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COVID-19 updates for October 2020

BY UA/AU | OCT 31 2020

October 28, 2020

International students could be returning to N.S. in November

Postsecondary institutions in Nova Scotia will likely be welcoming international students back to their campuses as early as the first week of November. The Government of Nova Scotia shared the news in a press release on Wednesday. The province says it anticipates that schools in N.S. will be included in an update to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s list of “designated learning institutions” that is scheduled for November 3. Institutions on this list all have provincially approved COVID-19 safety plans in place for international students travelling to Canada. Students registered at these institutions are exempt from travel bans so long as they meet eligibility requirements.

IRCC first published its list of approved DLIs on October 20. At that time, no postsecondary institutions in N.S. were included. You can find the original list of approved universities in our update published on October 21. As of this writing, the last update on IRCC’s list was October 23. According to yesterday’s press release, the list is updated every two weeks.

83 international students fined for house party

Dozens of international students have been issued steep fines of $1,000 each after police shut down a large house party in the small town of Chelsea, Quebec, on Saturday. Police estimate that up to 200 people were found at the Airbnb rental near the Gatineau-Ottawa border where a birthday party was taking place. They issued 83 tickets to international students for contravening Quebec’s Public Health Act. A spokesperson for the local police unit noted that the students came from postsecondary institutions from across Quebec and Ontario, including schools in Montreal, Ottawa, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières.

Wildcat strikes at university and teaching hospitals in Alberta

Members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees walked off the job on Monday in protest against thousands of job cuts proposed by the Alberta government. The one-day wildcat strike involved general support health-care workers, licensed practical nurses and health-care aides at more than a dozen hospitals and health-care centres, including the University of Alberta Hospital and Foothills Hospital in Calgary. Earlier this month, these two hospitals, which are affiliated with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, respectively, were struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks among staff (see the update posted on October 16).

“Nursing-care and support workers decided today that there was no other option but to fight to protect Albertans at risk, especially during the deadliest pandemic in a century,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.

The Edmonton Journal reports that the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care professionals, and the United Nurses of Alberta had said in separate statements that their members wouldn’t do the work of other union members. The Alberta Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions said they would join picket lines to show support.

October 26, 2020

COVID on campus

Between October 16 and October 20, the University of Manitoba saw four new cases on campus. Three cases involve the Fort Garry campus and one was identified at the Bannatyne campus.

Thousands of medical residents affected by last-minute exam cancellation

Late last week, the Medical Council of Canada suddenly postponed a licensing exam that was scheduled to take place this past weekend. The MCC Qualifying Examination Part II is a general skills assessment required for Canadian physicians to obtain full medical licensure. The council decided to defer the exam after several testing sites, most of which are universities and hospitals, pulled out in consideration of public health advice.

“Regretfully, due to recommendations by Public Health and late-breaking decisions by some contracted third-party exam sites, primarily in university settings, we are no longer able to administer the MCCQE Part II to a large enough reference group cohort to ensure the exam results are defensible from a high-quality psychometric perspective. We are left with no choice but to cancel all sites for this session of the exam. We apologize for the disruption this has caused candidates,” the council wrote in a statement dated October 22.

The council had been under pressure to postpone the test “after at least seven people were potentially exposed to the virus [SARS-CoV-2] during an internal medicine specialty certification exam in Toronto,” CMAJ News reports. (That specialty exam was administered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada on September 29-30.)

According to the Canadian Press, the postponement affects some 2,400 medical residents. The exam was already postponed in May, at which point many residents received provisional licences. The news agency notes that the next exam is scheduled for February 7, 2021, though the council is looking into alternative options.

Support staff at U of Ottawa worry pandemic will hinder strike efforts

Approximately 1,300 members of support staff at the University of Ottawa have been on strike since last Monday, but a spokesperson for the striking staff says the group is concerned about how the pandemic will affect their safety as well as the reach of their message.

“It’s extremely challenging,” Jonathan Degan, an active learning technologist at the university and vice-president of the local bargaining unit of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told the CBC. The OSSTF represents the support staff, which ranges from mental health counsellors to lab technicians. “Visibility is a big challenge for us.”

October 23, 2020

Updates on future academic terms

A few universities issued updates about course delivery for upcoming academic terms this week:

In a letter to the community, MacEwan University president Annette Trimbee said that institution will continue offering a hybrid model for winter term “with the goal of carefully increasing our face-to-face delivery.” The university is aiming for 25 percent of its programming to have some face-to-face component.

