Thursday, September 9, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Apparently today is a day to celebrate everything from Weirdos to Wienerschnitzel – but more seriously, the UN has declared today the 2nd annual “International Day to Protect Education from Attack.” (I think we need more than one day for that cause, particularly if the definition of “attack” is broadened from actual warfare to include political defunding, populist rejection of science, and disturbingly broad anti-intellectualism spreading throughout the world’s democracies.)
But today I’m particularly disturbed by the similarities between Back to School 2021 and 2020. Obviously, COVID19 vaccinations have significantly lowered the stakes for anyone who is fully vaxxed (now 68% of Canadians), but the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is raging out of control, driving infection counts ever higher and approaching the capacity of our healthcare systems. So much looks the same out there this Fall…
And if you’re not in the mood for THAT, check out my collection of some upbeat “Welcome Back” videos from CdnPSE this week!
Last Fall, we hadn’t even heard of the Delta variant, which has driven a whole new wave of the COVID19 pandemic since March. Now, we’re just starting to hear about new variants arising, but bad behaviour and threats to reopening sure look like (as The Atlantic puts it) “kids are in for another messy school year”…
It was only a week ago that I first mentioned the “Mu” variant of COVID19 (B.1.621, first identified in Colombia in January, and designated a “variant of interest” by the WHO). Mu features a “constellation of mutations” that might permit it to evade vaccine protection, but fortunately it did not appear to be outcompeting the Delta variant. (At that point, Mu had been identified in 4,650 cases across 39 countries, particularly in South America and Europe.) But the more antivaxxers and the unvaxxed catch COVID19, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate and spread – so naturally, it is now in every US state other than Nebraska. In particular, Florida has become an incubator for Mu, with as many as 28,000 COVID19 cases a day – and so far, 305 cases of Mu. An epidemiologist at the U of South Florida is “absolutely concerned” about Mu, and its ability to evade COVID19 immunity.
“I am absolutely concerned about Mu… It possesses mutations that suggest it has the potential to effectively combat what our immune systems are throwing at it.” – Jason Salemi, epidemiologist, U of South Florida
Of course, last Fall students returning to campus were repeatedly taken to task for holding unsanctioned gatherings and rowdy parties, at a time when masks and social distancing were the only tools we had to fight the pandemic…
Young people felt invincible last Fall because the repeated messaging from researchers and PHOs emphasized the dangers of COVID19 for older demographics. This year, they must feel doubly invincible if they are arriving on campus fully-vaccinated, in residence halls back to full capacity, in which their fellow students have had to prove they are also double-vaxxed. As a result, just like Fall of 2020, we’re seeing alarmingly large student parties across the country. I mentioned previously that up to 1,000 students packed the residence area on the uVic campus Sunday night. Kingston Police found 3,500-5,000 people packing the streets of the University District over the long weekend, and handed out more than $100,000 in fines. In Antigonish NS, StFX students gathered Sunday night and 2 climbed atop an ambulance. On Labour Day, about 1,000 students gathered on Ezra Avenue (in Waterloo’s “student ghetto”), trespassing, strewing garbage, vandalizing private homes and setting fire to a large chair. And a frat party at UBC last week has allegedly left 200 people with COVID19 symptoms, or testing positive.
Just like last Fall, CdnPSE administrators, police and first responders are responding to unsanctioned parties with appeals to responsible behaviour, and ominous warnings of consequences. Police chief Antje McNeely called the “unlawful high-risk gatherings” in Kingston “unconscionable.” Paramedic and Police unionsdenounced them as “a slap in the face.” StFX VP Students Elizabeth Yeo said any students involved would be “subject to our disciplinary process.” Laurier president Deb MacLatchy warned that students involved in Monday’s “reckless behaviour” could face fines or criminal charges, as well as suspension or expulsion from the university. “There is zero tolerance for this behaviour at Laurier.” uVic’s AVP Student Affairs, Jim Dunsdon, denounced the unstructured party as “unacceptable” behaviour “that puts our fall return to campus at risk.” Western president Alan Shepard and the USC issued a joint statement urging students to behave responsibly, or put “our entire year in jeopardy.” (One critic on social media observed that Western had hosted its owncampus “super-spreader event” for Orientation.) A Western Law prof says the behaviour was inevitable, and that the university “created the conditions by bringing students back without a great plan.”
“Our officers have had bottles thrown at them/been attacked and are outnumbered by 1,000s… The student behaviour is predictable, yet everyone acts surprised.” – Kingston Police Association on Twitter
“We want to be clear: if this activity continues, the academic year we have so carefully planned will not happen. In-person learning with fellow students, interaction with professors, extra-curricular activities, athletics and all the things that make your student experience great will be lost.” – Alan Shepard, president, Western U and Zamir Fakirani, USC president
Most CdnPSEs are still in orientation, or barely into classes, but we’re already seeing examples of institutions pivoting to emergency remote delivery in the US…
I mentioned Tuesday (“Are We There Yet?”) that we’ve seen several CdnPSEs announce a week or two of online delivery while their campus community gets vaccinated (such as AUArts, Brock, and York). In the US, things look even more like they did last year, as panicked institutions have pivoted to emergency remote instruction just weeks after reopening with insufficient safeguards, as they experience significant campus outbreaks of COVID19 (such as La Salle U (PA), Liberty U (VA), uDallas and Rice U (TX).
