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COVID-19: updates for October 2021


October 27, 2021

More universities announce return-to-normal plans for winter semester

According to a statement released on Oct. 21, McMaster University is planning to resume in-person classes in the winter term, with very limited exceptions. “Teams across campus are also planning to ramp up on-campus student life activities so they are closer to, if not meeting, pre-pandemic capacities. This includes services and resources, events, and student study and social space,” said Susan Tighe, provost and vice-president, academic in the statement.

Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice-president, academic at Memorial University, said in a statement that the university is planning for winter 2022 in-person  activities to return to mainly pre-pandemic conditions. However, courses will continue to be delivered in two modes: in person/on campus and online. “At this time, full remote delivery will only be used in cases where an instructor has been officially granted a workplace accommodation approved through the Workplace Accommodation Policy,” she said.

Ryerson University is also planning a significant increase in on-campus activity for the winter term. “This will allow us to support students in their return to campus and in-person instruction, and to ensure the best possible student experience,” said Jennifer Simpson, provost and vice-president, academic. “In the interest of everyone’s well-being, the university will continue its wholistic approach to safety in winter 2022, including proof of vaccination and daily health screening for those coming to campus, continued masking requirements, and air flushing. This approach has served us well to date, and will continue to create the best possible environment for everyone on campus.”

University of Guelph researchers develop plant-based mask filter

Loong-Tak Lim, a food science professor in the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph, and graduate student Singam Suranjoy Singh have developed a surgical mask filter from plant cellulose. The mask’s biodegradable filter was designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Guelph-Mercury Tribune reported that this could offer a more breathable and sustainable alternative to traditional surgical masks.

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus is very small, so our non-woven mask is designed with smaller fibres to filter better than typical surgical masks,” Dr. Lim told the paper. He went on to say that that non-woven filters with small fibres are more breathable and more efficient at filtering microscopic pathogens like viruses, while traditional mask filters are made of propylene and polyester, which are not biodegradable.

According to the article, the team is going to test the filter’s ability to destroy pathogens in different environments that simulate breathing. They will also explore ways to integrate their filters into commercially available masks.

Questions remain at 2 Vancouver institutes around testing protocols for unvaccinated students

Currently, students and staff at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University have not been mandated to get their COVID-19 vaccine. They have instead been asked to declare their vaccination status through an online portal. But some are saying that not everyone is following the directions. CTV News spoke with Derek Sahota of the SFU Teaching Support Staff Union, who said that there is no enforcement to upload your status and no consequences if you don’t.

“And so that means at the moment, about 15 per cent of the community, we have no idea whether they’re vaccinated or not or whether they’ve been tested or not.”

UBC responded by saying that the university will be starting an audit of its community’s vaccination declarations and that continued non-compliance “may lead to significant repercussions.”

SFU released a similar statement, saying “Any continued non-compliance will be reviewed and followed up on a case-by-case basis. An audit will also be conducted in November to ensure the accuracy of proof of vaccine submissions.”

However, the article states that neither school has said how they will enforce the rapid-testing mandate for the unvaccinated – or what consequences there could be.

StFX implements mandatory COVID-19 testing policy for all students and employees

According to a recent statement released by St. Francis Xavier University, starting Oct. 14 all students and employees are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, with the tests being administered at least 48 hours apart. Those that have been vaccinated for at least two weeks with two doses of a vaccine approved by the federal government are exempt. If any employees fail to comply with this policy, they will receive a written warning. “If non-compliance continues after two written warnings, the employee will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence and will be required to pay 100% of their benefits during their period of unpaid leave.” Any student that does not comply will receive a written warning on the first offence. On the second offence, the student will be required to meet with Student Life and create a testing schedule to which they must adhere. “If non-compliance continues the student will be subject to suspension through the University’s Code of Conduct or will be permitted to withdraw from the university without financial penalty.”

Cases on campus

The University of Manitoba is reporting one new case on its campus.

