Friday, September 17, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good afternoon, TGIF – and a belated “G’mar Chatima Tova” to those who were observing Yom Kippur yesterday. Those who like their celebrations on a plate can choose between Monte Cristo Sandwiches and Apple Dumplings today. Stargazers can debate the merits of the fact that there are more humans orbiting the planet right now than at any time in history. (14, for the record.)
Meanwhile in CdnPSE, students at Western U are walking out of class this afternoon to protest the “culture of misogyny” on campus, as rape culture concerns have been fuelled by social media allegations of “mass drugging and sexual assaults” in residence. (At this point, authorities are still struggling to confirm the allegations, but Western’s president is officially supporting the protest and launching numerous initiatives, and the Ontario government has responded by mandating changes to sexual violence reporting on ONpse campuses.)
There’s also growing debate across the country about how to recognize Sep 30, National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, which was made a national statutory holiday back on Jun 3. Since early August, some provinces have announced it as an official holiday (like BC, Manitoba, NS and NWT), while others (like Ontario) have not. Some CdnPSEs will close for the day (like SFU, uCalgary, uManitoba, and uWinnipeg), while others will merely “observe” the day (like Remembrance Day). And inevitably, employee unions and student groups are urging institutions to recognize the day (as at Queen’s U for example).
With less than 2 weeks to go until Sep 30, this is an issue that should have been identified much, much earlier. Much like the healthcare state of emergency, finally declared in Alberta on Wednesday… which has left ABpses in chaos and kept me revising this newsletter until early afternoon!
Since Wednesday, here’s how the COVID19 pandemic has unfolded…
Surging COVID19 cases
The Pan American Health Organization, which has been in the news most warning about pandemic surges in Central and South America over the past year, is now sounding the alarm that cases in North America have risen by one-third over the past week. Infections have doubled in Alberta, and hospitals are struggling there as well as across the Southern US. Reuters
Rising Tide in Canada
On Wednesday, back to school was dealt a blow across the country by rising cases of COVID19. The Northwest Territories announced, with less than a day’s notice, that K-12 students would revert to remote learning as of yesterday in Yellowknife, Ndılǫ and Dettah. (Schools are also closed in other communities due to containment orders.) Prince Edward Island announced a return to mandatory masking and new COVID19 testing for children. Nova Scotia warned of increasing pressure on its hospital system due to “considerable staffing challenges.” (Then of course there’s Saskatchewan and Alberta – see below.)
A “Dented” Economy
Economists agree that the spread of the Delta variant has temporarily “dented” the US economic rebound in Q3, along with ongoing supply chain disruptions. “The expansion continues to progress, albeit at a slower pace” as consumer confidence has been shaken. The outlook for 2022 remains a “robust” +4.2% growth. Reuters
Thankfully, antivax and anti-mask right-wing radio host Larry Elder failed in his bid to unseat the Democrat governor of California, Gavin Newsom, in this week’s recall vote. (Said Newsom triumphantly, “we said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic.”) Meanwhile, Fox News pundits continue ranting on-air against government overreach and vaccine/mask mandates, while their workplace has itself imposed mandatory daily testing or vaccination policies, and more than 90% of Fox employees are fully vaxxed. (The White House strategically praised Fox News, while encouraging them to convey the benefits of vaccination policies to their audiences.)
Shots at Rebranding
Everyone knows that the way to overcome skeptics and critics is to rebrand, right? (My voice is dripping with sarcasm here, btw.) Really, the launch of pharmaceutical brand names hinges on full FDA/HC approval, which is why we now are saddled with the truly awful portmanteau atrocities “Comirnaty” (Pfizer-BioNTech), and “Vaxzevria” (Oxford-AstraZeneca). By comparison, “Spikevax” (Moderna) is naming brilliance. (Personally, I’m with my local PHO and infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch, both of whom will ignore this branding exercise to stick with the terms people already know and recognize.) Global | Globe & Mail | CTV
Cases on Campus
Since the Fall term began, plenty of individuals have no doubt tested positive for COVID19 on CdnPSE campuses. A handful have resulted in public announcements (as at Laurentian or St Clair College), while many other schools are far less transparent (say, Quebec CEGEPs, for example). uWaterloo is even reporting wastewater early warning signs from 2 of its student residences. I’ve previously announced I won’t be counting every case made public in CdnPSE this year, but occasionally I’ll mention major outbreaks, should they occur. Street parties in Kingston’s University District have resulted in ~24 cases of COVID19 linked to Queen’s U. So far, though, nothing in Canada compares to campus outbreaks south of the border. This week’s example: uMassachusetts Amherst, where officials report 371 cases just 2 weeks into classes, despite having a 96.6% vaccination rate on campus.
