Friday, September 3, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good afternoon, and TGIF!
Some of you may have already started an extra-long Labour Day weekend, to recharge for the real back-to-school crunch next week. Others are working in quiet offices, at home or on campus, while still others are coping with surges of in-person students arriving on campus for move-in days and orientation.
Now, I don’t want to depress my most loyal readers TOO much before the long weekend, but we all need a good dose of reality before we do something we might regret this weekend…
Since January we’ve been anticipating a fourth wave of the pandemic, which was inevitable by mid-October. Thanks to relaxed health precautions in many provinces this summer, and more relaxed social distancing by the fully-vaxxed (encouraging irresponsible behaviour by the unvaxxed as well), that fourth wave has come much earlier than expected, and may be much worse…
Israel’s Harsh Lesson
The “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is still enough to overwhelm hospitals in many regions of the world, and threaten more dangerous mutations of the virus. In Israel, where the world’s fastest vaccination effort appeared to get the country near COVID-zero just a few months ago (and restrictions were gone in mid-June), the Delta variant has now driven daily case counts back near 11,000 –the worst 7-day average rate in the world. As cases in hospital soar, about 60% of patients are in fact fully-vaxxed, prompting a campaign to provide third booster shots to anyone age 30+.
“Some mistakes were made when we thought we won the war, and now we understand we only won the battle. The war is still here.” – Salman Zarka, Director, Ziv Medical Center, Israel
Delta Dominates Fall
In New South Wales, Australia, COVID19 admissions to hospitals have jumped 42% in one week, taking up 18% of the state’s ICU beds, and pushing 1,400+ healthcare workers into isolation. American hospitals are running short of oxygen and nursing staff, as the US sees 155,000 new COVID19 infections and 1,300+ deaths every day. Nurses are exhausted and demoralized, and many are quitting hospitals to work as travelling nurses for $5,000 a week. States are engaged in bidding wars to lure front-line healthcare workers. With barely half its population vaxxed, Florida is averaging almost 11 COVID19 deaths per hour, as governor Ron DeSantis continues to fight against school mask mandates in court. The Washington Post has already declared that “the Delta variant stole Christmas,” since supply chain disruptions, factory shutdowns, delivery driver and computer chip shortages mean we will see empty shelves, wait lists, and higher prices. With shipping times doubled, “there is simply not enough time to get products on the shelf this year.”
“Covid has turned supply chains on their head. We’re seeing an astronomical rise in shipping rates, a dramatic lengthening of transit times and a logjam of cargo at every port.” – Neel Jones Shah, global head of airfreight, Flexport logistics
And Then Came Mu…
(Apologies if I’m implanting this Dionne Warwick earworm in your head.) The WHO continues to monitor emerging COVID19 variant strains that could pose global threats because of increased transmissibility, severity, or vaccine-resistance. C.1.2 (another variant first identified in South Africa) is “concerning” because of a large number of mutations that might help it evade COVID19 immunity, but it does not appear to be spreading beyond 7 countries so far. (Delta is consistently outcompeting it.) On the other hand, B.1.621 has now been designated variant of interest “Mu” because of “a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape.” Originally identified in January in Colombia, there have now been 4,650 sequenced cases across 39 countries, and outbreaks in South America and Europe. Thankfully, Mu also does not seem to be outcompeting Delta. (So far, only Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta have been designated global variants of “concern” by the WHO, while Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda and Mu remain merely variants of “interest.”)
Canada’s Wild West
The pandemic curve in Canada has been escalating steadily, as our vaccination rate is failing to contain the aggressive Delta variant – particularly in the western provinces, where physicians warn COVID19 is “out of control.” BC health officials are projecting a jump in cases and hospitalizations, driven particularly by younger people, and have reinstated mask mandates provincewide, and reimposed gathering restrictions in the Interior and the North. (Many worry it may be “too little, too late.”) Prince George has seen a 400% increase in COVID19 patients in ICU. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, infections rates are rising while premiers reject the ideas of mask mandates or vaccine passports. Alberta reported 7,000+ infections this week, more than any other province, and has 487 COVID19 patients in hospital, taking up 44% of ICU capacity. Edmonton reports high COVID19 hospitalization and ICU rates. And new models show that cases in Alberta could climb to 6,000 per day by Oct 1. “The worst is yet to come,” says one of the uVic authors. (At least Edmonton has imposed an indoor mask mandate as of today, within the city, and municipal politicians in Calgary, Lethbridge, and other cities are considering their own measures.) Since lifting all restrictions Jul 11, Saskatchewan has seen a spike in COVID19 cases, and now has 110 patients in hospital, full ICUs in 3 cities, and is “literally on the cusp of our hospitals and ICUs getting crushed.” Wastewater monitoring shows Saskatoon now has “the highest level of COVID19 viral load ever detected” – and it’s all the Delta variant. The situation in northern regions of Saskatchewan, where vaccination rates are lowest, are 24x worse than in Regina on a per capita basis.