Seven new cases have been reported at McGill University.

The University of Saskatchewan is reporting nine positive COVID-19 cases involving members of its community on and off campus.

One new case has been reported at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus.

October 20, 2021

Meet Noah Little: the USask student behind COVID-19 Tracker Canada

Maclean’s recently profiled Noah Little, the University of Saskatchewan student who created the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website. According to the article, Mr. Little started collecting data in March 2020, when he discovered there was no provincial or national dashboards displaying the latest numbers of cases, hospitalizations or deaths. Helped by a small group of volunteers, he gathers the data manually and posts it as soon as he can. Updating the website takes a total of three or four hours each day. He credits previous coursework involving statistics and data visualizations with helping him make the data clear and the sourcing of his data transparent. As a second-year biomedical neuroscience student, he thinks his newly honed interest in epidemiology could play a role in his eventual medical career.

New COVID-19 policy at Ryerson

Starting Oct. 19, anyone who is unvaccinated will no longer have access to Ryerson University’s campus or be allowed to take part in in-person university activities off-campus. CBC News is reporting that this updated policy applies to students, faculty, staff, contractors and visitors. The university is hoping this update along with its vaccination mandate will allow for more in-person learning in the winter semester.

MacEwan proof of vaccination program begins

As of Monday, students at MacEwan University need to provide proof of vaccination to gain entry to in-person classes. According to CTV News, any students who do not comply could face expulsion. Students can either upload to the university’s mobile app proof that they received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or had a negative rapid antigen test completed within 72 hours of arriving on campus.

Masks mandatory at University of the Fraser Valley

By order of British Columbia’s public health officer, masks must be worn in all of the University of Fraser Valley’s indoor public spaces. This includes classrooms, shops, lobbies, washrooms, hallways, stairwells, elevators, and labs. The only exceptions are if you are alone in a private office or workspace.

OCAD U plans for return to normal class occupancy levels for winter 2022

“I am writing to you today to announce that, barring any directives from the Ontario government or Toronto Public Health, we will end the requirement for physical distancing in instructional spaces for the Winter 2022 term.” This was the recent message from Ana Serrano, president and vice-chancellor of OCAD U. Ms. Serrano also clarified that any courses tagged as remote will stay remote for the winter semester. She also issued a reminder that only fully vaccinated individuals are allowed on the campus as of Oct. 26.

President of Queen’s issues statement on unsanctioned student parties

On Oct. 17, the president of Queen’s University, Patrick Deane, issued a statement to his university’s community expressing extreme disappointment after some unsanctioned parties took place involving Queen’s students.

“Thousands of people gathered throughout the day and night, ignoring the law and showing little or no respect or care for others. We very much appreciate the work of the Kingston Police and OPP who demonstrated restraint and acted with professionalism to try to manage the crowds, and we acknowledge the concerns of the community members—including our own alumni—who have expressed outrage and frustration over the behaviour they witnessed last night.”

York plans to bring more students back for winter semester

York University is hoping to have a full return to on-campus academic activities for the winter 2022 term. In a university statement, Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York, said if vaccination rates and forecasts continue on the right track, courses are being planned without class size caps or temporal gaps between classes.

“We expect mask protocols among other health and safety measures to remain in place, and ask for everyone’s cooperation in continuing to observe them now and into the winter term.”

She also said there would be a small amount of flexibility for continued remote learning this winter. “Many programs will continue to offer online courses or components (as they did prior to the start of the pandemic), to accommodate the diverse needs of students and to enrich the student learning experience. We have also learned a great deal about technology-enhanced learning these past 19 months, and some colleagues are planning to pilot new e-learning methodologies this winter for potential longer-term adoption.”