While vaccination means many Canadians feel the stakes are lower this Fall, and that a return to “normal” might still be possible (the premier of Alberta in particular), rapidly-filling hospital ICUs tell another tale…
Extended ICU Stays
Even in vaccine-rich countries like the US and Canada, there are enough unvaxxed adults and children to provide fodder for the Delta variant that hospitals and ICUs are deep into a fourth wave of the pandemic. (Alberta reports 600 COVID19 patients in hospital, and 137 in ICU. Although 30% of those admitted to hospital were in fact vaxxed.) Moreover, the fact that these patients are younger than in previous waves means that many are spending longer in hospital: median ICU stays in Ontario have jumped from 8 days to as much as 40 days in some regions.
One researcher at Rice U is reporting a “troubling trend of unexplained deaths” since the onset of the COVID19 pandemic, above and beyond deaths attributable to COVID19 itself. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses are killing up to 36% more people than they would in a non-pandemic year, as hospitals fill up and patients postpone checkups or treatment. Then there are overdose and suicide “deaths of despair.” COVID19 vaccinations can’t protect us from these indirect effects, so long as a pandemic of the unvaccinated continues to overwhelm the healthcare system.
A few weeks after the majority of US children returned to K-12 classrooms, the country saw a surge in COVID19 infections, and in particular 250,000 pediatric cases in just the past week. Tens of thousands have been sent home to quarantine, and ~2,500 children wound up in hospital with COVID19. Naturally the circumstances are much worse in states like Texas and Florida, where the governors have worked tirelessly to outlaw mask mandates in classrooms. In Miami-Dade Public Schools, at least 13 employees have died from COVID19 in the past 3 weeks. “It’s a bruising statistic that we need to absolutely internalize.”
And then there are plenty of warning signs that we have indeed entered what Anthony Fauci has famously called a “pandemic era”…
Nipah Virus in India
Like COVID19, Nipah is a zoonotic virus that initially presents with flu-like symptoms, before progressing to more serious neurological ones in the worst cases. Nipah patients experience dizziness, “altered consciousness,” and in severe cases brain swelling and seizures, which progress to coma within 24-48 hours. (Nipah’s total incubation period, though, is up to 45 days.) Unlike COVID19, which has an estimated case fatality rate of about 1.7% in Canada, Nipah kills 40-75% of those infected. The first outbreak, in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, infected 300 people and killed more than 100. Bangladesh has had near-annual outbreaks since 2001. Now a new outbreak in India has killed a 12-year-old boy in the southern state of Kerala, and infected others. (Authorities have identified 188 contacts, and 2 healthcare workers are showing symptoms.) The last Nipah outbreak in the region, in 2018, infected 18 people and killed 17 of them. There are as yet no vaccines or treatments for Nipah, but the WHO has identified it as a research priority due to its severity.
Pandemics “Relatively Likely”
A study of global disease outbreaks over the past 400 years has concluded that the probability of a pandemic on the scale of COVID19 is about 2% in any given year – and the probability is only growing, likely threefold in the next few decades. The researchers estimate that another pandemic on the scale of COVID19 is likely within 59 years – but equally likely any year now. That means most people will experience one or even two within their lifetimes. (If that’s not pessimistic enough for you, they also helpfully calculate that a pandemic capable of eliminating all human life is statistically likely within about 12,000 years.) Yikes.
I think it’s fair to say that CdnPSEs that have been most cautious in planning for the Fall term – maintaining mask mandates, keeping classrooms and residences at reduced capacity, encouraging WFH and hybrid delivery models, or of course mandating vaccinations – will be best positioned to ride out the 4th (and/or 5th) waves of the pandemic in the months ahead. Those few who have rushed back to full capacity campuses, with no vaccination or mask requirements, are in for a harsh reality check quite soon…
I’m not tracking the myriad adjustments to vaccine mandates in CdnPSE anymore, but here are a few developments worth noting since Tuesday…
More Provincial Passports
The Yukon announced Tuesday that it will be introducing an online vaccine credential system to help residents when they are asked for proof of vaccination in other jurisdictions. After a cluster of 5 new cases, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador announced Tuesday that it will introduce a vaccination passport with QR codes, modelled on the Quebec system, within weeks. Yesterday the premier of Nova Scotia also announced a “proof of vaccination” policy for entry to bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues as of Oct 4. (Earlier New Brunswick admitted it would likely move toward a vaccine passport so that residents could move between provinces. Prince Edward Island, which already has the PEI Pass for interprovincial travel, has also announced it will introduce a vaccine passport by early October, for large events.) With the programs already launched in Manitoba and Quebec, and announced in BC and Ontario, I think that leaves Alberta and Saskatchewan alone among the provinces in resisting a vax passport of some kind.
