Eduvation Blog

Dark Horses, Dark Times, Fall Forecasts

Good morning, and happy Monday!

As we watch the COVID19 pandemic resurgent in India, Brazil, Alberta and elsewhere, rising variants of concern (VOCs) are the “dark horses” with the potential to bring us back to “very dark times,” according to infectious disease experts. And with vaccination rates that could easily take until 2023 to reach the world’s population, it really IS too early to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” and plan for a return to normalcy this year.

But that being said, provincial governments across Canada are urging a return of students to campus, and detailed plans are being developed from coast to coast. With the prospect of widespread vaccination, the national consensus appears to be cautious optimism for a “transitional” term this fall, and perhaps a return to normal early in 2022.

Today, let’s take a detailed look…



Pandemic Précis

Since my last summary on May 5…


Rising Tide of Variants

Worldwide, the COVID19 virus has entered “hyper-accelerated evolution” in the past few months, with rising variants that are more contagious and more resistant to many vaccines (and natural immunity). In particular, the Brazil P.1, SA B.1.351, and the Indian “double and triple mutant” strains should be keeping us up at night – and now the P.1 has mutated into a new variant in Florida called either P.2 or P.1.1 (but at least it’s just 2 cases, so far). That’s what happens when Florida has 11,800+ confirmed VOC cases – doubling every 2 weeks.


“If there is a new variant that’s terrible — that ruins 2022 and brings us back to very dark times — it’s almost a guarantee that it’s percolating in an area of the world that’s getting hit very hard now.”Josh Schiffer, Infectious Disease expert, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center


COVID Tsunami hits Asia

India recorded 1.57M new cases of COVID19 last week (half the planet’s infections), as daily counts surpassed 414,000 cases and 3,900 deaths – but experts estimate that the real numbers should be 5-10x those numbers. The Indian healthcare system is “crumbling,” oxygen shortages are widespread, and morgues are overflowing. India is still feeling the aftermath of superspreader religious festivals, and at its current rate will take 2 years to fully vaccinate the population. Cases are also surging in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia. Southeast Asia reported >2.7M new cases and >25,000 deaths last week. Even Japan extended its state of emergency 3 more weeks, just months before the Tokyo Olympics.


Understated COVID Deaths

For months, epidemiologists have warned that official counts of cases and deaths from COVID19 are significantly understated, due to incomplete testing and uneven reporting, asymptomatic cases and overwhelmed healthcare systems. One new uWashington study estimates the total US death count directly from COVID19 is actually 905,000 (50% more than the official count of 577,000), and the global death count nearly 7M (more than double the official count). Russia in particular is believe to be reporting just 1 in 6 deaths.


Vaccination Overdrive

Canada is now administering more daily vaccine doses per capita than the US, but our supply still can’t keep pace with demand. (So far, about 33% of Canadians have received at least one dose, and we’re administering 0.8 doses per 100 people each day.) South of the border, ~45% of Americans have at least one dose, and vaccine hesitancy has been slowing the rate since Apr 13. “Vaccinating eager adults was the easy part.” More than 30% of Americans are now fully vaccinated, compared to just 2.68% of Canadians. By the end of June, though, Canada is expected to have enough doses for the entire population. (Meanwhile in the UK, everyone over age 50 will be offered a third dose this Fall!)


“When vaccination becomes an identity issue, including part of one’s partisan political identity, the views can get quite entrenched and harder to correct with information itself… Vaccinating eager adults was the easy part.” Devon Greyson, Health communications prof, uMassachusetts



Lockdowns across Canada

VOCs are fuelling record-breaking COVID19 case counts and overwhelming hospitals in many regions of the country. Alberta premier Jason Kenney imposed some new restrictions last week, but the province’s cases skyrocketed to all-time highs thanks to a “self-inflicted” compliance problem. (The case rate in Calgary was double that in India at the end of April, and has only risen since.) Saskatchewan’s reopening plan is a “huge gamble,” warns uSask epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine: “[Variants are] the dark horse.” (On the other hand, festival organizers “exhaled for the first time in 14 months” with the announcement of a plan to reopen later this month. And premier Scott Moe says the target date for step 1 of reopening is May 30.) Manitoba’s ICUs could be overwhelmed in the next few weeks: “how much more can we put on the healthcare system before we are in serious trouble?” (Yesterday, Manitoba imposed new restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, religious gatherings and retail for the next 3 weeks.) As lockdowns seem to be getting infections back under control in BC, Ontario and Quebec, unfortunately Nova Scotia has been seeing record-breaking numbers of new cases each day, and has closed schools and imposed new restrictions.