Lack of clarity around on-campus testing for B.C. students

CBC News is reporting that a lack of accessible on-campus rapid testing is causing concern at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. Currently, neither university has a vaccine mandate, and anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 is not allowed to access on-campus rapid testing unless they have previously declared themselves unvaccinated or refused to disclose their vaccination status. The CBC spoke to Hannah Sullivan Facknitz, who said the lack of accessible on-campus rapid testing is affecting students with disabilities. They said that UBC has taken a “messy” ad hoc approach to providing support to those who have to self-isolate or those who are clinically vulnerable. She herself woke up one day experiencing symptoms, but said they could not risk using public transit to access the nearest testing site nearly an hour away or afford to pay out of pocket for an at-home test.

“In order to keep my job and my spot in my degree program, I had to walk into a classroom and take a risk that people who receive full efficacy from the vaccine did not have to take,” they said. “That’s what ableism is.”

They went on to say that the way UBC has communicated with disabled students has made it difficult to make informed decisions about their own health and how they go about accessing space at UBC. “I felt very much disregarded and discarded in a lot of ways.”

Cases on campus

MacEwan University is reporting one new case on its campus.

Four new cases have been reported at the University of Calgary. One case was reported at the downtown campus, one at Barrier Lake Field Station, one at Scurfield Hall and one at the Health Sciences Centre.

One new case has been reported at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton campus.

On Oct. 14, the region of Waterloo public health informed the University of Waterloo about two individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and who had visited the campus. The individuals are in self-isolation and officials have been in touch with all known close contacts..

The University of Ottawa is reporting four new cases on its campus.

One new case is being reported at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto.

McGill University has four new cases on its campus.

For the seven-day period ending Oct. 14, the University of Saskatchewan was informed of 11 positive COVID-19 cases involving members of the university community on and off campus.

October 13, 2021

U of Windsor announces ‘back to normal’ winter semester

The Windsor Star is reporting that the University of Windsor is planning to bring more students back to campus for the winter semester. The article stated that some programs will make a full return to in-person instruction while others will at least have a face-to-face component. “We’re banking for the majority of classes being face-to-face,” said Jess Dixon, a kinesiology professor who chairs the University of Windsor’s Return to Campus Action Group. “That includes lectures, as well as labs and seminars.”

According to the article, the university opened the fall semester last month with about 25 per cent of its student body on campus and the rest learning online due to the pandemic.

“We’re hoping to more than double that number on campus going into the winter semester,” Dr. Dixon said. “It’s all part of our graduated approach to bringing things back to normal on campus.”

Students have fundamentally changed their expectations of a higher education experience

According to a new poll done by KPMG, four in five students feel the pandemic has changed their expectations of a higher education experience and want a tertiary education that matches their digital lifestyle. KPMG surveyed 1,203 Canadian postsecondary students, aged 18-34 to get this data. According to those surveyed, 88 per cent expect their university to provide the kind of “easy to use and straightforward” digital customer service experience they expect in other walks of life and over 76 per cent believe the university of the future will bear little resemblance to today’s education institutions.

“Over the next decade, students will become even more diverse, digital, and deliberate in their decision making, putting pressure on higher education institutions to design and deliver a more personalized experience that encompasses the student as a learner, a digitally savvy person, and a customer,” said C.J. James, partner and national education practice leader at KPMG.

Other key findings included 71 per cent of respondents who called campus life “important” and said they were looking forward to returning to in-person classes (the survey was conducted in early September). Eighty-two per cent said they wished their higher education institution had a stronger focus on mental health and well-being.

SFU asks community to upload proof of vaccination

Last week, the provincial government in British Columbia announced that vaccinations would be mandatory for public service employees, which made it possible for postsecondary institutions to consider doing the same thing. On Oct. 7, in a message to students, staff and faculty, Catherine Dauvergne, vice-president academic and provost at Simon Fraser University announced that in addition to declaring their vaccination status, everyone at SFU must also upload proof of vaccination, but did not announce a vaccine mandate.

“We are closely monitoring our progress and will consider whether making vaccination mandatory for faculty and staff is required. We will make that determination based on our data, and will move forward, if required, once we have more information,” said Dr. Dauvergne.