Laurentian University was the first university in Canada to cancel on-campus classes back in March. Now, the university has decided to keep the emote-delivery course model into winter 2021. Less than one percent of the university’s courses will have an in-person option.

Not only has the University of Toronto Scarborough opted for online courses for the upcoming winter term, it has also decided to shift all in-person classes offered this fall to online platforms. The decision to cancel face-to-face activities came as much of the Greater Toronto Area returned to a modified Stage 2 pandemic response as required by the province.

Most classes and activities at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières will be online in winter 2021. The university is prioritizing synchronous online course delivery and will only approve in-person learning in exceptional circumstances.

Spring term at Vancouver Island University (which starts January 2021) will look much the same as the fall term with its hybrid learning model. “When safe to do so, we will create more opportunities for face-to-face learning and activities in 2021/22 – although I want to reassure you that requirements for face-to-face course components will not change mid-term to enable everyone time to plan,” writes VIU president Deb Saucier.

Some ways that service delivery is changing on campus

Since March, university libraries have had to find creative ways to offer services that would normally be delivered in person. Many services transitioned to digital platforms and in the summer, several libraries began offering curbside pickup for books (see the update published on June 17 for some examples). The University of Toronto libraries have recently expanded their curbside service to include a “scan and deliver” option for journal articles: “Users can request scanned copies of journal articles using the ‘Get Help’ button in catalogue records, the same process used to request materials through the Curbside Pickup Service. Links to scanned articles will be delivered to users via email.” Book chapters are excluded from this service.

And though dining services at most institutions are open for in-person dining and/or take out, several are also finding new ways to keep their work accessible during the pandemic. At McMaster University, executive chef Paul Hoag stars in McMaster Class, a series of six videos introducing viewers to kitchen basics and beyond. Meanwhile, hospitality services at the University of Guelph have started to offer Dinner 2 Go, a full dinner with dessert that can be pre-ordered and picked up at a set date and time. The university’s chefs have also periodically posted some of recipes.

October 21, 2020

Feds release list of institutions approved to welcome back international students

Yesterday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada posted a list of “designated learning institutions” with COVID-19 readiness plans that have been approved by their provincial or territorial governments. International students holding approved study permits who are enrolled at these institutions will be permitted to travel to Canada to pursue their studies despite travel bans in place at Canadian borders. If the school is not listed on the IRCC website, international students at these institutions are not currently exempt from the travel bans. (See more information about this decision in our update published on October 7.)

To be approved, the plans must clarify how the institution intends to “[protect] the health and safety of all students and the surrounding community,” “[describe] how they will manage the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for international students, including arrangements for transportation to the students’ quarantine location,” and “[provide] information and support to international students about how they can get the items they need for their quarantine, like food and medications; health insurance; and remaining healthy while in Canada.”

Universities that have been included on the list so far:


  • Alberta University of the Arts
  • Ambrose University
  • Burman University
  • Concordia University of Edmonton*
  • MacEwan University*
  • Mount Royal University *
  • Mary’s University
  • The King’s University *
  • University of Alberta *
  • University of Calgary *
  • University of Lethbridge *

British Columbia

  • Capilano University
  • Emily Carr University of Art and Design *
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University *
  • Royal Roads University *
  • Simon Fraser University *
  • Thompson Rivers University *
  • Trinity Western University *
  • University Canada West
  • University of British Columbia *
  • University of Northern British Columbia *
  • University of Victoria *
  • University of the Fraser Valley *
  • Vancouver Island University *
  • Yorkville University


  • Booth University College
  • Brandon University *
  • University of Manitoba *
  • University of Winnipeg *

New Brunswick

  • Crandall University
  • Mount Allison University *
  • Thomas University *
  • Université de Moncton *
  • University of New Brunswick *

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Memorial University *


  • Algoma University *
  • Brock University *
  • Carleton University *
  • Queen’s University *
  • Trent University *
  • University of Ottawa *
  • University of Toronto *
  • York University *

Prince Edward Island

  • University of Prince Edward Island *


  • All designated learning institutions (including all universities) in the province have been approved (even TELUQ, the province’s online university)


  • University of Regina*
    • Campion College
    • First Nations University of Canada
    • Luther College
  • University of Saskatchewan*
    • Thomas More College


  • Yukon University

(*member of Universities Canada)

Note that no universities located in Nova Scotia have made the list at this time, which means international students at Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, NSCAD University, Acadia University, Cape Breton University, Mount Saint Vincent University, St. Francis Xavier University, Université Sainte-Anne and University of King’s College are not yet permitted to return to campus.