“(Variants are) the dark horse. This is like the unknown. And I think [reopening] is taking a huge gamble.”Nazeem Muhajarine, Prof of Community Health and Epidemiology, uSaskatchewan


“Stop looking for loopholes, stop sneaking to another community to shop or visit your friends, stop trying to find an excuse to go to your cottage, stop shopping just for fun. Stop acting as if the third wave is the same as the first or the second, because it isn’t.”Iain Rankin, Premier, Nova Scotia



AstraZeneca Anxieties

Although most health professionals and political leaders continue to urge us to take whatever COVID19 vaccine we’re offered, the bad news continues to pile up for AstraZeneca. (See “AstraZeneca’s Unforced Errors” from March.) Cases of Vaccine-Induced Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) continue to be reported, and have caused deaths in New Brunswick, Alberta, and Quebec. (The frequency of VITT is ~1 in 100,000 to 250,000.) PHOs fear that exaggerated anxieties will heighten vaccine hesitancy, and remind us that the risks from COVID19 are far greater.


Pfizer is on a Roll

Although studies have found that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is insufficient to protect against the UK (B.1.1.7) and SA (B.1.351) variants, full vaccination has now been found to provide “near-total protection” against death or hospitalization from those variants. (Pfizer provides ~88% protection against infection from the UK variant, and 75% against the SA variant, suggesting that the vaccinated could still transmit the virus. In fact, Canada’s Chief PHO reminded us this weekend that full vaccination means “reduction in your risk of transmission, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate your risk.”) By comparison, though, the vaccines from AstraZeneca, J&J, and Novovax show significantly less protection against the SA variant in particular. Last week, Health Canada approved the Pfizer COVID19 vaccine for children 12+, based on a successful Phase III clinical trial on 2,260 US adolescents – which actually found a 100% efficacy rate. Pfizer expects the US FDA to approve its vaccine for 12-15 year-olds early this week, and it has begun the process for full regulatory approvalfor ages 16+, which would make Pfizer the first truly authorized COVID19 vaccine in the US. (Pfizer also reports that the vaccine will bring it $26B in revenue this year.)


Public-Domain Vaccines?

But pharmaceutical company stocks fell by up to 16% on Wednesday, at the news that the Biden administration supports temporarily waiving patent protections on COVID19 vaccines for several years, in order to speed global production. Although France, the US, and 80+ countries have come out in support of the proposal, the next formal WTO meeting on the subject is not scheduled until Jun 8. Pharma companies object, naturally, and warn about “the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines.” Germany has been outspoken in opposition to the waiver, and Canada has is “noncommittal” so far. (Canada has been criticized for weak IP protections for pharmaceutical manufacturers, as one explanation for our historical lack of domestic production capacity.) US Republicans are strongly opposed to “senselessly giving away America’s intellectual property to countries like China.”


Normalcy is Months Away

Experts warn that Canada could easily see a 4th wave of the pandemic if restrictions are lifted too quickly. Indeed, the current 3rd wave was needlessly triggered by politicians hesitant to impose a lockdown a few weeks earlier than they did. “Summer in itself may not be enough to protect us against the fourth wave… We need to be prudent.” The “most optimistic” scenario would be starting to reopen in late summer, once 70% of Canadians have their first dose and 20% their second, but that would still likely spark a fourth wave this fall and winter. While many look hopefully at the post-vaccination experience in the UK, US or Israel, Canada’s situation differs because of our unique blend of variants in circulation, and because we did not experience the same “staggering infection rates” during the pandemic (so our population likely has lower levels of natural immunity). The UK also imposed a much stricter, longer lockdown than most of Canada.


“This is not to fear-monger. This is very much factual, and we have evidence from previous waves.”Nitin Mohan, Public Health prof, Western U



COVID on Campus

With CdnPSE campuses largely emptied for the summer term, and with campus lockdowns in many regions of the country, COVID19 case reports have slowed considerably. Since last Wednesday, there have been 6 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,600+ cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)  

Durham College reported a case on its Oshawa campus on May 7.  DC

McMaster U reported 2 employee cases on campus on May 5.  McMaster

Mohawk College reported 2 new cases at its Stoney Creek campus May 6.  Mohawk

OCAD U reported its first case on campus last Wednesday, May 5.  OCAD



Flexible Fall Plans

Broadway theatres may be eagerly planning to reopen Sept 14 (potentially demanding proof of vaccination), but CdnPSE is still cautious, not wanting to overpromise. (My last summary was 2 weeks ago, on Apr 26, and you can see all of them on a single page here.) As the pandemic has worn on, CdnPSE decisions have been increasingly coordinated at the provincial level, and lately provinces have been making declarations on their behalf…