Cases on campus

McMaster University has received notification of one confirmed COVID-19 case on campus. This case involves a student who was tested on Oct. 8 and was last on campus Oct. 6, in the Health Sciences Building.

A positive case has been reported at the University of Prince Edward Island. Contact tracing is currently being conducted.

MacEwan University is reporting one new case on its campus.

Nova Scotia Public Health is investigating confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Dalhousie University community. Based on their findings, there may have been low-risk community exposure at the Killam Library.

A confirmed case is also being investigated at Saint Mary’s University. Based on the findings of Nova Scotia Public Health, there may have been an exposure to COVID-19 in the Dockside Cafeteria, on Sept. 27-30 and Oct. 1. Public Health considers this to be a COVID precaution notification versus a COVID exposure notification.

One new case has been reported on the campus of the University of Guelph.

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

Three new cases have been reported by the University of Toronto. All new cases were reported at the St. George campus.

One new case has been reported at York University.

McGill University is reporting three new cases on its campus.

Twenty-four new positive cases are being reported at the University of Saskatchewan. These cases involve members of the university community on and off campus.

October 6, 2021

11 MRU students deregistered for not declaring vaccination status

The CBC is reporting that 11 students at Mount Royal University have been deregistered from classes after refusing to declare their vaccination status. The article also shares a story from one student who was apparently threatened with deregistration for weeks despite being enrolled only in online classes. She told the CBC she was confused because as far as she understood, she could opt out of declaring her status and the rapid testing that in-person learners would have to do when attending campus. However, she said she kept receiving emails from the school asking her to declare her status.

“They just kept resorting to saying that the public health order requires them to do so, but nowhere in the order does it say you need to declare if you’re vaccinated or not,” she said. “A vaccinated or unvaccinated person could choose to show a rapid test result, too, according to the public health order. But I’ve been getting these emails saying that if I do not declare my status, then I will be deregistered from my courses.”

In the end, the school admitted she was right: online students do not need to declare their vaccination status.

“Unvaccinated students who are registered only in online courses have an option to complete a form that waives the rapid testing requirement by agreeing not to attend campus in person for any reason,” the school said.

Dal researchers look at how COVID-19 affected the homeless

According to new research out of Dalhousie University, the pandemic has only intensified the ongoing struggles of those living without safe housing options. Global News spoke with Jeff Karabanow, a professor and associate director at Dal’s school of social work.

“One of our findings from the study was that the pandemic was a disaster but homelessness is also a disaster and it was a disaster way before the pandemic,” said Dr. Karabanow. According to the article, his study is a snapshot of the homelessness situation in Halifax and in Sydney, N.S. during the first and second waves of the coronavirus pandemic. A handful of Dal health researchers worked with homeless participants who shared their experiences from the moment the state of emergency was declared.

“The idea of the study was to also provide a roadmap,” said Dr. Karabanow. “Because we’re going to have more and more environmental disasters and so we need to have a way that we can get together very quickly to work on solutions.”

St. Francis Xavier reveals proof-of-vaccination plan

According to a recent statement, as of Oct. 4 members of the St. Francis Xavier University campus community must now show proof of vaccination status when attending events or activities that are open to the public on campus. This includes sporting events, attending theatre or concerts, attending public academic talks, and going to the art gallery.

However, students, faculty and staff will NOT have to share their vaccination status at activities and events that are not open to the public such as classes, dining in the meal hall, house or society meetings, intramural participation.

UNB closes library to the public

To ensure the health and safety of its campus population, the University of New Brunswick is asking students, faculty and staff to show proof that they are a member of the UNB community to enter any library on campus and to access in-person library services. As such, the UNB libraries are closed to members of the broader community until further notice.

Cases on campus

The University of Toronto is reporting three new cases at its St. George campus.

From Sept. 19 to 25, the University of Alberta was tracking 14 cases on its campus.

