University. The news came on Friday after 12 students in MacEwan’s theatre arts program tested positive for the virus. Forty-five students are enrolled in the program at the Edmonton institution. Students in this cohort last attended face-to-face classes on campus on October 23. The university has since moved all theatre arts program online, with on-campus classes set to resume on November 30. (The move to online courses for theatre arts also follows a directive from the province, which banned singing, dancing and theatre performances until November 27. This transition also applies to music courses.)

Canadian Mennonite University has alerted the community to a confirmed case at its Shaftesbury campus. The individual was on campus on the afternoon of November 3. “At this point, this is considered to be a low-risk situation,” the university said in a news release.

Non-academic staff to return to campus at Memorial

Starting next Monday, Memorial University will begin to welcome back non-academic staff to campus. The university has introduced a plan for a gradual return to campus. With COVID-19 cases fairly low in Newfoundland and Labrador, the university has decided it’s safe to resume some in-person activities. Memorial announced that non-academic staff will come back “for a minimum of two days a week, beginning Nov. 23, with an intended full return during the first half of 2021.”

November 11, 2020

Hospital halts student placements after UWindsor nursing students test positive for COVID-19

Several nursing students at the University of Windsor have tested positive for COVID-19. The affected students had all been on work placements at the Windsor Regional Hospital. The hospital said that the students – four from U of Windsor and one from St. Clair College – contracted the virus through community transmission and not from the hospital. It has recommended that 15 hospital staff and 13 patients get tested after coming into close contact with the students. As a result of the outbreak, the hospital has suspended all placements for nursing students as well as some student clinical placements on specific floors.  

More cases on campus

On Monday, the University of Waterloo declared a COVID outbreak at a campus residence after two students living in Claudette Miller Hall tested positive for the virus. The university says the latest cases are related to another confirmed case reported on November 5. The students are self-isolating in designated suites on campus.  

A Halloween party has led to an outbreak in residence at the University of WindsorFive students have contracted the virus and another 18 residents of Alumni Hall are now self-isolating. According to the Windsor Star, a person travelled outside of Windsor-Essex before attending the party with mild symptoms of COVID-19. Wajid Ahmed, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit medical officer of health, said that the university has acted quickly to mitigate any additional risk and that “there is no ongoing risk to the students at this time.  

U of A neuroscientist dies of complications related to COVID-19

Richard “Dick” Stein, a former faculty member in the department of physiology at the University of Alberta, has died after contracting COVID-19. Dr. Stein, who had been a resident of the Parkinson’s disease unit at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre, passed away on November 3 from COVID-related pneumonia. In an obituary, U of A recalls that Dr. Stein helped build the physiology department and co-founded the Neuroscience Group, now the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. He was a professor at the U of A for 50 years before retiring in June 2018. A graduate student scholarship was named in his honour.  

Outdoor classrooms here to stay at USherbrooke

This fall, Université de Sherbrooke decided to prioritize in-person learning by relying on several non-traditional classroomsThe university adapted arts venues, church sites and campus green space for course use. The experiment went over well enough that the outdoor classrooms will become a permanent fixture at the university. Christine Hudon, vice-rectrice of students, told La Tribune that both students and instructors responded positively to the experience, and the institution will continue to offer these teaching spaces on a voluntary basis.  

King’s at Western offers job guarantee

The pandemic has severely cut back work opportunities for students and new grads. As the job market contracts, university enrolment in Canada has largely remained steady, particularly where domestic students are concerned. It’s in this context that King’s University Collegeaffiliated with Western University, has introduced a job guarantee for graduates. The King’s Promise is a suite of career and personal development programs that the university guarantees will lead to meaningful employment for participating students within six months of graduation. 

King’s expands on the new signature program in a press release“The focus of the program is on student engagement and career development enabling students to become adaptive, intuitive and compassionate leaders. Students will participate in opportunities that will expand their outlook and provide valuable experiences that they can include in a resume, speak about in an interview and use to guide their own personal growth.” 