“It’s very hard, on the one hand, to say students shouldn’t be congregating that way and then to ask them to attend a 700-person class inside, you know, for hours at a time.” – Samantha King, Kinesiology & Health prof, Queen’s U
The two most libertarian premiers in Canada, AB’s Jason Kenney and SK’s Scott Moe, finally had to concede defeat this week and face reality…
Health Emergency in AB
Although health experts (and yours truly) saw it coming for months, ever since the premature “mission accomplished” of Alberta’s Jul 1 “best summer ever” announcements, on Wednesday premier Jason Kenney finally acknowledged that his misguided decision to lift all pandemic restrictions was a fatal error: “It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize.” (Of course, later that day Kenney contradicted himself: “No, I don’t apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer.” Sheesh. “Sorry. Not sorry.”) Regardless of the non-apology apology, Alberta faces the brutal reality of 18,000+ active cases of COVID19, almost 900 in hospital, and a new peak of 24 deaths daily: “that is one person’s life lost for every hour of the day,” in the words of PHO Deena Hinshaw. The province has already cancelled all non-emergency surgeries, and projections make it clear that Alberta will be completely out of ICU beds within 8 days, triggering triage protocols that could mean patients with life-threatening conditions would be denied care, and life support could be removed without family consent. CBC | Maclean’s | CBC | Globe & Mail
“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize.” – Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta
Turning Point in SK
Scott Moe has been the only Canadian premier to come close to Jason Kenney’s blind optimism, likewise easing virtually all pandemic precautions in Saskatchewan on Jul 11. By August, predictably, case counts were rising, and health experts have been warning for weeks of growing pressure on the hospital system. Last week, SK ran out of ICU beds entirely, before expanding capacity. The SK Health Authority is now in phase 2 of ICU capacity, in which the system is “challenged” and care is “impacted” – leading to cancellations of elective surgeries. (On Monday, the SK government reintroduced a state of emergency order to allow it to respond to staffing shortages.) SHA’s CMO warns that the system is just one major car crash away from “an unheard-of turning point,” at which physicians will have to make “unthinkable” triage decisions. Global | CBC
Emergency Measures in AB
On Wednesday, premier Jason Kenney declared a state of public health emergency for Alberta, imposing restrictions on indoor dining, gatherings, religious services, retail and fitness – and a “restriction exemption program” that is a de facto vaccine passport system (which he has vocally opposed for months). Negative COVID19 test results will be accepted as an alternative. WFH is now mandatory unless physical presence at work is required. Elementary schools must reintroduce masking and cohorting of students immediately, and ABpses must now maintain 2m physical distancing in classes. (Considering that case counts will continue to rise for 2 weeks until new measures have an effect, Kenney has still waited far too long. Bleak headlines and more apologies seem inevitable.) CTV |
“The government’s first obligation must be to avoid large numbers of preventable deaths. We must deal with the reality that we are facing. We cannot wish it away.” – Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta
Emergency Measures in SK
On Thursday, SK premier Scott Moe announced an indoor masking mandate to commence today, and a proof-of-vaccination policy to begin Oct 1. As in Alberta, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID19 test will be required at SK restaurants, nightclubs, bars, casinos, movie theatres, and indoor ticketed sporting events – and people will have to pay for those rapid tests themselves. All ministry, crown and agency employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct 1, or provide negative COVID19 test results on a regular basis. Moe observed that his government has been “very patient… possibly… too patient” with the unvaccinated: “The vast majority of Saskatchewan people have grown tired of the reckless decisions of the unvaccinated that are now driving our fourth wave.” Opposition NDP leader Ryan Meili said “copying Jason Kenney’s ‘too-little, too-late’ plan is not leadership.” Unlike Kenney, Moe offered no apology (half-hearted or otherwise). CTV | Globe & Mail | Saskatoon Star-Phoenix | CBC
“The government of Saskatchewan has been very patient – possibly we have been too patient – and that time for patience is now over.” – Scott Moe, premier of Saskatchewan
As The Tyee puts it, “the Best Summer Ever has now officially become the Worst Fall Possible.” As opponents and critics call for resignations in Alberta, none has yet come. Premier Jason Kenney is being “publicly flayed.” But the state of emergency has also occurred during the crucial final week of the federal election. (Things must be bleak in Alberta, for Jason Kenney to be unable to wait 6 more days to capitulate.) Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh have been openly critical of Kenney’s management of the pandemic in particular, while Erin O’Toole is bald-faced in his refusal to address the issue at all, even after repeated pointed questioning. Calgary Liberal candidate George Chalal has released an ad quoting O’Toole last year, saying “the federal Conservatives can learn a lot from our UCP cousins.” Some pollsters speculate that the AB/SK announcements are a “major setback… and a potential game changer” for the federal Conservatives in the election. National Post | Global | The Tyee
“Jason Kenney and the UCP were unforgivably late to act and now all Albertans will pay the price for their cowardice.” – Rachel Notley, Alberta NDP leader, former premier
PHOs Should Act?