Three new cases have been identified at the University of Calgary. The first individual spent time at the Biological Sciences building. The second spent time at the Teaching, Research & Wellness building. The third went to Scurfield Hall, Education Classrooms, the basketball court and Jack Sympson Gym. Contact tracing is complete for all three cases.

There is one new reported COVID-19 infection at the University of Manitoba.

Six new cases are being reported at MacEwan University.

McGill University is reporting three new cases on its campus.

Some cases are being investigated at Dalhousie University. The local public health authority says there may have been low-risk community exposure at multiple campus locations. They will follow up directly with close contacts that are identified through its investigation.

The University of Saskatchewan is reporting seven COVID-19 infections  involving members of the university community on and off campus.

October 4, 2021

Raucous street parties continue

Global News reported that a massive crowd gathered in the streets of Hamilton for an unauthorized, impromptu homecoming party after a McMaster University and University of Waterloo football game on Saturday.

Police closed some of the roads in the area and the Hamilton fire department was called to the scene after revellers flipped over a car. Paramedics also arrived, but no serious injuries were reported. According to police, the crowd grew to over 5,000 attendees by 2 p.m.

McMaster’s president, David Farrar, issued a statement on Sunday, apologizing to the community.

“McMaster students, and any others who chose to be part of the gathering of several thousand people in our community on Saturday, owe our neighbours, our emergency workers and every other student an apology for the disruptions, disrespect of property and disregard of those who live in our community,” he wrote. “On their behalf, I apologize for this behaviour, particularly by those who caused damage and put anyone at risk. Such actions are completely unacceptable.”

Dr. Farrar added that the university is cooperating fully with police and supporting their work in identifying those who participated in illegal activities. “We will use the Student Code of Conduct to sanction students who violated the Code’s tenets of behaviour,” he said.

A few hundred kilometres away, an estimated 2,000 people took over a street in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood after the University of Ottawa’s football team bested Carleton University in the annual Panda Game. The Ottawa Citizen reported that revellers trashed a stretch of the street and flipped a car. Residents in the area described the events as a “riot.”

According to one resident, people jumped on the roof of a car, flipped it over more than once, attempted to take the car apart and set the fuel tank on fire.

Ottawa paramedics transported seven people to hospital for alcohol intoxication and minor injuries. Police also reported that one person was assaulted.

In a statement, University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont and vice-president, academic affairs, Jill Scott said they regret the damage and the fear the event caused residents.

“Out-of-control street parties are not a regular feature of life at uOttawa, and we do not intend for them to become one in the future,” the statement said. “We will work closely with the Ottawa Police Service, the city of Ottawa, student leaders and our civic and community partners to see they do not reoccur.”

According to the article, some who live on the affected street speculate that student revellers wanted their photos posted on Canadian Party Life, an Instagram account that showcases raucous street parties.

COVID-19 detected in wastewater at Western

The Western Gazette, Western University’s student newspaper, reported that there is evidence of COVID-19 in the wastewater of five residences — Medway-Sydenham Hall, Delaware Hall, Saugeen-Maitland Hall, Perth Hall and Essex Hall. In an email to students living in those residences, the university stated that there could be one or more cases of COVID-19 in the buildings.

“This finding, of a low viral load, is an early indication that one or more persons in the building may have contracted COVID-19,” the email said.

The university has asked all vaccinated students in these residences to monitor for any COVID-19 symptoms and for students who are not fully vaccinated yet (they must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12) to get tested immediately at a testing centre on campus.

Cases on campus

The Hamilton Spectator reported that local public health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ont. According to the article, there were nine confirmed cases as of Sept. 29.

The university stated that students who tested positive were last in the academic building on Sept. 27 and that all affected students, who live on campus, are currently isolating.

Cape Breton University’s local public health authority is investigating a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the community. The university said the case may have caused an exposure on its campus, although public health has determined the exposure to be low risk for those who are fully vaccinated. The university is working with public health to notify anyone who may have been exposed to the virus on campus.

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