Eduvation Blog

Pandemic Tipping Point?

Good morning, happy Monday, happy St George’s Day (if you’re in Newfoundland or Labrador in particular), and a solemn “Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day.” (Somehow I don’t think we want to encourage the observance of “Hug an Australian Day” until this pandemic is over.)

But that’s where we should really start this morning: the pandemic. In particular, the way CdnPSE responses to current waves of the pandemic vary across the country, both for this summer and the Fall, and the way in which vaccine mandates might be the best way to guarantee a Fall different from last year…



Pandemic Précis

On Friday I depressed you with bad news about the pandemic, and much remains unchanged…



ICYMI: In a Nutshell

As I explained Friday, the rise of more contagious variants, and their potential to evade immunity to varying degrees, has been fuelling a third wave and is overwhelming hospitals in India, Ontario and BC. Double and triple mutant strains from India are just part of the evolving threat, driving record infections, “non-stop cremations,” and prompting Canada to ban flights. Politicians (like Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford) have ignored incredibly accurate projections from their public health experts to instead reopen their economies prematurely, resulting in a worst-case “pandemic trifecta” (as Isaac Bogoch so succinctly put it).


“I think it was inevitable that the variants would be coming here, and I think we just need to focus on strategies to stop the transmission… Ping-ponging between sort of half measures to try and stop a pandemic… is worse off in the long run, economically, societally.”Souradet Shaw, epidemiology prof, uManitoba



Rising Hospitalizations

Canada’s chief PHO Theresa Tam warned Saturday that COVID19 hospitalizations and ICU patients have surged 22% nationally over the past week, even though new case counts declined 2.6%. (This is the mortality lag I explain in COVID101.) We’re currently seeing crowded ICUs, states of emergency, and renewed lockdowns in Ontario, BC and even Nova Scotia, where infections are setting new records. Ontario alone has 833 COVID19 patients in intensive care and is juggling beds across regions, while doctors are bracing themselves for life-and-death triage decisions. Health experts in Manitoba are urging the province to close its borders to non-essential travel. New Brunswick and PEI have imposed new testing and quarantine requirements on leisure travellers.


Summer Doldrums

It remains very difficult to forecast when health restrictions could be lifted, and whether many regions of Canada will be out of their current states of emergency before September. Hamilton Public Health reports that the Ontario city will still have enough cases by Jun 30 to remain a lockdown or, at best, a red-control zone. Theresa Tam says that the only way to emerge from lockdown by August, without overwhelming hospital capacity, is for at least 75% of Canadian adults to get their first dose of vaccine, and 20% their second – but that depends on whether vaccine shipments arrive on schedule.


Vaccine Purgatory

As a result, we’re all watching the vaccine headlines: shipments delayed, new contracts signed, lowered age limits for eligibility, but supplies exhausted, appointments cancelled, and ever more examples of rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. (Oh, and as of yesterday, maybe also heart inflammation cases related to Pfizer’s shot?) We can only look on enviously as our next-door neighbours have vaccinated >200M people. (Those tempted to pay black-market prices should know that $2,500 COVID19 shots in Mexico and Poland are counterfeit Pfizer shots with no medical benefits at all.)



While Canada’s immunization efforts have been frustrating this spring, the goal still looks to be worthwhile: comprehensive vaccinations in Israel have virtually eradicated the pandemic, cutting new cases 98%, critical illness 93%, and deaths 87%. A UK study found that new COVID19 infections dropped 65% after a first dose of vaccine, and symptomatic infections dropped 90% after a second dose. “Britain is no longer in a pandemic.”



Ontario PSE Backpedals

Not surprisingly, with a state of emergency declared until the end of May, Ontario institutions have been increasing precautions and reducing campus activity for the spring and summer…

McMaster U responded immediately by reminding staff and faculty of the stay-at-home order and the total ban on outdoor gatherings (including “going for a walk with a colleague”), encouraging remote work, and offering letters for employees required to be on campus to show police.  McMaster

uWaterloo explained that Spring term courses can only occur F2F when absolutely required, with a limit of 10 students, and that students crossing provincial borders to Ontario should plan to isolate for 14 days. uWaterloo

Durham College added the requirement of “a medical-grade face mask and eye protection” (face shield or goggles) when 2m distancing cannot be maintained on campus.  DC

St Clair College shifted spring semester start dates for some programs, to reduce campus density during the state of emergency.  St Clair


“While September is 4 months away, the situation with the pandemic sometimes changes within days, so we’ll continue to adapt as nimbly as possible.”Bruce DeBaie, Communications Manager, NSCAD U



Nova Scotia Locks Down

In a matter of mere days last week, optimism about gradual reopenings this summer turned into heightened precautions in response to resurgent cases of COVID19 and an abrupt lockdown of the Halifax region, closing K-12 schools, effective Friday…

Mount St Vincent U shifted most recently-announced in-person summer classes back online, closed its gyms, suspended in-person access to the bookstore, and reduced capacity in the library, now open by appointment only. The abrupt about-face was palpable: “Of course, our return to campus will not take place until our COVID-19 context supports moving forward.”  MSVU