Some other notable absences include U15 members McMaster University, Western University and the University of Waterloo as well as Manitoba’s only French-language university, Université de Saint-Boniface. Only eight universities in Ontario’s made the cut yesterday – Universities Canada counts 30 of its members in that province alone.

The full list of approved DLIs is available on the IRCC website.

COVID cases on campus

A case of COVID-19 was confirmed at McMaster University yesterday. The affected student had last been on campus on October 15 in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery. This is McMaster’s seventh case, Global News reports.

Acadia students charged for non-compliance with COVID precautions

Even though Acadia University moved its homecoming celebrations online this year, eight students at the institution were charged for violating COVID-related safety measures during homecoming weekend. More than 20 people were charged or issued tickets, including eight under the Emergency Management and Health Protection acts, according to RCMP in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The individual charged for failing to comply with the Health Protection Act was fined $1,000.

“We were thrilled to hear they were issuing tickets, because it helps us drive home the point that the protocols that were put in place by the health authority are serious and that we expect students to fulfill their obligation to remain vigilant and take measures to keep themselves and others safe,” Acadia spokesperson Ian Murray told The Chronicle-Herald.

October 19, 2020

Pandemic factors into contract dispute

In an interview with the CBC, Dalhousie Faculty Association president David Westwood said the shift to online learning has significantly increased instructors’ workloads, leading them “to the verge of burnout.” COVID-related workload issues were brought to the table during negotiations for a new collective agreement with university administration which started last summer and came to a standstill this fall – due to pension issues. Spokesperson Janet Bryson said that Dalhousie is considering “how to adequately recognize people’s work and contributions.”

The article notes that COVID-19’s impact on work duties will likely affect contract negotiations at several universities this academic year.

Read also: This fall, many instructors are teaching the pandemic

COVID cases on campus

Last week, the University of Waterloo was informed that two people associated with the institution had tested positive for COVID-19. One person was last on campus on October 1. The other is an “individual from our community,” but the university did not provide additional details.

Universities enlist quarantine reps and safety ambassadors

Several universities are looking for a few good student employees and volunteers to help spread the word about COVID-19 safety health measures.

York University is recruiting volunteers to help international students arriving after Canada re-opens its borders to this population tomorrow. The university notes that some 350 international students are moving into residence this term and anticipates an influx in the next few weeks. York will support these students through their two-week quarantine by paying for housing and meals during this period, and daily check-ins. This is where volunteer quarantine representatives come in: “These check-ins, which provide the students with a York contact and the sense that the university is concerned about their welfare, are done by a corps of volunteers, both staff and students, called QRs or quarantine representatives.”

The safety and risk-management departments at several B.C. universities are rounding up teams of safety ambassadors to patrol busy traffic areas to encourage community members to keep an appropriate distance and wear face masks, among other safety measures. The ambassadors are issued team t-shirts and other gear such as two-way radios to keep risk management apprised of what they’ve observed around campus. The University of Fraser Valley, Thompson Rivers University and Simon Fraser University (which issued vests rather than shirts) are just a few of the institutions making good use of these volunteer safety squads.

Something nice: Making a meal out of homecoming

Virtual homecoming has become a new staple at Canadian campuses this fall. Brandon University’s version gets a shout out for one mouth-watering detail that helps it stand out from the crowd: the Bobcat Appreciation Meal. Alumni can order their meals online for pick up or delivery in time to remotely break bread with fellow grads.

“Local alumni, Bobcat fans, and the entire community will be able to dig into a special blue-and-gold meal through Everyone Eats Brandon on Friday, which is increasing its capacity to 500 [for homecoming]. Meals include seasoned chicken drumsticks and a delicious assortment of vegetables. … Volunteers from the BU Alumni Association and the BU Bobcats women’s basketball team will be providing a limited number of deliveries.”

