Monday, February 28, 2022 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
My apologies for disappearing abruptly last week – a couple of family emergencies landed atop an already-full work week, and unfortunately pre-empted this newsletter. I’ll try to pace myself better this week, with shorter, more consistent issues.
For the past 100 Mondays, my “Pandemic Précis” has been anything BUT short, and a 3-day undertaking to research and write. As North America emerges from the Omicron wave, though, COVID19 is actually the “light” way to start the week…
I started this newsletter on March 18 2020, to help clients and colleagues make sense of the rapidly-evolving pandemic situation on a daily basis. I certainly didn’t imagine that we’d still be grappling with the public health impacts nearly 2 years later, after at least 430M COVID19 cases worldwide and almost 6M deaths! Finally, though, we seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel…
As I outlined in perhaps too much detail last week (see “Inching Towards Normalcy”), COVID19 case counts are dropping across North America, hospitalizations are following, and premiers are easing restrictions from coast to coast. Most CdnPSEs are maintaining their mask mandates until at least the end of Winter term, although several in Alberta are dropping them as of tomorrow. (FWIW, the CDC said Friday that most “healthy” Americans can take a break from wearing masks, so long as regional hospitals are at no risk of being overwhelmed.) Institutions in Saskatchewan are easing up on vaccine restrictions, but those in Manitoba and most of Ontario plan to keep measures in force as is, until at least April. (Colleges Ontario and COU spoke on behalf of ONpses collectively.)
“I personally will continue to wear a mask in most indoor public settings, and I urge all Americans to consider doing the same.” – Gerald Harmon, president, American Medical Association
Bated Breath in the South
In the northern hemisphere, countries from Canada to the UK, Ireland and Iceland are lifting pandemic restrictions as the Omicron wave subsides, and spring weather is in the offing. But as cold and flu season approaches further south, pandemic prospects are much less rosy. Daily COVID19 infections are hitting record highs in New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, and Hong Kong – which is driving inbound cases in China to a 2-year high as well. Australians are being warned to get their COVID booster shots and influenza vaccines now, before what is expected to be a “horror flu season.” And Australia National U was “rocked” last week by an outbreak of 200 cases in 12 residence halls following orientation week. Unsurprisingly, many Australian universities plan to continue with remote lectures, at least for semester one, and are touting their forward-looking adoption of blended delivery to enhance student learning.
“We are able to go to nightclubs on the weekend and go to the footy with a full stadium, but lecture theatres are currently forbidden.” – Harry Ryan, frustrated freshman, La Trobe U
“Stealth” Omicron BA.2
The WHO has announced that it will continue to regard the Omicron BA.2 subvariant as the Omicron variant of concern, but is encouraging PHOs to continue tracking it separately. (BA.2 has 40 genetic differences from BA.1.) The latest studies of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant in South Africa confirm that it is more transmissible, but no more severe, than BA.1. (South Korean data suggests that Omicron is 75% less likely to cause severe illness or death than the Delta strain.) Although a recent pre-print Japanese study suggests that, based on animal models, BA.2 may be 1.4x more capable of causing disease, and 2.9 to 6.4x more resistant to immunity, than BA.1. And a new pre-print Danish study has found that while it is possible to get reinfected with the 2 different Omicron subvariants, it is rare, and mostly occurs among young, unvaccinated patients. (The 1,739 examples they uncovered were all mild cases.)
“While the Omicron surge has declined, COVID19 is not gone. We must remain adaptable and vigilant in confronting this unpredictable virus.” – Gerald Harmon, president, American Medical Association
“Revenge Travel” Explodes
Even though snowbird season has passed, Canadians are flooding travel agencies with bookings for spring break and early summer, now that Ottawa has announced it will ease pre-arrival testing requirements as of today. (Flight Centre says their March bookings spiked 700% last week, and TripCentral bookings to sun destinations have surged to 50% of pre-pandemic levels.) Of course, hotels, flights and rental cars are all in short supply after 2 years of drought – and rates have soared sky-high. Right now, Americans regard travel as “enticing and terrifying all at once,” and are torn between “re-entry anxiety” and the desperate craving for “revenge travel.”
Spring Break Madness
College students are being warned that Spring Break travel could be risky again this year. Last spring, students brought the Delta variant back to campus from overseas vacation spots and sparked a surge in local cases around the world. Epidemiologists anticipate some form of measurable spike after Spring Break again this year, but suggest that the risk can be substantially reduced if students are fully vaxxed, take shorter trips to destinations with low COVID19 transmission, and engage in more outdoor activities.
How About Convocations?
One of the questions I’m getting most consistently from readers and clients is about CdnPSE plans for spring convocation. Few final announcements have been made public yet, but I’m seeing some CdnPSEs plan virtual events, others hybrid ones, some hoping for in-person events and others renting circus-style “big tops” to hold outdoor ceremonies. (Fanshawe College is among those planning an in-person ceremony for June, with “a contingency plan in place.”) I suspect we’ll see a lot of tentative plans for in-person with a virtual fall-back plan, or hybrid plans that could go either way as necessary.
The WHO has said that Europe is entering a “plausible endgame” for the virus, thanks to high levels of vaccination and the arrival of warmer weather, and that authorities have the opportunity to end the acute phase of the pandemic through aggressive cross-border sharing of vaccines. (So long as vaccine inequity persists, we can hope only for “herd resistance,” and not herd immunity.) Most countries in the northern hemisphere have begun talking about the shift from pandemic to endemic posture, suggesting that COVID19 is in its “twilight” – but just like annual flu seasons, endemic COVID19 will still require preparation, vaccination and monitoring (both wastewater and genomic surveillance). And we need to remain ready to pivot quickly if a more dangerous variant evolves. The end of the Omicron wave provides a potential “off-ramp” from the pandemic, but many regions of the US and elsewhere are not truly prepared for a resurgent wave.
“This period of higher protection should be seen as a cease-fire that could bring us enduring peace.” – Hans Kluge, Director, WHO Europe
Speaking of cease-fires… over the past week the biggest threat to global social stability and economic recovery has abruptly shifted from a lowly virus to the Russian military. The impacts of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are already being felt by higher ed institutions around the world. More on that next time!
uDerby Makes Me Feel…
uDerby released a slick :90-sec video last week “designed by students, filmed by students, and… for students.” A series of solo testimonials share how Derby makes these students feel “empowered,” “diverse,” “excitement,” “passionate,” “independence,” and “awakened” to “a world full of possibilities.” During production, film production student Fletcher Smith captured all the on-set fun as a group of strangers came together to share their experiences and emotions. (In many ways, the :90-sec BTS vid is my favourite – but then, I’m an amateur videographer myself.) YouTube | Behind-the-Scenes
As always, thanks for reading. I hope your week gets off to a smooth start. And wherever this note finds you, stay safe and be well!
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