BC “Primed” for Campus

Following PHO Bonnie Henry’s advice of Mar 8 to “plan for a full return to in-person activities in September,” there was a flurry of announcements from BCpses. Following the release of a more detailed “Primer” last week, more announcements have begun…

BC PSEs and the Ministry of Advanced Ed released an 11-page COVID19 Return-to-Campus Primer on Apr 30, to provide high-level planning guidance before the Go-Forward Guidelines for the sector are released (to be effective Aug 1). The Primer emphasizes “adaptability as conditions change,” but anticipates that “physical distancing will not be required” in PSE classrooms, with “no limits” on class size, and student housing can plan on near-full capacity – although masks, daily self-assessments, traffic management efforts, hygiene and cleaning protocols will have to continue. Social activities, athletics facilities and extracurriculars are subject to local PHO orders, but “educational activities” (defined by the institution) are not. Faculty and staff requests to WFH for medical reasons should be considered carefully.  BC Gov’t

uVic will release its full class schedule later this month, but is reportedly planning to deliver courses “predominantly in-person.” Larger first-year courses (100+) will offer one online section, as will courses with 50+ international students. Instructors can request a family or medical accommodation to deliver their classes online, or can offer to teach in hyflex mode.  The Martlet



“Bullish” in Alberta

Back on Mar 18, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Ed said that the government “expected” in-person classes to resume at PSE this fall, and encouraged all institutions “to prepare for a full return to on-campus learning this September.” Since then, ABpses have tried to sound more optimistic, but they have been much more cautious than Jason Kenney’s government – and of course, the recent surge of cases has proven them right…

uAlberta released its Fall 2021 course schedule 2 weeks ago (just after my last round-up appeared), with offerings “in-person” or “online.” Overall, 80% of courses are planned for F2F delivery, “to provide options for our students.” Campus activities will resume gradually as PHO restrictions are lifted. “Students, faculty and staff should be prepared to be on campus this fall.”  The Quad

NAIT announced a day later that it is planning “for additional in-person learning and services” this Fall, “as provincial guidelines allow,” but cautions that “we don’t currently know what health guidelines will be in place.” NAIT is working to “safely increase on-campus attendance to manageable levels, while also innovating our education and services to find a blend of virtual and in-person that meets the needs of students.” A recent survey of NAIT students found that 24% preferred online learning, and 45% preferred a blend of virtual and in-person learning.  NAIT



“Transitional Term” in SK

Last week a series of announcements in Saskatchewan explicitly referenced PSE coordination and used pretty similar language…

uRegina is planning for a “staged reopening” of campus this fall, welcoming back as many people as is safe “with increased options for in-person teaching and learning.” The Fall semester “will be as a transitional one” with “near-normal operations” in Winter 2022. Masking, sanitizing, physical distancing and other precautions will continue.  uRegina

Saskatchewan Polytechnic announced, “in collaboration with the Ministry of Advanced Education and all Saskatchewan post-secondary institutions,” that it would be “safely reopening campus to more students and employees” this Fall. Programs listed as on-campus “will be primarily but not necessarily fully on campus.”  SKPoly

uSaskatchewan continues to plan “for a more open Fall term,” despite high COVID19 rates in the region at the moment. “Many programs, classes and labs” will return to F2F delivery, “much more than we had in this past term,” but Fall 2021 will be “transitional.” “We will likely not complete our full transition out of pandemic operations until at least January 2022.” Student services, dining and residences will be “more fully opened” on campus, “following strict health and safety measures.” Staff will continue to work remotely when possible to reduce campus density.  uSask


“While we are closer to the end of the pandemic than the beginning, we are not through with COVID19 yet, nor it with us.”Peter Stoicheff, president, uSaskatchewan



Cautious Optimism in ON

ONpse announcements have been trickling out for weeks, with quite different language but pretty similar meaning…

Canadore College released its Academic Delivery Plan for Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 last week, “looking forward to the Fall… with reserved optimism.” Canadore hopes to “transition to more in-person learning and service delivery as soon as public health and government guidelines allow.” Currently it plans to begin the Fall semester with a hybrid model “where necessary and safely feasible,” with courses delivered in “remote,” “partial remote,” or “no remote” format.  Canadore

