Saturday, December 18, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Although I’ve written 2,000+ pages for the Insider over the past 20 months, I’ve never felt compelled to share updates on Saturday before. (That should tell you how quickly the Omicron situation is evolving in CdnPSE this week.) In fact, yesterday I hadn’t planned to write about pandemic responses either, but I put together the issue (“Winter Term Avalanche”) at the last moment.
My apologies if this issue comes as an unwelcome visitor to your inbox on the weekend – but for those of you responsible for January planning, there’s emerging news from CdnPSE you should probably see today. (And I still want to save Monday for some lighter holiday fare!)
In a nutshell…
Omicron is Omnipresent
I don’t imagine I need to summarize the way Omicron is doubling every 2-3 days, already in 89 countries, and driving COVID19 record infections in the UK, Australia, Quebec, Nova Scotia and PEI. Cases have more than doubled in Ontario this week. With a COVID19 variant this contagious, provinces that haven’t yet been hit hard will be, and soon. In about 2 weeks, we’ll see what impact Omicron has on hospitals, and 2 weeks after that, on COVID19 fatalities.
“The experts have been very clear: nothing will stop the spread of Omicron. It’s just too transmissible. What we can do, and what we’re doing, is slowing it as much as possible to allow more time for shots to get into arms.” – Doug Ford, Ontario premier
So far, Omicron appears at least 5x more likely to reinfect, and no less severe than Delta, according to some studies. Even in supposedly “fully-vaxxed” environments like CdnPSE campuses, we’re seeing multiple outbreaks (including new cases yesterday at Laurentian, uWaterloo, and 3 more at McMaster). Small wonder: lab results suggest that Omicron almost completely evades the J&J and Sinopharm vaccines, and probably Russia’s Sputnik too. And unfortunately it is also “markedly resistant” to other vaccines and boosters, according to a new Columbia U study. (There have been multiple examples of Omicron breakthrough infections among triple-vaxxed people, too.) In the worst case, we could still be waiting months for specially-formulated new vaccines.
Driving New Lockdowns
We’re certainly going to need to wait until mid-January for anything approaching scientific consensus to guide public health measures, so in the meantime we’re seeing lockdowns and restrictions reimposed across Europeand Canada. We’re being warned to ditch single-layer cloth masks and start using N95s. Ontario is back to considering circuit-breaker lockdowns.
Coming for Christmas
Unfortunately, the situation will be accelerated by holiday travel this week – 109M Americans alone will travelbetween Dec 23 and Jan 2. Pandemic fatigue and vaccine overconfidence means people are letting down their guard, protesting restrictions and cheating to get around the system.
As I outlined yesterday, a landslide of Ontario colleges and universities made announcements in the past couple of days, indicating that (“out of an abundance of caution”) they would delay the start of the Winter 2022 term, shift it largely online, or both:
One Week online (Jan 10-16) at McMaster U and Laurentian U.
Two Weeks online (Jan 10-23) at uGuelph, Seneca College, uWaterloo, and York U.
One Month online (Jan 10-28 or 30) at the bulk of ONpses: Brock U, Carleton U, Conestoga College, Durham College, Mohawk College, Niagara College, Ontario Tech U, Ryerson U, St Lawrence College, uOttawa,uToronto, and Wilfrid Laurier U. (OCAD U decided to delay the start of winter term until Jan 28, so they can resume in-person.)
Two Months online (Jan 10 – Feb 28) at Algonquin College, Fanshawe College, George Brown College, Sault College, and Queen’s U.
Since yesterday’s Insider, I spotted 9 more Ontario announcements:
Algoma U will shift to online delivery for the month of January, returning to the “originally planned delivery mode” for courses on Jan 31. That gives students 3 weeks to get their COVID19 booster shot.
Centennial College will shift all in-person, non-lab classes online for the Winter semester. In-person labs, clinics and studios will continue on campus. An update will be provided on Jan 28 regarding the remainder of the semester, which they hope will permit a slow safe reopening starting Feb 28.
“Following what was a relatively calm fall, it is with a heavy, yet realistic heart that we have decided to enter the winter semester with a more limited return-to-campus plan than previously anticipated.” – Craig Stephenson, President, Centennial College
Fleming College will delay the start of Winter semester until Jan 17, and courses will be fully online Jan 17-30.
Nipissing U will move all in-person classes online until Jan 24, to give students, staff and faculty time to get their booster shots. “We intend for this shift to online learning to be a temporary measure and hope to return to offering both in-person and online options for the remainder of the Winter Term as planned.”
St Clair College will shift 24 programs online that start in January and are “primarily populated by international students,” since those students may not be able to enter the country. Continuing programs will continue to be delivered F2F.
Sheridan College will start the Winter 2022 term with most courses delivered remotely, Jan 10-23.
Western U announced yesterday it would delay the start of Winter term until Jan 10, and that classes would be held virtually until Jan 31. (The plans also apply to affiliated colleges Huron, Brescia and King’s UC.) “Of course, we will continue to follow public health guidance and will adjust course accordingly. It is possible that we will need to extend the delivery of classes virtually beyond Jan 31.”
uWindsor will delay the start of winter term classes by 2 weeks until Jan 17, and shift to virtual instructions for the remainder of January. Courses will not return to campus until Jan 31 at the earliest, and the final day of winter term classes will be pushed back by 2 weeks as well. (If MCU changes the definition of “fully-vaxxed” to include 3 doses, so will uWindsor.)
