Eduvation Blog

Dixie Cups and Drinking Fountains: Pandemic Hindsight

Good morning, and happy Cyber Monday!

As we wrap up another month of the pandemic, our view of the “other side” is becoming clearer – even if it still remains tantalizingly out of reach.

The second wave is starting to impact hospitalizations, and North America is certainly in for an even bleaker midwinter thanks to Thankgiving gatherings, Black Friday shoppers, defiant small business owners – and of course socializing students, who will flow back and forth across the continent for the winter break. In Quebec, the big debate this week has been over in-person exams before the holidays. Some CdnPSEs have announced plans to continue online or blended throughout the summer of 2021, or even for the entire 2021-22 academic year! 

But the big question, of course, is what the lasting impact of this pandemic will be on higher education, technology, and society. Today we’ll focus on some lessons we might draw in hindsight based on the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic…


Pandemic Update

It’s Monday, so time for our weekly summary (which I hope to make briefer every week). What really matters of all this, of course, is how far away that light at the end of the tunnel is…

Second Wave

COVID19 continues its second wave across North America, and I’m sure you’ve seen the numbers so I won’t both repeating them here. As infections climb, more and more regions are moving into “orange” or “red” zones (or whatever numerical equivalent is being used in your province), or even into complete lockdowns. Just remember, the curve of hospitalizations and deaths is following by 2-3 weeks, so as ICUs reach capacity, the urgency of interventions is rising. Following American Thanksgiving, the US can expect to see “a surge upon a surge” in the next few weeks – potentially doubling the death rate to 4,000 per day.

“If it comes to that point where we’re talking about completely being overwhelmed those are wartime conditions … that’s what the risk is with not containing the virus.”Scott Livingstone, CEO, Saskatchewan Health Authority


Vaccinations Starting January

Increasingly, it looks like 3 of the leading COVID19 vaccines will begin to roll out next month. (The UK plans to start 1 million inoculations about Dec 7, and hopes to have vaccinated the most vulnerable by Easter. Berlinwill open 6 mass vaccination centres by mid-December, capable of inoculating 4,000 people per day.) While Canada won’t get the very first doses, at least we’re “not at the back of the line.” Federal officials say up to 3M Canadians in high-priority groups will be vaccinated in early 2021, and that “nearly every person who wants a shot” will have it by September. The precise timing still hinges on completing the clinical trials, regulatory reviews and approvals, and overcoming some manufacturing and distribution challenges.

Fall 2021 on Campus

But when all is said and done, even pessimistic forecasts suggest that CdnPSE will be able to bring more students and staff back to campus for Fall 2021. Some vulnerable individuals may still be unprotected. We may have to continue with some de-densification measures and masking protocols, and likely will continue offering blended or online delivery of many programs. But it is conceivable that the COVID19 pandemic will draw to a close within about 24 months of its start.

“Life as we used to know it, I think that’s very, very possible but we will have to continue with the hygiene, physical distancing. Vaccines do not equal zero COVID. Adding vaccines to our current measures will allow us to really crush the curve, avoid lockdowns and gain progressive control over the disease.”Mike Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Program


Civil disobedience among small business owners, diners, shoppers and young partiers continues to pour accelerant on the pandemic…

Etobicoke’s Adamson BBQ restaurant defied the lockdown for 3 straight days last week, attracting plenty of hungry covidiots. Mounted police broke up crowds, arrested the owner, changed the locks on the building and ultimately seized it entirely. Protestors went on to picket the home of premier Doug Ford.  CTV

Calgary’s Chinook Centre was overrun with “unruly” shoppers on Black Friday, exceeding the 25% capacity limit. Calgary Police responded and attempted a “quasi-evacuation” of the mall, but no charges were laid.  CTV

Peel Region is in lockdown as the worst-affected part of Ontario, so naturally 60 young people attended a house party at a short-term Airbnb rental, near uToronto Mississauga. (Sigh) Police issued $47,000 in fines to 27 attendees and the 2 hosts, all of whom were “in and around the age of 20, give or take a few years.”  CTV

Of course, that’s nothing…

Sheriffs raided an outrageous party in midtown Manhattan attended by 393 people in the wee hours Saturday. Few were wearing masks. 4 were arrested.  New York Times

