Speaking of nutty fudge – the transition from pandemic to endemic is proving to be sticky, slow-moving and prone to unexpected crunches! Compared to the quick, clean “pivot” in early 2020, the way OUT of pandemic is proving far more confusing.
I’m hearing from many CdnPSE leaders, as well as front-line faculty and staff, about the challenges of encouraging (or, alternatively, resisting) a full return to campus this spring, and small wonder – the risks remain nebulous and unclear to most of us, and commuting is profoundly unpopular. ($2 a litre?!?) Surveys keep finding about a quarter of employees never want to return to the office, and two-thirds want flexibility and choice. (Your mileage may vary: chances are your institution has done its own polls.)
Personally, I used to spend up to 160 days a year “commuting” to campuses and conferences in taxis and airports. The pandemic saved me those days – which I put to use on this newsletter! (I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll manage the transition too.)
But as we gradually emerge from pandemic crisis, CdnPSE is starting to hold more hybrid and in-person events…
As the 6th wave of the pandemic ebbs, the vast majority of CdnPSEs have been holding in-person convocation ceremonies this Spring, and most have announced an end to vaccine requirements on campus. So it’s no surprise that CdnPSE events are getting bolder, meeting in-person – though often with virtual options…
Last month, many CdnPSE leaders gathered in-person in Atlantic Canada. Colleges and Institutes Canada held its CICan 2022 “Connection” conference as a hybrid event, and college presidents from across the country gathered at the Halifax Convention Centre. Universities Canada held its Spring Membership Meeting as a hybrid event in St John’s, NL, for 70 university leaders. Later this month, advancement folks will gather in Niagara Falls for CCAE 2022, with “in-person and virtual programming.” Clearly advancement folk are eager to get back F2F too: the site lists 175 in-person attendees, but just 20 virtual ones. (It still sounds a bit small to me, for a CCAE conference.)
Getting Back F2F
This month, some more ambitious CdnPSE gatherings have reverted to 100% F2F. Ironically, Times Higher Education is holding its Digital Universities gathering in person near Boston this week, even though their slogan is “agile education for a digital-first future.” Next week, Polytechnics Canada is holding its 2022 Annual Showcase at Fanshawe College here in London. (Sessions are being held at Fanshawe’s downtown campus, and there’s no online registration option – but at least the evening social will be a “street party.”) Likewise, Ontario campus police are gathering in person for OACUSA 2022 at Blue Mountain next week. And then the week after, Career Colleges Ontario is holding their 2022 Conference/AGM in Muskoka. (And yes, I’ll be there!)
Clearly, Canadian airlines are busier than they have been in years. Commercial air travellers arriving in Canada spiked 17x higher this week than a year ago (jumping from 26,866 to 459,412), although we’re still at just 66% of pre-pandemic levels. That’s why lineups to clear security at Toronto’s Pearson Airport have been taking hours, and CATSA is telling travellers to “pack their patience.” (At this point, only skyrocketing fuel prices are going to hold people back from “revenge travel.”)
But as I outlined yesterday, emerging variants could always spark another pandemic wave this summer, and it seems event organizers have been hedging their bets…
Canada’s registrars are holding ARUCC 2022 as a hybrid event in Niagara Falls in late June, as is the 2022 PCCAT. Ontario’s campus housing officers will gather at uOttawa for OACUHO 2022, “held in person this year with limited opportunities to participate virtually.” Digital marketers will gather in Montreal “or from anywhere” for #PSEWEB 2022 in mid-July, and likewise instructors and pedagogy experts will gather for the McMaster Conference on Education and Cognition (EdCog 2022), both on-campus and online. (Some conference organizers tell me that hybrid events can appeal to a much broader audience, who can’t free up the budget to travel to conferences in person.)
Despite the hybrid and IRL conferences this spring, some event organizers are playing it much safer. The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences is holding Congress 2022, “the largest academic gathering in Canada,” virtually starting today. (The “Learneds” are typically attended by thousands of faculty members, and when they were planning this year’s event it doubtless looked unwise to gather in person.) Likewise, the SEMM Forum has been running virtually this week, for marketing and enrolment management types. Later this month, university continuing education folks will gather virtually for CAUCE 2022, and in mid-June, the Canadian Association of University Business Officers is holding CAUBO 2022 entirely virtually too. (What would you expect, from people tasked with risk management?)
Ironically, 1,900 Computer-Human Interaction scholars opted to gather in person for the CHI 2022 conferenceat the beginning of May – and now the dozens testing positive for COVID19 are perhaps wishing they hadn’t. CHI organizers required proof of vaccination and verified it, mandated masks except when eating, drinking, or presenting, and even planned for social distancing in sessions. Attendees self-monitored for symptoms, and committed to report positive tests. So what went wrong? Apparently, it was the extracurricular attractions of New Orleans, from a jazz festival to local restaurants and bars.