Douglas College announced Aug 24 that it would follow the BC PHO guidelines in requiring proof of vaccination for non-essential activities including the fitness centre, theatre and music productions, recreation and intramural activities, “optional workshops,” club activities, and likely campus dining. On Aug 30, president Kathy Denton added that Douglas would take a similar approach to BC’s research universities, requiring attestation of vaccination or regular, periodic rapid testing. Douglas
McGill U still hasn’t defied the Quebec provincial direction by imposing a vaccine mandate, but it does tell the community that “the University expects you to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible,” and that the provincial vaccine passport will be required for non-essential activities on campus starting Sep 1. (Those include participating in varsity athletics, accessing fitness centres and residence common areas, attending sporting events, sit-down dining, concerts, conferences, and other extracurricular activities.) McGill
SAIT announced Tuesday that it will introduce a mandatory COVID19 vaccination verification and rapid testing program later this month. Students and employees will either attest to vaccination through the SAITALERT app, or be subject to periodic rapid testing. “You may be required to provide proof of vaccination at a later date.” SAIT
Yukon U will require anyone entering campus to complete a COVID19 questionnaire and a non-invasive temperature check, with a “fast-track” option for those who are fully-vaxxed. (Yukon U won’t have records on vax status, but will depend on the “honour system.”) Mandatory testing for those who are unvaxxed might be introduced later. CBC
(You will find all my coverage since March in the Insider Recap on Vaccination Policies.)
As students return to campuses coast to coast for the first time in 18 months, CdnPSE leaders are turning to brief video messages to convey their enthusiasm, confidence, and concern for the health of the community, whether as standalone greetings or as part of orientation programming…
Most CdnPSE presidents are dressing casually and speaking outdoors on campus (or sometimes more formally in their offices) to welcome students back. Sometimes they are reiterating campus health precautions, or showcasing improvements to ventilation or contactless systems. Often they are emphasizing the many services and opportunities available to students. Some have better audio quality or b-roll than others. So far this week, some examples from my hundreds of YouTube feeds include Mary Butler (president at NBCC), David Dingwall (president at Cape Breton U), Jacques Frémont (president at uOttawa), Rhonda Lenton(president at York), Don Lovisa (president at Durham), Ann Marie Vaughan (president at Loyalist), and Asima Vezina (president of Algoma). Vianne Timmons (president at Memorial) does a great job conveying her enthusiasm for the dedication of faculty and the new whale skeleton behind her. Lynn Wells (interim president at Brock) and Peter Ricketts (president at Acadia) share their excitement in the context of student move-in day. Andy Hakin (president at StFX) joined with local politicians to reflect on the way Antigonish weathered the pandemic, while welcoming students. Other senior administrators also posted “welcome back” videos, including (so far this week) Sean Monteith (SVP Academic at Loyalist), and a range of senior administrators at Mount Royal. (Perhaps by coincidence, yesterday Vancouver Community College released a 5-min “welcome video” specifically for new employees joining the college.)
A handful of these “welcome back” videos rise above the ordinary, though…
Here are some of this week’s CdnPSE “welcome back” videos that I think break out of the usual mold…
This 1-min, wordless, upbeat feel-good video from uLethbridge brings a student back to campus while subtly reminding us of masking protocols and social distancing practices. She treats her prof to a coffee and greets her fellow students, staffers and others, obviously happy to be back on campus. YouTube
Welcome Back, Saints!
St Clair College opens this :30 sec vid with soft piano music and scenes of a deserted campus – but quickly pivots to over-the-top rock and roll as students return to hallways, classrooms and gyms. YouTube
Gryphons, We’re Ready
uGuelph packs plenty of energy and enthusiasm into this :40-sec, largely wordless welcome vid. Rapid cuts over dramatic music show us a campus coming alive, masked students, faculty and staff engaging, working out, checking in, and getting vaccinated. President Charlotte Yates gets the final word, simply “Gryphons, we’re ready.” YouTube
We’re Ready for You!
Ryerson U took a much more dynamic approach to this 4-min welcome vid, sending 2nd-year journalism student Sonia Tumkur to walk and talk across campus with Jen McMillen, VP Students, and to interview many others about residence, recreation facilities, campus safety protocols and more. The overall effect is much like a rapid, friendly campus tour! YouTube
Dalhousie U put together a lovely 1-min welcome vid featuring beautiful campus scenes and quick sound bites from a range of faculty and staff. “Now it’s our time to show what we’ve learned this past year, about kindness, about community, about ourselves.” President Deep Saini gets the last word, but keeps it just as brief and low-key. YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
I probably won’t be back in your inbox tomorrow, so let me wish you a smooth end to the week, and a restful weekend. Stay safe and be well – and for Canadians, maybe hit those advance polls this weekend rather than waiting until the crush of election day?
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