October 16, 2020

COVID cases on campus

The Wilfrid Laurier University community has now been linked to 15 cases of COVID-19. In Wednesday’s update, we mentioned that an outbreak had been declared on two floors of the Clara Conrad Hall student residence. Students on a third floor of the building are now required to self-isolate. A local health official told Global News that seven of the cases could be traced back to study groups held off campus. Three of the new cases have been confirmed in student residence halls – a case each in Waterloo College Hall, King’s Court and 260 Regina.

Five varsity football players have tested positive at the University of Ottawa. CTV News reports that the university has suspended the team’s training program because certain members of the team were no properly self-isolating. U of Ottawa’s “Cases on Campus” website reports six active cases “impacting our community,” but offers no additional details.

According to CTV News, a case has been traced to the First Nations University of Canada campus. The university temporarily closed the campus childcare facility for extensive cleaning as a result.

Carleton University says two COVID-positive people have visited the campus in the past two days. The Charlatan, a campus newspaper, reports that one case has been traced to a student living in Leeds residence.

A student employee at McMaster University has tested positive for the virus. The student was last on campus on October 2 in the Campus Services Building.

Two hospitals affiliated with universities in Alberta have reported that staff members have been infected with the virus. A “small but unknown number” of staff in the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton have been affected. The local health authority says there is no increased risk to patients despite the positive cases at the site. Meanwhile, Foothills Medical Centre, which has connections to the University of Calgary, is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19. According to the Calgary Herald, 46 patients have tested positive and of those, “11 died, 11 are active cases and 24 have recovered. A total of 38 health-care workers and five visitors have also tested positive.”

U of Calgary is also reporting new cases on campus. On October 15, the university updated its COVID dashboard to reflect three total active cases. Cases have been traced to Craigie Hall, Mathematical Sciences, the Taylor Institute for Teaching & Learning and Engineering A.

Winter term updates

  • Université de Sherbrooke, will continue to “prioritize in-person learning” this winter. Rector Pierre Cossette notes that the school can’t offer all classes in person but will run as many as can be safely managed – about 60 percent of all courses. The university will continue to hold some classes at off-campus venues, however will shutter its outdoor classrooms due to the colder weather.
  • Administrators at Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue have taken a different tack, and will maintain online course delivery through the winter term.
  • With Winnipeg seeing one of the steepest inclines of COVID cases in the country, the University of Winnipeg has decided to continue “mostly remote delivery of courses with a small number of classes on campus.”
  • The University of Calgary announced in September that it would maintain a blended learning model for winter. This month, it added that it will push to increase the number of students learning in person on campus to 30 percent this winter, up from 20 percent this fall.
  • The University of Ottawa has cancelled all school-sanctioned international travel for students in winter 2021. The decision applies to internships, co-op, field research, among other activities.

This week also came with a spate of announcements about university athletics for the winter term. With cases on the rise across the country, various leagues have cancelled competitions for the rest of the school year:

  • U Sports cancelled winter championships.
  • Cancellations at Atlantic University Sport.
  • Ontario University Athletics has cancelled sanctioned sports through to March 2021.
  • The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) has suspended “all activities of university sport programming until further notice” – until at least January 15, 2021.
  • Canada West announced “no conference regular season, playoff, or championship events” through this school year for basketball, volleyball, hockey, wrestling, and some rugby. The league deferred decisions for championships in curling, track and field, and swimming.

October 14, 2020

New cases of COVID on campus

Western University is dealing with an outbreak in a student residence hall. The Middlesex-London Health Unit declared an outbreak in London Hall after four residents tested positive. Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, told Western News that the affected students have been moved out of the residence to isolate while recovering. “We are delivering them meals, and our staff are in regular contact to ensure students are well supported,” he said. The university has also relocated a few residents who had been in close contact with the COVID-positive students out of “an abundance of caution.” Global News notes that, overall, at least 70 cases in the region have been linked to Western students.

An outbreak has also been declared at a residence building at Wilfrid Laurier University. It’s not clear how many students have tested positive, but the university reports that the outbreak has been confined to two floors of Clara Conrad Hall. All residents of those floors have been required to isolate for two weeks.

The University of Guelph confirmed yesterday that a low-risk case had been confirmed on its campus.

On October 9, Algoma University issued a memo alerting the students, faculty and staff of a COVID case “tied to an individual associated with our Sault Ste. Marie campus.”