November 9, 2020

More universities to welcome international students to campus

On November 3, the federal government added several universities to its list of designated learning institutions that have been approved to welcome international students from abroad. These institutions have been added to the list since it was first published by Immigration and Citizenship on October 20:


  • Lakehead University*
  • McMaster University*
  • University of Guelph*
  • Ontario Tech University*

Nova Scotia

  • Acadia University*
    • Acadia University: English Language Centre
  • Cape Breton University*
  • Dalhousie University*
    • Dalhousie University ESL Programs
  • Mount Saint Vincent University*
  • Saint Mary’s University*
    • The Language Centre at Saint Mary’s University
  • St. Francis Xavier University*
  • University of King’s College*
  • Nova Scotia College of Art and Design*


  • Canadian Mennonite University*

British Columbia

  • Fairleigh Dickinson University

New Brunswick

  • Stephen’s University

*Member of Universities Canada.

CFI announces recipients of latest COVID-related funding

The federal government has released the results of the latest round of research funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The CFI Exceptional Opportunities Fund will distribute nearly $28 million in research infrastructure and equipment support for 79 projects related to COVID-19 at 52 universities and research hospitals, colleges, polytechnics and Cégeps across Canada.

Several universities are home to multiple projects that have received funding. Six projects are based out of the University of Alberta. McGill University, Université de Montréal, the University of British Columbia are hosting five successful projects. Simon Fraser University is home to four of these projects. View the full lists on the CFI website.

COVID cases on campus

Brock University updated its case counts on Friday. After initially reporting two cases on Thursday, the university later announced a total of five cases involving students in two townhouse households. The university added that the students had been moved into individual isolation units on campus and were being cared for by Brock’s student health staff in consultation with Niagara Public Health.

Over the weekend, McMaster University was informed by Mohawk University that two of its students taking classes at McMaster’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences facility tested positive for COVID-19. Local public health officials do not believe the cases are connected. The students were on campus on November 2 for classes.

The University of Waterloo reported a confirmed case on campus. The individual is self-isolating.

November 6, 2020

Delayed start of the winter term for some

A number of universities have announced that they will be delaying the start of the winter term, primarily to give everyone an extra break over the holidays during these stressful times. In a note to the Carleton University community, Carleton’s president Benoit-Antoine Bacon announced that “in order to provide everyone with a longer rest and a little more preparation time over the winter holidays,” the start of the winter term has been delayed a few days, to January 11. Similarly, Bishop’s University announced that it will be delaying the start of the winter semester by one week, to January 18, “to give students an extended break, to facilitate any required quarantining and to allow faculty and staff more time to prepare.” Neighbouring institution Université de Sherbrooke likewise is delaying the start of winter classes, from January 5 to January 11.

McGill plans to introduce more in-person activities for the winter term

McGill University will continue to offer courses primarily through remote delivery in the winter term, but plans to “implement enhanced in-person teaching activities where possible,” say Christopher Buddle and Fabrice Labeau, respectively McGill’s associate provost and deputy provost, in a November 4 update to the community. “We have heard from students that they are seeking connection to McGill, and we know many instructors and administrative and support staff are also missing opportunities to connect with students in-person.” The two say that they’ve also heard from students about how important it is to have study hubs and other flexible spaces to do group work, “so our planning is also prioritizing these activities.” What actually happens in winter 2021, they note, “will of course depend on the public health situation in Montreal next term.”

CMU temporarily suspends in-person classes

With Winnipeg’s pandemic alert moved to code red, which signifies considerable community transmission of COVID-19 throughout the city, Canadian Mennonite University has shifted all classes to online instruction for one week, from November 3 to November 10. Hybrid classes may be reintroduced as early as November 16, “provided there is a considerable decrease in the number of positive COVID-19 cases by next week,” the university noted. CMU had been one of the few universities in Canada offering a full slate of in-person classes this fall.

Campus COVID case updates

There have been around 100 cases of COVID-19 reported at Université Laval since the start of the fall session, according to an update provided by vice-rector René Lacroix at a university council meeting on November 4, according to TVA Nouvelles. About 20 employees and 86 students have tested positive, but most were teleworking or teaching at a distance, he said. A few cases were also identified in campus residences, but these students were quickly placed in isolation, Mr. Lacroix added.