28 UK universities fined 1,898 students >Ł170,000 (about $300,000 Cdn) for breaching COVID19 health and safety rules in the first 3 weeks of the fall term – over and above any fines issued by police. (uNottingham in particular issued more than a third of the total.) 53 universities disciplined or cautioned another 5,122 students. The Guardian

COVID on Campus

CdnPSE reported about 11 new cases of COVID19 over the weekend…

Nipissing U’s outbreak has grown to 16 cases (2 more than I reported last week). North Bay Nugget

uWaterloo reported 2 more cases on Saturday (for a total of 13 this fall.)  uWaterloo

Western U’s University Hospital has reported 7 more cases in its outbreak, now totalling 54 (bringing Western’s total to 141 this fall).  CBC

CdnPSE Updates

Resigned to Continue Blended

At this point it seems obvious that every CdnPSE will be announcing soon that it will extend the delivery format of Fall 2020 into the Winter 2021 term. So far few have addressed what will follow – until recently:

York U will continue course delivery in “mostly online and virtual formats” for the Summer 2021 term. “Where remote learning is not able to accommodate course components such as labs, studios or small graduate classes, York will maintain flexibility and make best efforts to accommodate requests for in-person instruction.” York’s facilities staff are exploring the potential to use outdoor spaces on campus next summer.  York

Redeemer UC announced Friday that it will extend its “dual delivery model” of synchronous remote and in-person learning through the 2021-2022 academic year. (About 80% of students have been physically in the classroom this fall.) Decisions about masks and physical distancing have yet to be made. Redeemer

The announcements of academic flexibility or compassionate policies continue:

Dalhousie U will allow students to withdraw from fall and winter term courses up until the final day of classes, and the option of PASS or ILL grades instead of standard letter grades. Faculty are “allowed to review their assessments” to implement changes “that would benefit students.”  Dal

Declining enrolments have hastened the closures of some satellite centres at TRU:

Thompson Rivers U announced last week that it will close continuing education facilities in Clearwater and Barriere, where enrolments dropped as much as 90% this fall. The regional centres have been there for 30 years, and local politicians argue the closure neglects TRU’s mandate to serve regional education needs. CBC

Exams in Quebec

For several days now, student concerns about in-person exams, government requirements for quarantine at Christmas, and institutional exam schedules have been colliding in confusion… 

Leaving Room for Quarantine

Quebec’s minister of higher ed is working with CEGEPs and universities to ensure that exam schedules will permit students a one-week quarantine prior to Dec 24, so that they can spend Christmas with their families. Currently, several institutions have F2F exams scheduled in that period. Minister Danielle McCann indicated last Wednesday that she would prefer these exams either be administered earlier, or remotely.  Radio-Canada

Or Forgetting about Quarantine

Then again, last Thursday Quebec premier François Legault countered that he would no longer impose a firm quarantine, but instead ask students and families to stay 2m apart and wear masks indoors for the holidays. As you would expect, faculty are frustrated by the last-minute changes in plan, “without notice, without consultation.”  Le Devoir

Simpler to move Exams Online

Late Friday, Montréal’s Dawson College announced that it will shift “nearly all” final exams, except those with an “essential in-person practical component,” to online platforms. (I mentioned last week that Dawson students had launched a petition for online exams.) Shortly thereafter, Vanier College announced on YouTube that its December English Exit Exam was cancelled, and that most final exams can be done online (aside from “a handful” in technology programs).  Montréal Gazette

Century-Old Insight

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 exhibited a very similar infection and fatality curve to the COVID19 pandemic a century later. It also left lasting impacts on international relations, architecture, city structures, and society…

Far Deadlier Pandemic

The 1918 Spanish Flu is estimated to have killed at least 50M people worldwide – more than the Black Death, and far more than the worst-case projections for COVID19. It took down twenty-somethings in their prime, killing 8-10% of all young adults then living. Life “returned to normal” in the early 1920s, but the strain of H1N1 mutated, resurfaced as pandemics in 1957, 1968, and 2009, and persisted as endemic seasonal viruses we continue to fight today. “The descendants of the 1918 influenza virus have contributed to a ‘pandemic era’ that has lasted the past hundred years.” Medically, influenza viruses and coronaviruses are very different, and COVID19 is much slower moving as a disease – but the public health measures, popular backlash, social and even economic impacts are similar.  Washington Post

