Despite optimism, COVID not yet over
On July 11, 2021, the Government of Saskatchewan revoked all public health measures regarding COVID-19 that had been in place since March 2020. Around the same time, the University of Regina also announced phases in reopening the campus and a gradual return to more normal operations. Vice-President (Academic) and Interim Provost, Dr. david Gregory, spoke to the Carillon about the university’s plan for the Fall 2021 semester, as well looking out to future semesters.
Gregory said that Fall 2021 will be a carefully managed reopening, with increased options for in-person classes, activities, and services on campus. “Of the more than 3,000 courses offered, the university is currently scheduling approximately 650 to take place in-person. In addition to attending in-person classes, students are welcome to stay on campus, come to campus for distance classes, access study areas, the library, bookstore, recreational activities, food outlets, sporting and other events, performances and public lectures, et cetera.”
For the past 18 months, the university has only had four access points operational, with a sign-in table at each to note down details of everyone coming to campus. Starting August 1, all usual access points are now unlocked, and sign-in will no longer be required. As well from August 16, the university will be resuming in-person services, all the while engaged in ongoing pandemic assessment and making any necessary adjustment to the safety protocols in place. “The Fall term is transitional, with the expectation of a full return to normal campus activities for the Winter 2022 semester,” Gregory said.
While Canada is within reach of the target levels of vaccination and the number of new cases seem to be coming down to a manageable amount – although with the arrival of the Delta variant, numbers are once again on the rise – not everywhere else in the world is doing as well. In April 2021, India saw a massive surge in number of new cases and fatalities. At the time of this writing, Bangladesh is going through record number of new cases and deaths daily. Operations of the Canadian embassies, high commissions, and consulates in these and other countries are consequently still very limited.
When asked about the possibility that many international students may not be able to travel to Canada anytime soon, Gregory answered, “The University of Regina recognizes that many students will still be unable to travel to Canada in Fall 2021. To support them, UR International and the Global Learning Centre ensured that all support services and programming were made available through online and remote learning platforms. Students can also access support through our UR International Student Town Hall Series and by contacting our office directly, and also have the opportunity to be connected with an International Peer Advisor for additional social connection.” More information on the services offered by UR International is available at the websites of UR International (www.uregina.ca/international/) and the Global Learning Centre: (www.uregina.ca/international/global-learning-centre/index.html)
Dr. Gregory adds, “In recognition of travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has introduced a temporary measure for international students to allow them to take classes remotely from their home country, and have the time spent studying online count toward their Post-Graduation Work Permit.” More information on this is available on the IRCC website (www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/coronavirus-covid19/students.html#pgwp-eligibility).
When asked whether the university campus will have any public health measure or restrictions now that the city and province no longer do, Gregory said that the university will be maintaining health and safety measures all through the Fall semester. All classrooms and meeting spaces will be at 50 per cent capacity to facilitate physical distancing. Handwashing or use of hand sanitizer will be required of everyone who comes to campus, and all faculty, staff, and students will be asked to conduct daily wellness assessments and not come to campus if they are not feeling well. While the original plan was to partially relax masking requirements, management announced on July 30 that, in light of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the Delta variant, the campus-wide masking mandate will remain in place for now and be revisited closer to the beginning of the Fall term. Additional information on all safety protocols can be found at (www.uregina.ca/term-updates/health-safety/masks/index.html).
When asked about the university’s policy regarding vaccination, Gregory said, “The university is not mandating that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated to come on campus; however, with the exception of medical accommodations, all members of the university community (students, faculty, and staff) are strongly encouraged to be fully vaccinated if coming on to campus. This is especially important given the potential surge of Delta infections among those who are not fully vaccinated. In order to make getting vaccinated as convenient as possible, the Student Wellness Centre, in partnership with Alliance Pharmacy, is offering on-campus, by appointment vaccine clinics for students, employees, and immediate family members. The vaccine clinic is currently closed but will resume August 11.”
As in-person services and some classes resume, there will be a need for appropriate, safe dining options on campus. When asked about this, Gregory mentioned that the University Food Services (managed by Chartwells) will not be resuming operation until January 2022, but the University is working with other partners on campus to offer food services to students and staff. Campion College, Luther College, The Owl, and Extreme Pita will be available as dining options for the fall term, and vending machines will be operational.
Of course, as the campus reopens, many students will possibly be looking to return to living on campus. When asked about any special restrictions above and beyond those for the rest of the campus for Housing Services, Gregory said, “University Housing is following the guidelines of the province and the university for private living spaces. Students interested in staying on campus are encouraged to call Housing Services or apply online for the fall term.” On the subject of student societies operating during the fall term, he mentioned that student societies can resume their events, however bake sales, food sales, potlucks, and other food-focused events are at present discouraged, in line with the University Guideline for food services.
Asked about Campus Security and Facilities Management, Gregory said Campus Security will be fully staffed and operating as in normal circumstances. Custodial Services will be busy with returning to normal occupancy, with enhanced touch point cleaning and more hand sanitizer stations on campus. Social distancing signs will be removed from public spaces, but will remain in private office spaces.
“Although the Government of Saskatchewan has ended its COVID-19 public health measures, it acknowledges that the pandemic is not over” said Gregory as the interview wound to a close. “As a science-based, research-focused, public institution the university has a key role in helping to dispel misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines. Our students, faculty and staff should be role models in vaccine acceptance, adoption, and promotion. It is up to each of us to do our part to protect ourselves and each other in order to keep our entire campus community safe.”