The University of Manitoba reports seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 on its campuses between October 27 and November 3, for a total 29 cases this fall. The University of Windsor announced today that it was informed by the local public health unit that a second member of the campus community has tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed case at a student residence is unrelated to a case reported on November 3, the university says. Brock University has reported two new confirmed cases who had been on campus recently. According to university protocols, “the areas of campus where they have visited are being cleaned and sanitized and appropriate contact tracing will be undertaken.”

November 4, 2020

Congress goes virtual for 2021

In what was perhaps not a surprise move, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences announced that next year’s Congress, scheduled to be held at the University of Alberta May 29 to June 4, will instead be held virtually. “Many things have changed since COVID-19 entered our lives, but one stubborn fact has remained the same: large, in-person gatherings are a public health risk. While we are all hoping for a breakthrough against the pandemic soon, public health officials are telling us it could be another year or more before we can safely go back to in-person meetings,” said Patrizia Albanese, chair of the board of directors of the Federation, in a statement explaining the decision. “Congress is unique in many ways, but like thousands of other events around the world, it must respond to the realities of this ongoing global health emergency. Congress must adapt, just as we all have had to do, at home, with our colleagues, and in the classroom.”

Traditionally, Congress brings together more than 8,000 academics, representing over 70 scholarly associations, to the host campus. The U of A’s Michael O’Driscoll and Al Chapman, respectively convenor and project manager for Congress 2021, said in a statement that planning for the event had been “a long journey for the local Congress team … six years in the making.” Nevertheless, they said that the switch presents the university with “an historic opportunity to stage Canada’s largest ever virtual, academic conference.” The Congress 2021 team, they said, “is ready to work with the Federation to help associations and their members adopt best practices for virtual conferencing, ensure accessibility and security for all participants, and encourage an innovative repertoire of programming that creates community, provides opportunities for networking, mitigates the physical strain of virtual engagement, and allows for virtual socializing.”

Congress 2020, which was scheduled to take place at Western University, was cancelled outright this year due to the pandemic. The Federation had discussed with organizers and participating scholarly associations the possibility of holding a virtual conference, but in the end they decided that “we need to turn our energy to other things right now,” said Federation executive director Gabriel Miller in a video statement on April 2.

The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the university population

According to a study underway at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC) on the overall health of students and employees of Quebec universities, the pandemic is a significant source of stress for the university population. The first phase of the study involved an online questionnaire completed by 2,754 participants. The results of this first phase (in French only), published last week, reveal that 89 percent of respondents describe the situation as stressful and 60 percent report suffering from at least one of the following mental health problems: depression (47 percent), anxiety (45 percent), psychological distress (42 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (30 percent). The researchers say these problems are more prominent among students than employees. Parents interviewed (n = 410) said they found balancing work and family responsibilities difficult, particularly those with young children, and that this was having an impact on their family life.

UBC president speaks out on mental health

University of British Columbia president Santa Ono warned, during an online summit organized by Times Higher Education, that research is showing worryingly high proportions of students feeling depressed. “The next mental health crisis is already upon us” and universities must “act swiftly to protect our students,” said Dr. Ono, according a report. He added that “of course” the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the problems that young people face.” Dr. Ono said he “spoke from lived experience,” having “tried to take my own life twice when I was young, first when I was only 14 years old. … It’s for that reason that [mental health] is a topic I talk about far and wide,” he continued.

Preliminary enrolment numbers, continued

In Monday’s update (Nov. 2), we reported on the preliminary enrolment numbers for universities in Atlantic Canada. Higher education strategist Ken Steele has included these in an updated spreadsheet of initial estimates of fall enrolment for all universities and colleges in the country, based on preliminary announcements from individual institutions, media releases, or media coverage of board and senate reports. His take so far: international enrolment is struggling, though not uniformly across institutions, while domestic enrolment is all over the map, decreasing at some institutions while increasing at others.