Rapid Restrictions

As the second wave of the Spanish Flu hit the US, Liberty Day parades were being organized to raise millions of dollars to support the war effort. Philadelphia refused to cancel the event, resulting in 1,000 deaths in 10 days. Los Angeles pre-emptively imposed a mandatory mask order, cancelled the parade, and banned public gatherings. Washington Post

False Illusions of Control

uManitoba historian Esyllt Jones argues that the 1918 pandemic should have taught us that “approaches based on public co-operation and trust were more likely to control the spread of the disease than those based on coercion or punishment.” Ramping up enforcement and fines merely dissuades people from being tested, and risks eroding “an already fragile public consensus” on health restrictions, especially for those facing social inequity. “Criminalizing ordinary people’s admittedly flawed ways of coping with a pandemic that will likely last for many more months contradicts common sense.” Winnipeg Free Press

Rebellion, Riots and Social Services

Epidemics clearly magnify inequality, “making the poor poorer, the sick sicker, and the angry angrier.” They also trigger massive social change. The 1918 Spanish Flu led to the establishment of a Canadian Department of Health, sparked Indigenous rights movements and worker revolts across the country, and arguably reinvigorated social democracy and helped set the stage for universal health care. Already, COVID19 has sparked protests in Lebanon, sit-ins in Wuhan, and riots from Mumbai to Paris. As a nation, we’re forced to reconsider conditions in our seniors’ homes, prisons, homeless shelters, in the inner city and on Indigenous reserves. The CERB may be the precursor to Universal Basic Income. The Walrus

Far from the Madding Crowd

The pandemic is reshaping our senses of fear and disgust, say neuroscientists and psychologists, leading us to cringe when faced with strangers or crowds. The realities of COVID19 and the threat of asymptomatic transmission are creating new emotions, something like the nausea you might feel at the thought of a dish that once caused you a case of food poisoning. But research on other “moments of collective stress and anxiety” suggests the antisocial impulses may fade. “It’s amazing how quickly people forgot the Spanish Flu.” One historical study argues that the only permanent change it caused was “schools stopped using common glasses for drinks.” Dixie cups and drinking fountains were the only lasting legacy of the Spanish Flu.  National Geographic­

Overestimating the Impact

The COVID19 pandemic may be largely consigned to history less than 2 years after it began – making it more similar in duration to the 1918 Spanish Flu than the decade-long Great Depression. No question, the “dirty thirties” left psychological scars on all who lived through it, but the “Great Influenza” less so. (Partly because the waves disrupted life for just a few months at a time.) Many of us expect that we will stay more attentive to hand hygiene, more accepting of face masks, and likely to avoid cruises, buffets, gyms and concerts for years to come. Some think they will be less trusting of strangers, less obsessed with cosmetics and fashion. But some experts predict that “people are overestimating the degree to which their future actions will be shaped by the current circumstances.” The Atlantic

What You #LookForwardTo

Thank you, intrepid readers, for contributing a hundred answers and a thousand votes to our little poll on Friday, inspired by the Brandon U #LookForwardTo social campaign. Evidently, when this pandemic is over, what you’re most looking forward to is “Hugging!” (with 97 out of 968 votes), and getting close to friends and family again without fear. Several other very popular answers were variations on “Seeing people smile!”

Many of you are looking forward to travelling, dancing, dining in restaurants, attending conferences, concerts, theatre, and yoga classes, or “socializing with someone other than my dog!” Several of you are looking forward to “potlucks” again, with “shareable finger foods and fondue.” A surprising number of you have been waiting to hold new babies or even to hold your own wedding ceremonies.

Pandemic fatigue is obvious in some of the answers. A dozen of us look forward to “sleeping through the night.” Quite a few are anticipating “fewer virtual meetings” and “making eye contact” again. And then there are all the precautions we can put behind us: “not worrying about whether I’ve forgotten my mask,” “not using skin-drying hand sanitizer 100 times a day,” and “not crossing the street… when meeting a friend or neighbour on my daily walks.”

In addition to all of those great answers, I should add that I am definitely looking forward to no longer writing about infections, positivity rates, hospitalizations and fatalities on a weekly basis! I think this newsletter can be more fun, and hopefully also inspiring, when we focus on things other than epidemiology. (With apologies to any epidemiologists out there!)


Thanks for reading!  I hope your week gets off to a great start. See you next month ;-)



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