Students fined, charged for hosting house parties

An Acadia University student was served a hefty fine after RCMP broke up a house party in Wolfville, N.S., that had more than 75 people in attendance. By hosting the party, the student contravened the Emergency Management Act and will have to pay $697.50. Last week, police in Antigonish, N.S., charged several students from St. Francis Xavier University after they were called to several house parties. According to the CBC, three people were charged for failing to physically distance and a 23-year-old woman from Ontario was charged under the Health Protection Act for failing to self-isolate.

Student loan repayments restart as emergency benefit program winds down

September 30 marked the end of a six-month pause on national student loan repayments and interest charges. Several recent Laurentian University grads told CBC that they aren’t sure how they’ll manage repayments with few employment prospects available at the moment.

The federal government has made some changes to the Canada Student Loan program for the 2020-2021 school year, though they won’t help new grads facing repayment plans. The government has doubled the Canada Student Grants up to $6,000 for full-time students and up to $3,600 for part-time students; doubled the Canada Student Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependents; broadened eligibility for student financial assistance by removing the expected student’s and spouse’s contributions for the year; and raised the maximum weekly amount that can be provided to a student from $210 to $350.

September 30 was also the last day for students to apply to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. As of September 24, the program had paid out $2.92 billion. According to iPolitics the program “undershot its budget by $2.33 billion, at most.” When CESB was announced in April, the government had said it earmarked $5.25 billion for the program. It received 2.1 million applications, with 700,000 students receiving support. The website reports that Nicole Brayiannis, national deputy chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, called the CESB and the cancellation of the Canada Student Service Grant “a letdown and a disappointment.”

October 9, 2020

Several cases of COVID-19 reported on campuses

For a second time this week, McMaster University is alerting the community to a case of COVID-19 on campus. On October 8, the university was notified that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. That student had visited the John Hodgins Engineering Building on campus two days prior to receiving the positive test result.

Trent University also posted on October 8 that one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19. The student had been on campus in Peterborough on September 29 and is now self-isolating. According to Peterborough Public Health, the individual was likely not on campus during the period of communicability.

According to Brock University, “a member of the Brock community” recently tested positive for COVID-19. The university did not publish additional information about the case.

The University of Waterloo reported its first case of COVID-19. On October 5, the university was informed by the local health authority that “one individual from our community” tested positive. That person is now self-isolating. On October 1, U of Waterloo launched a COVID-19 case tracker on its website.

Since October 3, the Wilfrid Laurier University has reported six new cases of COVID-19 within its campus community. Each of the cases involve off-campus students and were confirmed by the university on October 3, October 5  and October 7.

A member of the campus community at the University of Saskatchewan recently tested positive for COVID-19. The university noted that the individual is associated with the College of Medicine and “based on class schedule, the individual has not been on campus since October 1.”

Universities could lose up to $3.4 billion in revenue this year: StatCan

Yesterday, Statistics Canada released a financial forecast for the university sector for the 2020-2021 academic year. Depending on the scenario, the agency projects that universities will lose between $377 million to $3.4 billion this year. That is a decrease in revenue of 0.8 percent to 7.5 percent from the 2018-2019 school year. The five scenarios presented look at the impact of reduced international student enrolment, both higher- and lower-than-usual domestic student enrolment numbers, and a loss of revenue from ancillary services.

More universities announce winter plans

The plans for winter 2021 keep rolling out. Here are the latest announcements:

