Eduvation Blog

The Tightening Vaccine/Variant Race

Good morning, and TGIF!

I spent most of yesterday preparing for a marketing workshop at Vancouver Island U today – downloading and editing dozens of new PSE commercials, building realtime polls for the group and a cool new interactive “Brand Chemistry” exercise with hundreds of virtual “post-it notes.” (Hopefully it will work as well as it does in my imagination!) Rather than take the day off this newsletter entirely, I thought I would try to keep it brief…

As I’ve said repeatedly over the past 12 months, I really want this newsletter to explore the whole spectrum of trends shaping the future for higher ed… but right now, very little else will have the sort of impact on our institutions that the COVID19 pandemic is having. And while I’ve been trying to summarize key pandemic developments once a week, or even less, since my last “Pandemic Précis” on Monday some significant things have changed.

As Ontario acknowledges it is now in a third wave of the pandemic, we got good news yesterday about vaccination timetables – as large outbreaks affected the student communities in Waterloo, Peterborough and Kingston. Since more and more CdnPSEs have been announcing their plans for Fall 2021, I think it’s crucial to keep a close eye on those COVID19 developments too…



Pandemic Postscript

Since Monday, there has been good news, and bad news on the COVID19 front – which do you want first? (I’ll start low so I can end on a high note…)


Third Wave in Canada

Across Canada, health experts are increasingly concerned as variants of concern (particularly the UK B117 variant) are rapidly spreading in the community, and ICU cases are starting to rise. Montreal ICU chiefs are “holding their breath” awaiting the fallout of Quebec’s March break, and warn that a third wave is inevitable and on its way. (One McGill UH director reports younger and sicker COVID19 patients in the ICU since February.) Ontario’s science advisors have declared a third wave of COVID19, and premier Doug Ford is warning the public to be “very, very cautious” and “not let our guard down for a second.” (Algonquin Collegeacknowledged Ottawa’s move back into red/control zone as of this morning, and will be reducing the capacity of food services and fitness facilities accordingly.) Experts warn that Manitoba could see a third wave by May. Variants now account for as much as 49% of cases in Ontario, and 11% of cases in Alberta, where cases are doubling in little more than a week. (And if only one-quarter of cases are genetically analysed, the numbers could be 4x that.) “Right now the growth of the virus almost appears to be outpacing our ability to protect Albertans.” (Oh, and Alberta now has its first case of the Brazil / P1 variant.)


“Our teams have been decimated. The ICU is a shadow of what it was, our teams are reduced to nil. We hardly have any respiratory therapists left. Each day we are on the verge of service breakdown because of people who have quit.”François Marquis, Chief of Critical Care Medicine, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital



Catastrophe in Brazil

The pandemic in Brazil is now worse than it has ever been, with 12,888 deaths and 468,000 new cases in the past week – while testing has declined dramatically, so the case counts are understated. President Jair Bolsonaro has been even more dismissive of COVID19 than Donald Trump, leading Brazil into “denialism, disorganization, apathy, hedonism, and medical quackery.” (Bolsonaro has churned through 3 health ministers since the pandemic began, firing the first 2 for questioning his decisions.) Brazil’s hospital system is reportedly “on the brink of collapse,” and cemeteries are “running out of space,” thanks to the more virulent Brazil / P1 variant. The uncontrolled outbreak could even be incubating potentially more deadly, contagious, and vaccine-resistant mutations – making it a global problem.  The Washington Post


Slow-Moving Vaccinations

Canada has administered just 3.5M doses of COVID19 vaccine, or 9.4 for every 100 people. (Watching the number daily, it has been ticking up by almost 1 dose per day, which would mean we could reach a dose for every Canadian in about 3 months.) That’s not exactly great news, compared to our neighbours to the south, though: the US has administered >116M doses, or 34.9 for every 100 people.


Thankfully, as I said, there is also good news…


Vaccinations by Canada Day?

It sounds too good to be true, but vaccine shipment timelines have been moved up considerably, so that Canada may well have 1 dose for every adult by July 1 – although nobody will make that estimate official, in the face of potential production delays. (Officially, it’s still Sept 30.) Currently 36.5M doses are to be shipped by Jun 30 – not including 30M more from AZ and J&J. Assuming the provinces can efficiently transport and deploy the vaccines, and continue to delay second doses, we might just be breathing easier well before O-week.  Globe & Mail


Like a Good Neighbour

More good news yesterday was that Canada is finalizing a deal with the US to “borrow” 1.5M doses of the AZ vaccine this month. (The US FDA still hasn’t approved the AZ vaccine, so 7M doses are languishing in American warehouses unused.) “God Bless America,” said Ontario premier Doug Ford.  CTV