“The time for intervention was yesterday — or realistically, weeks ago — and if nothing is done, it’s only going to continue to spiral out of control.” – Ilan Schwartz, infectious diseases clinician, uAlberta
“It has to be a combination of distancing, masking and vaccinating in public and workplace interactions. Vaccines alone can’t do it and Delta is showing us that.” – Andrew Cameron, Biology prof, uRegina
Jason Kenney Lies Low
Alberta premier Jason Kenney has been on vacation for the past few weeks, after effectively declaring the pandemic over on Jul 1, and lifting all public health restrictions “for good.” (Kenney remains one of the most stubborn opponents of vaccine passports, and as his popularity plummets, he appears to be keeping a low profile during the federal election campaign.) Rachel Notley, opposition NDP leader, claims “his whole government went dark, and was silent, while the number of cases in Alberta exploded four-fold.” Critics also say “he seems to be focusing on strategies to please the anti-vaxxers.” (The UCP party website still has “Best Summer Ever” hats for sale.) The impact of the premier’s silence is that decision-making has been pushed down to municipal and regional governments, and school boards, instead. “We wish there was more leadership from the province,” says Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman.
A similar sentiment has been heard from businesses, municipalities, local PHOs, and PSEs across Ontario. Thankfully, premier Doug Ford resisted the temptation to lift mask mandates this summer, but he has also waited until the very last moment to share vital forecasts and announce rules that will reshape the return to PSE campuses. New modelling released this week by Ontario’s COVID19 Science Advisory Table forecasts a “substantial” fourth wave of the pandemic with up to 9,000 new cases a day by October, in the worst-case scenario. (The Table waited 2 months to release new projections, after the last update in June – prompting one member to resign over “political interference.” Notably, these latest stats were quietly posted to the Table’s website, not presented in a press conference.) If Ontario is to avoid a Fall lockdown, we need to vaccinate at least 85% of the eligible population, and also reduce contacts to ~70% of normal through social distancing, limits on gatherings, masking, WFH and reducing indoor density. The Canadian Medical Association warns that K-12 schools could see large outbreaks this Fall, and might have to shut down, as unvaccinated children and youth mix with the Delta variant. (204,000 US children tested positive last week.) A patchwork of precautions are in place across the country, ranging from mandatory vaccines for teachers, reduced class sizes or mask mandates.
“Among the unvaccinated, we do expect to see a rapid increase in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care as workplaces and education re-open in September.” – Ontario COVID19 Science Advisory Table report
“Given the lack of real plans now with comprehensive safety measures, I think it’s unavoidable that we’ll be in a situation where schools will need to close.” – Sean Hammond, president, Canadian Teachers’ Federation
Vaccine Passports at Last
Quebec’s vaccine passport system started Wednesday, although the Android version of its VaxiCode app was delayed several days. Quebecers now need their “passport to freedom” to partake in non-essential activities at restaurants, gyms, theatres and sports arenas. The same day, Ontario premier Doug Ford finally announced his own “temporary” vaccine certificate system: starting Sep 22, proof of full vaccination will be required to access gyms, dining, theatres and other non-essential activities. “We either do this, or we risk shutting down the economy, which would even be worse.” Bylaw officers will be responsible for enforcement, and the province hopes the new mandate will encourage more vaccinations. BC, for instance, has seen vaccine appointments triple on some days since announcing its program last week, particularly among those under 40. (And sure enough, Ontario reports vaccine bookings more than doubled immediately.) For his part, New Brunswickpremier Blaine Higgs admits a vaccine passport may be coming, since other provinces are requiring them – but he sees no urgency.