  • Mount Royal University “will continue delivering most classes online during the winter 2021 semester, similar to the fall 2020 semester. On-campus and off-campus exceptions will be considered for those courses requiring in-person learning components.”
  • Winter term at the University of Saskatchewan “will be primarily remote online learning with extremely limited in-person instruction.” Registration for classes is underway.
  • Brandon University will extend remote course delivery into the winter term. This approach, the university says, “provides certainty for faculty, staff and for students, and once again ensures that there will be no mid-term disruption from rising infection rates.”
  • OCAD U president Ana Serrano announced that the art institution will largely retain the online learning model it’s used throughout the fall term. However, the university will also “pilot a small number of optional studio courses that will combine online learning with in-person instruction, and we are working on opening more facilities for service delivery and independent work.” Administration will provide additional details on these in-person opportunities next week.
  • Western University, which has seen a high number of COVID-19 cases among its student population, will “continue with the mixed model for the winter term.” President Alan Shepard wrote in an update that he expects Winter 2021 will “look like the current semester, with approximately 25 percent of undergraduate and graduate courses taught in person or with an on-campus component, like a lab or studio.”
  • The University of New Brunswick will keep a blended learning model for the next term.
  • Thomas University will maintain the remote learning model it introduced this fall. President Dawn Russell noted that the decision to keep status quo factored in ongoing border restrictions, self-isolation requirements and physical distancing measures. In a message to the public, she wrote: “While we have a much better understanding of risks and how to mitigate them, there are still many barriers to a resumption of in-person classes and campus life. While the circumstances have improved in our province and region, we do not want to contribute to a setback. There are also factors specific to the second term and complications arising from the upcoming cold/flu season including testing, self-monitoring, and self-isolation.” She also noted that information about convocation, athletics and other student activities will be forthcoming.
  • Cape Breton University won’t resume in-person classes before May 3. It will continue remote course delivery throughout the winter. “There will be a limited number of exceptions in cases where in-person delivery is essential. Students will continue to be supported in a virtual environment or in-person by appointment only,” CBU clarified.
  • Mount Saint Vincent University has decided that winter term will proceed largely online. The university notes that a few labs will run live on campus, and that administration and faculty will explore opportunities for “multi-access delivery of a limited number of courses – meaning some winter semester courses may be delivered simultaneously online and on-campus.”
  • Acadia University will continue with a blended learning model, but it emphasized a commitment to on-campus learning opportunities. “Acadia University will stay the course and welcome students back to campus for a COVID-19-ready Winter 2021 term with a hybrid approach to teaching and learning,” the announcement reads. The blended model includes face-to-face on-campus, virtual and dual format courses.

And, it’s not quite winter term news, but an update on fall at one institution:

Some 300 students at the Royal Military College in Kingston will transition to an online learning model after the Thanksgiving long weekend, CTV News reports.  Roughly 800 cadets had already been taking courses remotely this fall.

October 7, 2020

Universities pleased with new measures affecting international students

Universities are reacting positively to the news that the federal government is relaxing travel restrictions for international students (see the October 5 update below). “Canada’s universities are very pleased that the Government of Canada has amended travel restrictions to allow international students to begin safely entering the country,” Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, told The PIE News (Universities Canada is the publisher of University Affairs). “This is a testament to the critical importance of international students to Canadian communities, and a recognition of the rigorous and comprehensive plans that universities across the country have put in place.”

“This is great news,” tweeted University of British Columbia president Santa Ono. “I’m grateful to the federal and provincial governments and members of the UBC community for working together to support the safe entry of international students to Canada.”

“It’s a really important step forward. It has taken a lot of work,” added Universities Canada president Paul Davidson, speaking to the Globe and Mail. “International students have been able to enrol online this fall, but their stickiness – how committed they would be to Canada – was a bit of a question if there was no prospect of the border opening. This is a real boost that distinguishes Canada.”

According to the new measures, as of October 20, international students with valid study permits will be permitted to enter the country provided their institution has a COVID-19 readiness plan that has been approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. These plans must include provisions for how universities will quarantine students for the mandatory 14-day period upon arrival, including details on transport, meals, periodic check-ins, and the administration of at least one COVID-19 test. A list of “designated learning institutions” with approved plans will be posted to the Immigration website “before or on” October 20. According to the Globe and Mail, in Ontario, seven institutions have had their plans approved as of October 2, and a number of others are under review.

New restrictions for students in Quebec’s red zones

With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the province, Quebec higher education minister Danielle McCann announced on Monday that all classes for students in universities and CEGEPs (Quebec’s junior colleges) will be held online as much as possible in the province’s designated red zones. “Everything that can be done from a distance will be done by distance,” Mr. McCann said, with exceptions such as for laboratory research that can’t be done remotely. Montreal, Quebec City and the region just south of the capital, Chaudière-Appalaches, are the main areas currently in a maximum red alert level. The new rules take effect tomorrow, October 8.

Co-op placements will continue, the minister added, and libraries will remain open for the pick-up of materials. Student residences also remain open. Students living away from home should note that the government has additionally urged all Quebecers to avoid inter-regional and interprovincial travel during this coming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

COVID-19 outbreak in McGill residences

McGill University is reporting that five students who live in student housing have tested positive for COVID-19, four since last Friday. According to the McGill Reporter, the most likely cause of transmission is students visiting each other’s rooms. As a result, in the two buildings affected, students have been told that they are not allowed visitors until further notice.