Saint Mary’s U banned in-person meetings, closed gyms and pivoted the bookstore and library to online sales and curbside pickup only.  SMU

Dalhousie U explained that the new PHO restrictions did not affect teaching, research, or other approved on-campus employees, but would close gyms and libraries, except for bookable study space. Residences were closing as planned at noon Saturday, but family or friends could not enter the buildings for move-out. Students arriving for spring courses must have a quarantine plan.  Dal

Saint Francis Xavier U, which remained largely in-person this year, announced new precautions for the move-out of its 800 residence students. Friends and family were not allowed in the buildings, and instead StFX was hiring “small teams of people” to help move heavier items.  CBC

Acadia U indicated it would allow each student one friend or family member to enter the building for a maximum of 30 minutes, to assist with move-out – so long as they had not recently entered the province, in which case they would be required to quarantine.   CBC

Nova Scotia Community College, on the other hand, was proceeding as planned with its Spring and Summer terms. “Public Health has deemed learning and working essential activities and on-campus/in-person learning at NSCC can continue.” Work placements are still required as graduation requirements, but employer partners were still “working through what the new restrictions mean for them.” Apprenticeship exams in the Halifax area, and Skills Canada competitions across the province, were suspended.  NSCC


“Dalhousie’s planning for the fall, based on vaccine timelines, continues to focus on a return to in-person learning and work, but our immediate concern must be on increasing our efforts to stem the current outbreaks.” Frank Harvey, Provost, Dalhousie U



Mandatory Vaccines

Last Tuesday (see “Vaccine Dilemmas”) I reported that 46 American colleges had announced mandatory vaccination for all students coming to campus this Fall. Some of the highest-profile announcements came from Rutgers (NJ), Notre Dame (IN), Cornell (NY), Brown (RI), Duke (NC), Johns Hopkins (MD), NYU (NY),

Columbia (NY) and Yale (CT). Many of those announcements came from private colleges, but now major public universities are also joining the trend…


Millions Mandated

In one the most significant announcements to date, 1 million students, staff and faculty in the 10-campus uCalifornia and 23-campus California State U systems will need to be vaccinated this Fall, once the FDA gives formal approval to COVID19 vaccines. That announcement came last Thursday, and on Friday the University System of Maryland followed suit for its 12 universities and 3 regional centres. Other vaccine mandates announced last week included Boston College, uMichigan, Stanford, uPennsylvania and uMassachusetts. Detroit’s Wayne State U, on the other hand, is offering students a $10 bribe to get vaccinated, but not mandating it. And 2 of the largest universities in the Wisconsin system reiterated they will NOT mandate vaccines this Fall – although reopening ancillaries is crucial to reverse some $400M in losses.


84 US Institutions so far

The Chronicle now lists 84 US colleges making vaccination mandatory for on-campus students this Fall, with some religious or medical exemptions. 5 colleges are mandating shots only for students living in campus residence, and 23 are also mandating employee vaccinations. (In all, just 11 of these institutions are located in states that voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.)


The Tipping Point?

Last week’s announcements of COVID19 vaccine mandates by several major public university systems – even if they are contingent on official FDA approval of the vaccines – “may mark a watershed moment” for US higher ed. Organized anti-vax movements are flooding the offices of university leaders and legislators with form letters, and 6 Republican governors have prohibited a vaccine requirement in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Texas. Some campus leaders are hoping that their campuses will achieve herd immunity without requiring a mandate, such as at SUNY. Others disagree: “Hope is not a strategy,” says one university president who is also a pediatric endocrinologist. College students “will not always do the right thing.”  Chronicle of Higher Ed


Is Vaccine Bribery Ethical?

American colleges are offering a range of incentives, from gift cards and t-shirts to cash or free courses, to students who can prove they are vaccinated against COVID19. (UNC Greensboro is raffling off $1,500 in meal plans, $3,500 in bookstore scholarships, and a full year of free campus housing.) But is it ethical? If the incentive simply compensates students for their contribution to the public good and overcomes procrastination, then probably yes. But larger incentives could be coercive, persuading lower-income students to make a medical decision, “which is more ethically questionable.” In the US at least, access to vaccines and opportunity to take time away from work to get vaccinated is not equitably distributed across racial and economic groups, either.  Inside Higher Ed


Mandates an Ethical Obligation?