Last-Minute Changes for ONpse
In another sudden move this week, Ontario’s ministry of colleges and universities overturned the current requirement that campus classrooms operate at a maximum of 1,000 students or 50% capacity. As of Sep 7, ONpses will not need to enforce physical distancing or capacity limits in most indoor instructional spaces, although masks remain mandatory. (Since timetabling has been in place for weeks, this announcement comes far too late to change most institutional plans.) MCU previously ordered ONpses to have a COVID19 vaccination policy in place by Sep 7, allowing them the option to require vaccination of students, and requiring the unvaxxed to be tested regularly for COVID19. OCUFA objects to relaxing distancing requirements, and continues to urge mandatory vaccine policies. Globe & Mail
In the past 2 days, there have been many updates and clarifications of vaccine requirements, apps and protocols for next week. I don’t have time to do them all justice, but here are a few notable new ones…
Acadia U announced yesterday that, although vaccines are still not mandated on campus, they will be required for varsity athletes and associated staff, as per discussions with Atlantic University Sport. Education News Canada
Assiniboine CC announced Wednesday that its board approved a vaccine mandate for campus visitors, who must prove they are vaxxed or undergo routine testing. Full vaccination is required by Oct 29. ACC | Education News Canada
Bishop’s U announced yesterday that it was implementing the Quebec vaccine passport on campus, and vaccine proof in the Purple Key to access non-essential areas of campus, including the pub, dining hall, sports centre, and café. Bishop’s
Fanshawe College announced more details of its vax policy this week in an email to students: campus visitors must be fully vaxxed by Nov 5 or obtain an approved medical exemption. (After Nov 5 those with exemptions will need a negative rapid test result within 72 hours of coming to campus.) “There are no faith-based or Human Rights Code related exemptions allowed, based on direction from the Ontario Government.”
U King’s College (Halifax) announced Wednesday that it will impose a vax mandate on campus, much like adjacent Dalhousie. Those who do not prove they are fully vaxxed will be tested twice weekly for COVID19. CBC
Redeemer UC announced Thursday that it is following provincial direction and implementing a vaccine mandate effective Sep 13: anyone coming to campus is asked to provide proof of vaccination. Those that do not or cannot must take an education module and submit to weekly rapid testing. Redeemer
St Lawrence College announced Wednesday it will require proof of vaccination (not merely an attestation) or a negative COVID19 test result for anyone coming to campus after Sep 7. Kingston Whig-Standard
On the other hand…
The Quebec Government has not swayed from its position that vaccines should not be required for PSE, despite the protests detailed below, because it is an “essential service.” While employers throughout Quebec can require their employees to be vaccinated, higher ed minister Danielle McCann clarified Thursday that does NOT apply to universities or CEGEPs. Global | Montreal Gazette
There are at least 2 distinct moods out there in CdnPSE: some presidents, students and staff are jubilant at finally returning to campus, with the pandemic behind us thanks to vaccines; while others are anxiously watching signs of rising COVID19 infections, and outraged by lax provincial regulations or campus policies. Those contrasting moods are already playing out in student behaviour and faculty protests…
Frat Party at UBC
Last weekend, a “wild frat party” involving hundreds of students was shut down on the UBC campus by the university RCMP detachment. Students filled several houses and a courtyard in fraternity village, with insufficient room for physical distancing and few masks. Currently the allowable limit is 50 people for organized gatherings in BC. The organizers were issued $5,000 in fines for violating health restrictions. (UBC is organizing mandatory training sessions for all fraternity and sorority presidents.) CTV | CBC
Street Party at Queen’s
Early Thursday morning, Kingston Police took 90 minutes to clear a “rough and rowdy” crowd of 2,000 from a street party in the university district. Police arrested 4 and issued 16 court summons (largely under nuisance bylaws). This is not the first street party reported this week, but it is “by far the largest.” (And student move-ins continue through tomorrow.) Queen’s president Patrick Deane says the university will work with police to identify students who violated the student code of conduct. The City is closing Breakwater Park and Gord Edgar Downie Pier to the public for 18 days, and ramping up police presence at night in the university district. Global | Ottawa Citizen
Students are Disappointed
Students at Western, UBC, uCalgary, uSaskatchewan and elsewhere are complaining in national media about the uncertainty of instruction modes. On Wednesday, St Lawrence College announced it will “reduce face-to-face programming for the fall semester,” shifting larger theory-based courses online and reducing the proportion of students on campus from 80% down to 50%. Alberta U of the Arts is moving most of its courses online for the first 2 weeks of school because of delays getting its rapid testing program launched. Some students and parents at UBC Okanagan are upset that some programs and courses have been shifted online, even though many will include in-person seminars or study groups. (Some are threatening to drop out.) And then of course, 2 students claim they will sue Seneca College because they cannot fully complete their fashion arts and vet tech programs online. (They are being encouraged by the anti-vax Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.)
“It’s a bit of a dumpster fire, really. They said it’s gonna be in-person, in-person, and well, we’re gonna see… and now it’s just a free-for-all.” – Kai Rogers, Student, UBC Okanagan
Protests by Anti-Vaxxers
A group of protesters held a rally outside Lambton College last Tuesday to protest the requirement to show proof of vaccination. At uWaterloo, 3 profs were the first to sign an open letter protesting the vaccine mandate on campus, and invoking charter rights. (Out of 46,000 students and employees, though, just 40 or so have signed – 0.1% of the campus community.) Some 2,000 Queen’s U students have apparently signed an online petition to protest the campus vax mandate. An incoming Ryerson U student wrote a typo-riddled op-ed for the National Post (where else?) arguing that universities have made an “unnecessary rush to mandate vaccines.”