Ontario U Athletics announced yesterday that it would “pause” university sport effective immediately, until at least Jan 24. (This includes scrimmages, exhibition games, tournaments, league competition and championships.) OUA will continue to assess conditions “and will be prepared to extend this pause beyond Jan 24 if necessary.”
As ONpse almost unanimously pivots to remote delivery for January, some other hard-hit regions from Manitoba to Nova Scotia seem to be joining them…
MBpse Starts to Pivot
uWinnipeg has announced Thursday it will deliver most classes remotely until Reading Week, Feb 26. (The remainder of the Winter term will be evaluated at the end of January.)
RRC Polytech announced Friday it will maintain the current Fall term modes in the Winter 2022 term, with a “focus on online delivery, prioritizing essential hands-on learning as well as enriched activities where possible.”
uManitoba’s Faculty Association is publicly urging administration to develop a plan for the Winter term taking Omicron into account, and involving faculty in the discussion process. UMFA claims that recent COVID19 planning meetings have been cancelled, and they fear decisions about returning to campus are being made unilaterally. (UofM currently plans a Jan 24 start to the term.)
The Omicron wave has been particularly shocking in Nova Scotia…
Aftershocks at StFX
St Francis Xavier U is still feeling the aftershocks of the COVID19 outbreak sparked by its in-person X-Ring ceremony. (More than 240 cases across the Maritimes have been linked to StFX.) Yesterday, StFX and its student union were each fined $11,000+ for failure to comply with the Nova Scotia Health Protection Act. “In both cases, there is video evidence of masking requirements not being followed.” StFX announced yesterday it was contributing $10,000 to the Antigonish Chamber of Commerce “Antigonish by Choice” campaign, to purchase gift cards and certificates from local businesses impacted by the outbreak.
NSpse Starts to Pivot
Dalhousie U announced yesterday that its Winter term will begin with “nearly all course delivery” online for the first 2 weeks of January. “We will continue to evaluate the situation on a daily basis… and determine whether in-person learning will be able to resume” on Jan 17. (Dal has had 38 confirmed cases of COVID19 in the past week, including 23 in residence.) U King’s College will follow the same approach.
“Having spent nearly two years living and working through uncertainty, to be here at another moment of significant uncertainty — especially after all the gains this past year — will be incredibly frustrating for everyone. But we have learned over the past two years to work through these moments by relying on our compassion, our understanding and our patience.” – Bill Lahey, president, and Frank Harvey, provost, Dalhousie U
NSCC announced yesterday that its Winter term will begin online Jan 6, with remote delivery until at least Jan 21. NSCC “will reassess early in January whether that date needs to be extended.”
“There is deep concern about our current situation as a province. We want to be part of the solution that ends this outbreak and puts us back on track for a safe return to the activities we enjoy including learning in-person.” – Don Bureaux, president, NSCC
NBpse Pivots too?
Mount Allison U announced yesterday that its Winter term will begin with a 2-week online-only instruction period. “Reduced capacity seating will continue in all classrooms and instructional spaces, as done this fall.”
Coal in Our Stockings?
So far, campus pivots for January are being announced in the provinces hardest hit by the Omicron variant – Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia – where PHOs are reimposing restrictions. But with Omicron likely to reach all corners of the country soon, and to be stirred up by holiday gatherings, other provinces will inevitably need to respond over the coming weeks. That may well result in a lot of last-minute announcements in other jurisdictions too.
If that happens, the 11th-hour announcements will land like lumps of coal in the stockings of college and university instructors, who will need to scramble over the holidays to prepare for unplanned alternate delivery. (But hey, at least Ontario college instructors can call a strike to get a reprieve of sorts…)
All evidence above to the contrary, I’ve actually spent the past few days consciously shifting my attention AWAY from the pandemic and towards lighter fare: hundreds of higher ed holiday greeting videos that are hitting social media this month.
I had originally thought I would share the best of these with you yesterday – but then came more than 60 new releases, including some really good ones! If you’re impatient and have finished your holiday shopping, you can check out my full 2021 Holiday Videos playlist, which now has 241 examples… But I hope to share the best of them with you in a more curated way on Monday.
Here’s one of the latest to whet your appetite…
NSCG Newcastle College (and its Stafford sister campus) released an 8-min parody of Home Alone for the holidays – “our most ambitious video to date.” Twin criminals (played admirably by assistant principals Gavin Barker and Kevin Wintle) threaten the twin campuses, as staff and students work together to foil them in ingenious and violent ways. Some of the cinematography, special effects, slapstick humour and even acting are actually quite good… and it’s tough to imagine any academic administrators could be better sports as they get repeatedly clobbered! (“Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!”) YouTube
Stay safe out there if you’re doing last-minute in-person shopping, proctoring exams, travelling or gathering with loved ones this week.
I’ll be back (hopefully by Monday) with my roundup of 2021 Holiday Videos!
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