Atlantic Bubble Returns

Yesterday, Canada’s 4 Atlantic premiers announced the return of the “Atlantic Bubble” around NS, NB, PEI and NL, hopefully Apr 19. (The precise date will depend upon case numbers in each province.) Once in place, residents will be allowed to move freely between provinces without the need to self-isolate upon arrival.  CTV



Fall Plans, Part 5

Collective optimism is gaining real momentum in CdnPSE for a return to on-campus instruction in September, fuelled by the promise of herd immunity and the confidence that comes from herd decision-making. (Announcements come easier when dozens of comparators have already done so, or when PHOs encourage it.) I’ve assembled all the Fall 2021 announcements since Feb 24 on a single page here, if you want to check something out easily. Here are the latest…


Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, announced yesterday that he encourages Alberta PSEs “to prepare for a full return to on-campus learning this September.” (Note that the announcement is coming from Alberta’s AvEd minister, not the PHO.) The province’s immunization program plans to offer a shot to every adult Albertan by Jun 30.  CBC


Assiniboine Community College is “planning to offer as much on-campus activity as safely as possible” this Fall.  CBC


Brandon U is currently planning for the Fall term, and all options are being considered. “The goal is to announce a course of action that doesn’t require any backtracking.”  CBC


Lakeland College is “preparing to welcome students back to campus” this Fall, “if it is safe to do so.” >90% of Lakeland students participated in F2F learning over the past year, and Lakeland was 1 of only 2 Alberta colleges to offer full-time F2F trades training.  Education News Canada


uManitoba president Michael Benarroch announced Wednesday that UM is planning a “phased-in reopening of its campus to students and staff” starting this Fall, in anticipation of a “full return” to F2F in early 2022. Classes with a maximum of 20 students can proceed with in-person instruction, while large lectures will continue with remote delivery. Departments can begin planning for up to 40% of staff to return to campus over the summer.  Winnipeg Free Press


“Our past experience has taught us that we need to remain cautious. The situation can change quickly, but this is what we believe is safe based on what we know right now.” Michael Benarroch, president, uManitoba



Mount Allison U president Jean-Paul Boudreau wrote yesterday that the MtA community should celebrate a successful academic year, with just 2 cases of COVID19 despite bringing 75% of the total student population to Sackville. The promise of “expedient vaccination” and the return of the “Atlantic bubble” next month allows “the opportunity to begin planning for an orderly and safe return to campus for the majority of University operations, staff members, and students, this summer.” For Fall 2021, MtA will provide “as much on-campus academic programming as possible.”  MtA


Niagara College announced yesterday a “significant increase in on-campus learning” for September. “The college is reviewing programs for increased on-campus classes and labs, focused on safety, academic quality and student experience.” Throughout the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms, almost half of NC students have experienced some degree of F2F learning. Specifics for each program will be provided in early May.  NC


Royal Roads U announced yesterday that it is “planning for a return to on-campus programming starting in September 2021.”  RRU


uSaskatchewan vice-provost of teaching and learning, Patti McDougall, told the UofS Council (essentially the academic senate) yesterday that the Fall 2021 term is expected to be a “transitional period” prior to a more normal Winter 2022 term. “It’s an understatement for me to say this is a changing landscape.”  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix


uWaterloo has now announced that they have started planning for “significantly expanded in-person” instruction this Fall. (Just a week ago, UW said they had not committed to any specific plans as yet.) “Many of us will be returning to campus life this year as we all can play a role in creating a dynamic and responsive environment for our students.”  UW


“The recent news of an increase in the number of vaccines across Canada is giving us reason for new hope… We are optimistic that on-campus activity can happen in person with a staged and strategic return to campus. Above all, our plan will be flexible so we can tackle unexpected challenges.”Feridun Hamdullahpur, president, uWaterloo



COVID on Campus

Since yesterday, there have been 36 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of >1500 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)


Peterborough Police have not ruled out criminal charges in connection with the parties at Severn Court student residence, which sparked 59 cases and 1 death. The investigation is ongoing, and may require production orders and search warrants. The police chief says manslaughter charges are unlikely, but the crown attorneys will decide on any charges beyond breaching provincial health orders.  Global


Queen’s U now has 2 outbreaks linked to at least 39 students on and off campus (up 11 since yesterday). The Kingston PHO has extended an order limiting parties to 5 people until the end of April (the last day of exams at Queen’s).  CBC


Waterloo region PHO reported “a large cluster” of 23 COVID19 cases yesterday, including a variant of concern, linked to 3 social gatherings held Mar 4-7. One more probable case has been identified, along with 19 high-risk contacts. “Within this cluster public health has identified a subset of individuals who have connections to both Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo, including on-campus exposures.”  CTV


uWaterloo announced yesterday an outbreak of 2 cases in Claudette Millar Hall. The PHO has determined that on-campus transmission occurred. This outbreak is related to the larger cluster of cases in Waterloo region.  UW




As always, thanks for reading! I hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Stay safe and be well,


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