November 2, 2020

Preliminary enrolments in Atlantic Canada

There is much interest, and concern, about how the pandemic has affected enrolments this fall at Canada’s universities. So all eyes were on the Association of Atlantic Universities’ preliminary survey of enrolments for 2020-2021, the first comprehensive, region-wide set of numbers released in Canada. The survey found that full-time enrolment (undergraduate and graduate) declined by 1.3 percent year-over-year, while full-time international student enrolment declined 6.6 percent. The declines have not been evenly distributed, however. While some institutions have taken a hit, others are holding close to, or even exceeding, enrolment numbers from the same time last year.

“Not a surprise” is how AAU chair Allister Surette, recteur of Université Sainte-Anne, summarized the declines in domestic and international enrolments. “Once our universities were past the immediate response to the pandemic during the spring semester and began planning in most cases for delivery of online learning in the fall semester, some declines were expected,” he said.

The most concerning enrolment decline occurred among full-time first-year students, down 10.5 percent year-over-year. Mr. Surette explained that, “this will have a significant impact on enrolment and institutional sustainability over the next three to four years.” This was partially offset by a significant increase in part-time enrolment of 19.6 percent. “One could hypothesize that many first-year students opted to go part-time because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about their adaptability to virtual learning versus traditional in classroom learning,” said Mr. Surette.

As for international students, national and international travel restrictions, and the temporary closure of visa processing offices worldwide, seriously affected enrolment. The AAU praised the federal government’s decision on October 2 to ease travel restrictions on international students so they can begin returning to campus. (See the updates published on October 5 and October 7). “Our universities are establishing plans to welcome international students back to campus safely and are fully-equipped to place them in the required 14-day quarantine upon their arrival,” said Mr. Surette.

“Any enrolment decline is a concern, especially among first-year and international students. However, the results illustrate the strength and stability of the university sector in Atlantic Canada at a time when the pandemic has had a devastating effect on so many people and other sectors,” he concluded.

In his daily blog today, Alex Usher, principal of Higher Education Strategy Associates, called the AAU preliminary enrolment results “a mixed bag. It’s not good, but it’s not terrible. It’s behind last year, but well ahead of the worst-case scenarios.”

Winter update from StFX

In an October 28 email to University Affairs, St. Francis Xavier University shared details of its plans for the winter semester: the university anticipates that 77 percent of students will be in in-person classes, while 23 percent will be online. That is among the highest percentages of in-person classes of any university in Canada. (Approximately 64 percent of StFX students are enrolled in in-person classes this fall, while 36 percent are taking online courses.)

As with the fall term, provincial and federal public health requirements make it mandatory for students who are coming back from outside the “Atlantic bubble” to quarantine for 14 days upon returning. All classes will begin the week of January 13 in an online delivery format. Those courses identified as in-person will then transition from online delivery to in-person delivery beginning January 20.

Misrepresenting COVID-19 science may sow confusion and erode public trust

A new report released on October 30 by the Royal Society of Canada Task Force on COVID-19, Let’s Do Better: Public Representations of COVID-19 Science, warns that the relevant science on the pandemic is being presented to the public in a way that is causing confusion, inappropriate expectations and, ultimately, eroding public trust. The report looks at how researchers and media play a role in accurately disseminating findings and advances in COVID-19 research and calls on the community to do better. Recommendations from the task force include:
• more transparency about evidence, data and method;
• placing findings and conclusions in the context of the broader evidence base;
• correcting public misrepresentation of researcher’s work;
• taking greater care in how research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed is represented in the public domain.

Halloween misbehaviour

CTV News reports that over 150 people attended a Halloween party at a residence near Western University on Friday evening, October 30. In and emailed statement sent to The Gazette student newspaper, Jennie Massey, associate vice-president of student experience, said: “Should we receive names of any Western students involved, we will review all cases under the Code of Student Conduct, follow up and apply sanctions as appropriate. … We know the majority of our students are doing their part to take care of themselves, each other and our community. But we are at the height of the second wave of this pandemic and we need everyone to commit to this shared responsibility and remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.” Western students have been at the centre of three community outbreaks in the London, Ontario area, and at least 74 students have tested positive since classes began in September.

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