Carleton U’s Scenario Planning working group (CUSP) has delivered its final report with recommendations for Fall 2021, confirmed by Senate on Apr 30. Carleton is “preparing for a safe and gradual return to campus” with a “significant proportion” of F2F courses, particularly “seminars, labs, experiential learning and smaller classes.” The projection now is for a “significant return to on-campus activity” this Fall, and “a return to essentially normal campus activity” by Winter 2022. To accommodate potential PHO requirements and likely visa delays for foreign students, “enhanced online options” will also be available.  Carleton

Durham College will be offering programs this Fall in 3 formats: remote, hybrid, or flexible (hyflex) – but apparently not fully in-person.  DC

George Brown College reports that “most programs will be delivered online” for Fall 2021, with a hybrid model for “select programs where students need to complete hands-on clinical or lab work.”  GBC

Laurier expects mandatory mask requirements to still be in place this fall, and in the “best case scenario” classrooms might return at 50% capacity, with priority given to hands-on courses. Classes will be taught remotely or in-person, but not both – and the school is committed to finishing fall-term classes the way they start. The hope is to return to regular operations with minimal restrictions by Jan 2022.  Waterloo Record

McMaster is “actively planning for a September that will look different from pre-pandemic terms, but also different from the difficult year almost behind us.” The focus is on providing “safe and meaningful in-person experiences” with more F2F learning, on-campus services, small group study and club spaces, and access to campus amenities like gyms, library and dining. Courses will be virtual (synchronous online), online (asynchronous), or will have “elements” of in-person learning if PHO allows. Planning will support social distancing, mandatory masks, enhanced cleaning, reduced density, and personal hygiene practices. Residences will be open to first-year students only.  McMaster Daily News

OCADU is “planning for a safe return to on-campus activities and learning this Fall.” Students will have access to shops, studios, workspaces, student services and technology on campus, but lectures will be mostly online. PHO may require masks, physical distancing and limited density in classrooms. OCAD will offer “a full range of fully online course options” to allow domestic and international students to study, wherever they are – and there are “backup plans” for potential changes to PHO guidelines.  YouTube

Sault College will offer “many” courses in hyflex delivery this Fall, even if all students can return to campus. It has 20 classrooms equipped already, and profs will be offered “a lot of supports.”  Sault Star



Quebec Pushes for Campus

Last week, Quebec’s minister for higher ed Danielle McCann said she wanted a “maximum” number of students to return to campus this fall, while acknowledging they would have to wear masks and abide by 1-meter physical distancing. She estimates this would allow CEGEPs and universities to return to 60% capacity in classrooms. (Throughout the pandemic, the Quebec government has strongly emphasized the need to get students of all ages back in class for their mental health, sometimes resulting in an overloaded healthcare system.) McCann expects a return to normal “sometime in 2022.”  Montreal Gazette



Collaborating in NS

The 10 universities in Nova Scotia, and the provincial government, hope to return campus life closer to normal this Fall. The Ministry of Advanced Education is working on a plan that will ultimately need approval from the provincial CMOH. “If the students, by that time have their vaccines, and the epidemiology is where we want it to be, then you may have two to a room in residences and more normal food service.” Over the past academic year, StFX and Acadia brought students to campus safely in small towns (Antigonish and Wolfville), but it would be more challenging in Halifax.  CBC

U Sainte-Anne announced last week that it is planning for in-person courses this Fall, albeit with a “flexible posture in the face of pandemic-related uncertainty” – so as a result, courses will be planned for hybrid delivery. Residences will be open, and on-campus attendance will likely be required for some activities, including labs. There is even “potential” for a return to varsity sports.  Education News Canada




The success of hybrid or hyflex delivery, much like the effectiveness of Zoom meetings, really hinges on the quality of microphones, cameras, displays and broadband connections at both ends of the connection, and the platform itself…


Enable Your Hybrid Classroom


Web conferencing platform Zoom is partnering with hardware provider Neat to offer “natural engagement between teachers and students,” both in the classroom and at a distance. In this 90-sec video released last week, they portray an idealized vision of what hyflex delivery could look like. The video combines beautiful cinematography, symbolic special effects, and almost poetic voiceover, to inspire and encourage us. “The answer I would tell you, but you should find it. The curiosity, that my child is beauty… Embrace the great unknown… Wherever you are, whatever you do, may it always be with awe.” YouTube



As always, thanks for reading – and sorry that was a long one.

Hope your week gets off to a great start!


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