As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I’ve long been familiar with the idea that the only person more powerful than a starship captain is the Chief Medical Officer, who can relieve the captain of duty at any time. Canadian medical and legal experts argue that, at least in Saskatchewan, legislation gives provincial CMOH Saqib Shahab the authority to unilaterally impose public health orders, even over the objections of premier Scott Moe. (Although Moe could always fire Shahab and undo any PHO orders.) Considering how often the CMOHs in Ontario, Alberta and elsewhere have clearly been biting their tongues, it would dramatically change the country’s pandemic response if politics were removed from the equation. CBC
New guidance from the governments of Ontario and Alberta have created a flurry of CdnPSE announcements in the past 2 days…
Algonquin College has extended its deadline for full vaccination from Oct 12 to Oct 30, recognizing that the short notice of the policy “has posed a challenge for many of our learners and employees.” The extension is only for those “actively pursuing vaccination,” and those people must have their 2nd shot by Oct 16. Algonquin
Alberta institutions were given a government directive at 9:30pm Wednesday that their campuses can only reopen under the new “restrictions exemption” program, which mandates proof of vaccination in high-capacity indoor settings. The problem is, the institutions are still working out the details for collecting and enforcing such restrictions, which they announced Monday would come into effect anywhere from October through January. Most ABpses have temporarily cancelled in-person classes as they scramble to determine how to implement 2-metre social distancing on campus. Students are naturally outraged by the last-minute changes of plan, by the province and their institutions. Calgary Herald
uAlberta cancelled all in-person classes Thursday, later clarifying that classes would resume Monday once it could implement the Restrictions Exemption program. (Some F2F classes resumed on campus Friday, if they could maintain physical distancing.) Proof of vaccination requirements start Oct 4. Edmonton Journal | uAlberta
uCalgary cancelled in-person classes Thursday through Sunday as it is “evaluating the implications of the new rules.” It claims that in-person activity will resume Monday, under “previously-announced rules,” and that community members will have to upload proof of vaccination. Calgary Herald | CBC | uCalgary
Concordia U of Edmonton cancelled all campus classes and activities from Sep 16-19, explaining that it is “unable to accommodate” the province’s requirement of 2 metres of physical distancing. All classes will be held online Sep 20 – Oct 3, and after Oct 4 the Restriction Exemption program will come into effect on CUE’s campus. At that point, it requires “that we only serve those who are fully vaccinated against COVID19.” Edmonton Journal | CUE
uLethbridge suspended all in-person classes Sep 16-19. On Monday, its proof of vaccination policy will be recognized by the provincial government under its restrictions exemption program, allowing all in-person classes and activities to resume as planned. The only adjustment to UL’s policy is that rapid testing will be required every 72 hours, by those without a vaccine exemption. Beginning Nov 1, full vaccination is required. uLeth
MacEwan U cancelled all in-person classes for Thursday and Friday, and says that effective Monday it will be implementing the province’s restriction exemption program, “accelerating plans announced earlier this week to achieve a fully vaccinated campus.” All classes will therefore continue as scheduled for the Fall term. Students must upload proof of vaccination using the Safe@MacEwan app. Edmonton Journal | MacEwan
Medicine Hat College cancelled in-person and online classes Thursday and Friday while it evaluates the government’s new protocols. MHC
Mount Royal U cancelled in-person classes for the rest of the week. Beginning Monday, MRU will return to in-person learning under the province’s Restrictions Exemption program. Those who attested to vaccination will be required to upload proof starting Monday, while all others must participate in rapid testing. Employees will continue to WFH as possible. Calgary Herald | CBC | MRU
NorQuest College has temporarily closed its campuses Sep 16-18, cancelled in-person classes and moved hyflex courses to online only. NorQuest
SAIT has cancelled in-person classes and closed its campus to all activity for the rest of the week. On Monday, on-campus activities will resume under the Restrictions Exemption program. Vaccine verification will be required through the SAITalert app. Those without proof must obtain a negative COVID19 test within 72 hours of coming to campus. Calgary Herald | SAIT
Most ABpses are concerned that the Alberta Health Services records website may be overwhelmed with requests this weekend, as students, staff and faculty rush to comply immediately with the requirement to upload proof of vaccination status before Monday. No question, this chaos could have been averted if only more institutions had followed the example of Seneca College, which announced their vaccine mandate back in mid-June. Or the dozens of other CdnPSEs which announced their requirements in July and August. (See the Insider Recap on Vaccination Policies.)
Our thoughts are with everybody in Alberta trying to cope with this abrupt chaos…
Things in Western Canada are both bleak and chaotic right now. As a bit of relief, I offer two more light-hearted videos from ONpse…
Welcome Back Lambton!
Lambton College released a 1-min “Welcome Back” video this week embracing the “confidence you feel when you can safely step back on campus.” Set to a rap music bed (I dunno, maybe “Welcome to the Lion’s Den”?), a series of smiling, masked staff members wave cheerful hellos, as mostly-masked students engage in fitness activities, eat lunch and grab coffees. President Rob Kardas winds up the video with a warm “welcome back Lions!” YouTube
Better Together York!
York U released this amusing 1-min “Welcome Back” video this week, jesting about the “questionable habits we might need to shake off after a year of virtual learning.” The world has changed, so we need to ditch style choices like pyjamas, and unlearn social cues from Zoom. “I think you’re on mute.” The upbeat, tongue-in-cheek video emphasizes that “we are better together!” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading. Have a safe and calm weekend if you can!
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