Many are discussing whether a campus vaccine requirement is legal (see “Vaccine Dilemmas”), but we should also consider whether it is ethical. One philosophy prof (whose specialty is ethics and virology) argues that in fact, colleges and universities have “a significant ethical obligation” to keep the campus community safe, by making vaccination mandatory. If they don’t require immunization, institutions could face lawsuits too, from the families of anyone who catches COVID19 and dies. And providing remote learning options to students at risk is likely also an ethical obligation.  University Business



The situation looks quite different in Canada, where vaccine supply has been limited and no CdnPSE leader has even hinted at a vaccine requirement this Fall. Nonetheless, they are optimistically promising a return to campus, much as they did at this time in 2020…



More Fall Plans

I observed Friday that we’ve seen some CdnPSEs backpedalling a bit on their plans for Fall 2021, or at least couching plans in contingency and speaking of a “transitional term.” (I’m sure it was just a coincidence that many institutions issued reassuring announcements Friday as well.)  Since my last summary a week ago on Apr 19, another 7 CdnPSEs have made announcements about plans for the Fall 2021 term. (I am rounding up all of them on a single page here.) 


Brescia UC announced Friday that, “in anticipation of our region and country recovering from the COVID19 pandemic as vaccines become more accessible, Brescia is planning to return to a majority of in-person learning on campus and resume in-person support services and activities this fall,” of course “pending public health guidelines.” Specifically, this will mean “80% in-person” and “20% virtual learning,” even if restrictions require “a potential cohort model with some livestream technology.” Brescia will offer “a full suite of year 1 courses online,” in case travel restrictions affect international or domestic students. Residence will open “at full capacity.”  Brescia


“We know that we cannot predict exactly what the future holds… While we remain hopeful for a strong return to campus this fall, it is important for us to continue to be realistic and modify our plans as needed.” Cheryl Jensen, interim principal, Brescia UC


UNB-Saint John is still confidently saying it “will return to in-person teaching this fall” (according to correspondence shared with me), and although “some courses” will continue to use virtual or hybrid delivery, “students are expected to be on campus.”


UNB overall sounds more like the CdnPSE mainstream, indicating “we will be expanding our in-person activities and face-to-face experiences,” and are “anticipating that Fall 2021 will bear more resemblance to a traditional UNB experience,” but with the qualification: “we cannot make a definitive commitment to resuming all campus activities as prior to the pandemic.” Still, UNB asserts that “our planning for Fall 2021 is not dependent on the vaccine rollout” because it has “strong health and safety measures in place.”  UNB


“The unpredictability of COVID19 will require a creative, flexible and collaborative approach on the part of the University, students, faculty and staff in the months ahead. We will be living with COVID19 and the public health measures used to minimize its risks for some time to come.”Paul Mazerolle, president, UNB



Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) has announced “a complete and vibrant on-campus experience with in-person classes in the fall.” Residences, dining, libraries and athletics will reopen, although there may be “some changes” in space utilization, schedule and gathering sizes. Some grad programs will be fully designed for online delivery, and students unable to attend classes on campus will have flexible options.  SMU


Seneca College is “optimistic that we can continue to open more spaces and provide more students with an on-campus experience, inside and outside the classroom.” Programs will be delivered in 4 colour-coded formats: online (synchronous or asynchronous), hybrid, in-person, or a new “flexible” mode using “innovative learning spaces” (which sounds like Hyflex). Of course, “all program delivery decisions are subject to the changing circumstances of the pandemic and will be made with the guidance of government and public health authorities.” Student services and resources “will remain online.”  Inside Seneca


Sheridan College clarified Friday that, “in light of the promising developments around vaccine rollout and the government’s plan to offer every adult a vaccine by the end of the summer, Sheridan is actively planning for much more on-campus activity in the Fall 2021 term.” Academic and student support teams are “building additional flexibility” into plans, with “more options for residence, more in-class hands-on learning, and more on-campus community, wellness, research and co-curricular activities” – but also with “flexible, hybrid learning options” throughout the academic year. Fall program delivery modes will be announced by Jun 4.  Sheridan


Vancouver Island U is “planning for a safe return to on-campus instruction” this Fall, based on Bonnie Henry’s advice of Mar 8. VIU’s timetable will be published today, with specifics of the delivery mode for each course, in 1 of 5 ways: in-person, blended synchronous, blended asynchronous, online synchronous, or online asynchronous.  VIU




And while we’re talking about the ways in which institutions explain various program delivery modes, here’s a uniquely good video as an example…



4 Course Types in Texas

Texas Southmost College, a public junior college in Brownsville, has released a slick 2-min video to explain the 4 modes of course delivery using some vibrant metaphors. Remote synchronous courses are for “team players” who like to volley questions and answers back and forth in real time. Asynchronous courses are ideal for busy squirrels and shy cats, worker ants and cats riding Roombas. Hybrid courses bring together the best of both worlds “where the rubber hits the road.” And field courses let you “get your hands dirty” while you gain real-world experience. The light tone probably isn’t for everyone, but it definitely stands out from scores of others I’ve seen!  YouTube




As always, thanks for reading!

I’ve taken some time this weekend to streamline this email template (you may see the difference on non-Mac and mobile platforms) and to set up a new address, I’m really hoping this doesn’t cause anybody’s spam filters to have a conniption!

Rest assured I haven’t been ignoring the developments at Laurentian U – I’ve been watching very closely every day, and hope to get to that theme tomorrow!

Stay safe and be well,


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