“The people who tested positive are now in isolation. We are providing meals delivered to the door, and Residence Life staff are in contact with them to offer support,” says the report. “We know that this situation is extremely isolating for students and we hope to reverse it as soon as we can, once we receive direction from public health.”

October 5, 2020

Feds relax travel restrictions for international students

Canadian universities might soon see more international students in their local communities. The Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has amended border restrictions on international travellers. As of October 20, international students will be permitted to enter the country provided their school’s COVID-19 readiness plan has been approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. A list of “designated learning institutions” with approved plans will be posted to the Immigration website “before or on” October 20. The change applies to students travelling from any country outside of Canada.

The ministry’s website notes that these institutional readiness plans should include “specifics to their provincial or territorial government on how they will provide information to international students on health and travel requirements before they arrive in Canada, help students with their quarantine plans and provide guidance or assistance in acquiring the necessities of life, such as food and medication, during their quarantine. Readiness plans also need to establish protocols for the health of students in the event there are suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases at the school.”

The update also specifies that immediate family members may be allowed to accompany an international student “if their reason for travel is non-optional or non-discretionary, such as getting established in Canada in support of the principal applicant’s study program. This could include a spouse or common-law partner, a dependent, or in the case of a minor child who will be studying in Canada, a parent or legal guardian.”

Once in Canada, international students (and their family members) will be required to quarantine for 14 days. According to The Globe and Mail, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government will beef up public health staffing at 36 ports of entry as well as regularly share information with provinces and territories to improve enforcement of the mandatory quarantine order.

New case reported at U of Guelph, McMaster

The University of Guelph has confirmed a new case of COVID-19 associated with the institution. The university updated its “Cases on Campus” page last Thursday. According to the website, a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 visited the Guelph campus at some point in a two-week period ending October 1. The university considers the risk of transmission “low” but did not offer additional information.

Yesterday, McMaster University confirmed a case of COVID-19 involving an employee. The employee was last on campus on September 29 and in the Life Sciences Building, which has been thoroughly cleaned.

COVID-19 Immunity Task Force focuses in on older Canadians

The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force has set its sights on better understanding the disease’s prevalence among older people in Canada. The new $4-million research initiative targeting this high-risk demographic will be carried out in collaboration with the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a national platform based out of McMaster University that involves tens of thousands of Canadians aged 45 to 85. (Find out more about CLSA from this news story we published in 2017 when the project first launched.)

Researchers working on the CLSA COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study will collect and test blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces. Participants will fill out a questionnaire about COVID-19 symptoms, risk factors, experiences with the health care system, and how the pandemic has affected various aspects of their lives.

“Our best means of ascertaining how close we are to containing the pandemic is to track the presence of antibodies in the population,” Christina Wolfson, co-principal investigator of the CLSA, told McGill News. “The devastating effects of COVID-19 at all ages with higher levels of mortality at older ages make it imperative that we give particular attention to the evolution of the antibody profiles of older adults which will, very likely, be different from those of the younger population. The CLSA and the CLSA participants are in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the distribution of these antibodies in the older adult population in Canada.”

The federal government launched the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force in April 2020 to track the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness in Canada. It’s co-led by David Naylor, a professor of medicine emeritus and former president of the University of Toronto, and Catherine Hankins, a professor of public and population health at McGill University. In July, the task force found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were present in less than 1 percent of blood samples provided by Canada Blood Services, which suggested to researchers at the time that less than one percent of these donors were infected with the coronavirus at some point (see update published on July 27).

U of Guelph gets in on wastewater monitoring

Last week we told you about McMaster University’s efforts to track and predict COVID-19 outbreaks at the institution by monitoring raw sewage at several sites on campus (see the update posted on September 30). Researchers in food science, engineering, pathobiology and population medicine have teamed up to run a similar experiment at the University of Guelph. The team is now collecting wastewater samples from campus residences.

Engineering professor Ed McBean says that a wastewater sample that has been collected over the course of a day can offer “reliable evidence of the amount of virus coming from a specific area where wastewater facilities are shared by a group of students.” Taken over a period of a week, those daily samples can point to whether or not COVID-19 case numbers will climb.