Protests by the Anxious
Even those who are fully-vaxxed are cognizant that they face a 20-30% chance of breakthrough infection by the Delta variant, and even if the symptoms are mild they will be contagious to others who might be more vulnerable. Several hundred McGill profs have written the administration to demand vaccination, physical distancing and routine testing – a demand echoed by the McGill Association of University Teachers and the Students’ Society, who also want to see remote learning as an option. (MAUT says “if the university cannot provide the safe and collegial environment that so many of our members are asking for, then they have every right to seek redress via grievance or legal action.”) An internal McGill memo reportedly states that “fear about campus safety or concern about relatives who might be at greater risk or exposure to COVID19 are not value reasons to teach remotely.” Faculty at uLethbridge are also publicly urging the option of online course delivery. Some biology profs at uGuelph are reportedly “terrified” by plans to return to classes of up to 250 students, without room for adequate distancing, and with full vaccination not required until Oct 15. (468 people have signed an open letter urging a shift to remote instruction until then.) Western U’s faculty association is calling for a cap of 50% capacity on in-person classrooms until the campus vax mandate takes effect Oct 12, with those that cannot be adjusted shifted online until then.
“The requirement to attend a university lecture on infectious disease should be at least as stringent as the requirement to, say, play bingo.” – Saleema Nawaz, former employee McGill U
Last year, I argued (in my University Affairs article, “Schrodinger’s Semester,” for example) that the only safe assumption in summer 2020 was that learning would have to be delivered largely online that September. The situation feels very similar now, despite the roll-out of COVID19 vaccines…
Bait and Switch Redux
The temptation to promise a return to normalcy is understandable, after 18 months of pandemic turbulence. Colleges and universities feel compelled to return students to campus, whether to maximize the learning benefits of hands-on instruction, to embrace extracurriculars and student life, or (more cynically) to restore much-needed revenues from ancillary operations like residences, parking and food services. Likewise, premiers and PHOs (particularly in BC, AB, ON and QC) have been insisting on a return to campus, even when it required them to turn a blind eye to menacing epidemiological projections. Personally, I’m with Seneca College president David Agnew, who has promoted cautious planning and firm decisions early in the summer: “You just have to be very careful about raising expectations about what you’re able to deliver, safely.”
“You just have to be very careful about raising expectations about what you’re able to deliver, safely… ” – David Agnew, president, Seneca College
Here are 3 really different tones for back-to-campus videos this week, aside from the dozens of presidential welcomes and safety protocol vids out there…
Wow, Ohio State U has an incredibly upbeat, fast-paced :30-sec vid featuring quick cuts between football games, marching bands, dance performances, jet fighters, libraries, labs, athletics and so much more – set to an enthusiastic song, “we’re back!” (There are even a couple of facemasks among the thousands of people in the video.) YouTube
Good vs COVID
Justice Institute of BC has a quirky, 1960s cartoon style to this 1-min “Return to Campus” video that features animation and music with a “Pink Panther” feel. “In the fight between good… and this [COVID19], five things to remember,” say the dynamic titles. Aside from daily screening, staying home if you’re sick, hand hygiene, respecting people’s personal space, and following guidelines, the video urges us all to “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe and Be the One doing their Homework.” (The music, say the closing credits, is by “Campus Choral,” but it sure sounds like Henry Mancini.) YouTube
Onward Together, Mystics!
Mount St Vincent U takes a much more traditional tone in their 2.5-min welcome back video, which opens with sombre reflections of the past 18 months set to quiet piano music. But the video pivots at the :30-sec mark, with the declaration that “you could say we’re a wee bit excited!” The rest of the video features MSVU staff preparing labs, lawns, gyms and residence rooms (and shaving their “beards”) to get ready for the return of students, set to some jazzy brassy music. Lively performances, fast-paced editing, a bit of humour and a cameo by president Ramona Lumpkin makes this vid memorable. YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoy some time for R&R this weekend (while exercising all the appropriate COVID19 precautions, of course).
And Delta isn’t the only virus to worry about – IT experts warn that holiday weekends are also a peak time for cyberattacks, since it can take longer for a hacker intrusion to be detected. Be careful out there online, too!
I’m going to take an extended weekend myself… no doubt you’ll hear from me at some point next week, though. (And sorry this took me until afternoon to get out today!)
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