October 2, 2020

More universities confirm winter term plans

The list of Canadian universities that have confirmed winter plans continues to grow. With Canada at the start of a second wave, it’s little surprise that most institutions will maintain online courses for most programs. Here are the universities we’ve heard from this week:

  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University says it will “continue with additional on-campus instructional activities that are essential to the completion of courses and programs, combined with remote delivery of programs and services to students” in January. This fall, more than 70 classes (out of 1,900 total classes offered at KPU) offered some form of in-person learning experience.
  • Trent University will “increase the number of in-person courses for the coming winter 2021 term, offering a mix of in-person, online and remote options in our multi-access approach. … Students should be reassured that many courses offered in person will also be made available with options for remote or online learning.”
  • The University of Prince Edward Island, in the Atlantic Bubble, announced a blended delivery model for winter 2021.
  • Algoma University is planning for the return of “some” in-person classes in January. The Timmins Press doesn’t have an exact number, but Algoma said it would limit access to 25 to 30 percent of a room’s normal capacity.
  • With Montreal and Ottawa seeing a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases, universities in these areas – including l’Université de Montréal, Concordia University, l’Université du Québec en Outaouais and McGill University – are keeping online learning as the status quo into the winter term. Carleton University noted that “the winter semester [will] proceed online, with some leeway for selected optional instruction on campus (e.g. specific labs, capstone projects, recitals) if circumstances allow.”
  • At Memorial University, students will continue to take courses “in a primarily remote teaching and learning environment for the winter 2021 semester.”
  • The University of Manitoba will also run online courses, with just a few in-person opportunities available to students.

COVID-19 case counts on campus: an update

The University of Alberta says an outbreak at St. Joseph’s College residence has been contained. The five students who had tested positive for COVID-19 last month are no longer considered active cases. Following the positive test results, all 22 residents of the hall had been put under quarantine. In a post to its website, the university said that “all 22 members of St. Joseph’s College Men’s residence, including the five individuals who tested positive, are now fully recovered and/or have completed their required self-isolation periods. There were no additional cases associated with the outbreak.”

An additional student at Wilfrid Laurier University has tested positive for COVID-19. The total has now reached 5. The latest case involves a student living off campus.

At least five new cases in Kingston are linked to a house party that took place on September 18 in a neighbourhood near Queen’s University. An estimated 40 to 50 people attended the party. The local health authority is advising everyone who attended a house party to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19. The university put out a press release on September 28 acknowledging that some 13 cases have now been linked to the institution.

McMaster University confirms that a student has contracted the novel coronavirus. The latest case brings the total to three. The student was last on campus on September 24. “When the university is notified that someone is awaiting test results and has been on campus, the areas where the person had been on campus in the past 72 hours are cleaned out of an abundance of caution. In the majority of cases the test results have been negative,” the university said in a notice on its website.

The University of Calgary has alerted the campus community that an elevator contractor working on site from September 25 to 30 has contracted COVID-19. “At this time the likelihood of contacts between the affected individual and University of Calgary students, faculty, staff or contractors is considered low.”

A student at the University of Ottawa told the CBC that she tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago and had yet to hear from public health for contact tracing. In an interview with Ottawa Morning, Kate Brown, a second-year health sciences student, said that she’d taken it upon herself to notify close contacts and businesses she’d visited.

Green bracelet program at St. FX a ‘resounding success’

At the start of the fall term, St. Francis Xavier University began requiring campus visitors to wear green wristbands in order to gain access to campus buildings. The green bracelets signaled that a person coming from outside the Atlantic Bubble had finished their self-isolation period. For students, it also meant that they’d agreed to follow the university’s student community protocols, had signed a waiver and completed a COVID-19 screening questionnaire. The “green bracelet” program came to an end on October 1. In a tweet, St. FX called it a “resounding success with nearly 100 percent compliance!”

Enrolment drops at Algoma U

In September, several universities reported early enrolment figures. Overall, registration seems to have remained stable across the country despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. (See the update published on September 11.) Now, however, at least one university is reporting that the pandemic has hurt its student numbers quite significantly.

According to The Sault Star, Algoma University’s enrolment is 15 percent less than the institution had projected back in March. “The postsecondary institution aimed for 924 full-time-equivalent students at its campuses in Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Brampton. Instead, there’s 784 FTEs. That number is also about 8 percent less than the 848 FTEs who studied at Algoma last fall, but above Algoma’s strategic enrolment management team’s revised goal of 687 FTEs for autumn 2020.”

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