“My opposition to an in-person CHI was never about my personal gain—it was about equity for all of the people who would like to attend and the risk to attendees.” – Jennifer Mankoff, IT prof, uWashington
I’ve been indicating for months that the REAL uncertainty for CdnPSE revolves around what pandemic precautions will be necessary when cold and flu season arrives this Fall…
Another Wave “Baked In”
Although this summer might just prove to be a “honeymoon period,” if no new variants arise to interrupt it, Ontario science advisor Peter Juni predicts another pandemic wave is “almost baked in” for this Fall. With cooling temperatures, more indoor gatherings, and waning immunity from our previous vaccinations, COVID19 will undoubtedly come roaring back – although “it will be different than before” because the population will have a variety of previous exposures and vaccinations. Juni predicts that Canadians aged 50+ will be getting another booster shot this Fall, and masks might again be required indoors. CTV
Unsurprisingly, campus event managers are looking forward to gathering in-person for CUCCOA 2022 in Fredericton Oct 2-4. It appears as though Colleges Ontario is planning the 2022 Higher Education Summit for Toronto, Nov 26-28. And ~800 international ed folks are planning to gather for CBIE 2022 in Toronto Nov 13-16 – with no sign of virtual options whatsoever. (It’s interesting, though, that CBIE’s regional meetings have been replaced with a “virtual pan-Canadian symposium” Jun 13-17.) This is hardly a comprehensive survey, but so far it looks like a fair amount of confidence that in-person events will go smoothly this Fall.
That being said, public-facing events are another story. Pre-pandemic, the Ontario Universities’ Fair attracted well over 100,000 prospective students and parents to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre over the course of 2 days. (ICYMI, see my OUF episodes of Ten with Ken for a taste of the excitement.) The format of this Fall’s OUF “is still unknown,” although it’s scheduled for Oct 1-2. The other big “PSE trade show,” the Ontario College Fair, ran virtually in 2020 (see my review), and was replaced with a series of smaller virtual “College Mondays” in 2021. So far, there’s no word yet about OCIF 2022.
Despite the fact that we all want to race outdoors and toss aside our masks, the reality is that the COVID19 pandemic is far from over, especially on a global basis. With a potential “tug-of-war” between COVID19 and influenza, we’re going to be in and out of public health precautions repeatedly in the years ahead…
The Pandemicene Era
Anthony Fauci warned years ago in the journal Cell that “we have entered a pandemic era” thanks to climate change, habitat destruction, animal migration, zoonotic viruses and global air travel. In 2008, half of 40,000 species were already on the move due to climate change, heading toward the poles at about 10 miles per decade. (Climate change, pandemics, and the 6th mass extinction of wildlife – all looming existential threats for humanity – are actually intertwined crises.) A new study in Nature confirms the growing risk of cross-species viral transmission, and predicts at least 10,000 new viruses could jump to humans. The mammal virome has already commenced “a total rearrangement,” and mosquitoes, bats, and ticks can carry those viruses far afield. As temperatures increase, animals will retreat to higher and cooler altitudes and intermix in mountainous regions, particularly in “biodiversity hotspots” like Africa and Asia. The rising number of zoonotic viruses emerging in recent decades (like HIV, SARS and COVID19) are just the tip of the iceberg. As The New Republic warns: “COVID19 wasn’t the outlier… it’s a glimpse of the future.” New Republic | The Atlantic | World Economic Forum | Nature
“Our response to pandemics is a hallmark of this delusion that our welfare is somehow independent of the rest of life.” – Aaron Bernstein, interim director, Harvard Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment
Chances are, we’re going to see another half dozen or more COVID19 variants or subvariants before the year is out. Those who are still unvaxxed – including most children – are at greatest risk, and you need to take that into consideration as you calculate your own risk tolerance. While the odds of hospitalization are slim, the prospect of neurological damage from long COVID is still daunting. So here’s my take, at least for now…
Virtual When Possible
Yes, I’m an introvert who loves technology, and I’m privileged to have a quiet home with a really well-equipped office. Virtual meetings are way more efficient anyway, so I’m going to lean towards virtual events when I can. (Easy for me to say, I know.)
Outdoors When Possible
Outdoors is the next best thing to online, when it makes sense for gatherings with friends and family. I’m going to opt for patio dining whenever I can this summer. This Fall, back-to-school BBQs should be literal BBQs. (Yes, I know we live in Canada, and the window for al fresco activities will be closing in September, but we can do our best.)
Get Those Boosters
I’m still waiting for Ontario to open up eligibility for 4th shots (2nd boosters) to my age group, but the minutethey do so, I’ll be there. It’s going to make me feel much better about taking chances at live gatherings, since it’s clear that immunity wanes after about 4 months. As McGill’s Donald Vinh puts it, “We need to get rid of this idea that being fully or adequately vaccinated is anything less than 3. That’s wrong.” If by some chance you are among the half of Canadians who haven’t bothered to get your first booster – please do it! We all help protect each other, and the most vulnerable.
“If you’ve tolerated 3 doses of the vaccine already without any serious problems, you’re going to almost certainly tolerate the fourth dose — there’s so little downside, it’s worth getting it.” – Otto Yang, prof of medicine in infectious diseases, UCLA
Keep the Mask On
Provincial mask mandates have largely been lifted already (although some PHOs are protesting the decision), but there’s nothing stopping you from wearing one. Most CdnPSEs have indicated they intend to drop campus mask requirements by May 31, and many in Alberta and elsewhere have already done so. But others, particularly in Ontario, have extended mask mandates through June (Dalhousie, Laurentian, UBC,uSaskatchewan, Seneca, uToronto, Western), August (Canadore, Concordia, uMoncton), or even “until further notice” (Algonquin, Carleton, Durham, uGuelph, uManitoba, Fanshawe, Niagara, Ontario Tech, Tyndale,YorkU). OCUFA has called on Ontario universities to maintain mask mandates until “at least the end of August,” and the faculty union took credit for BrockU’s extension. Even if you manage to contract COVID19 while masked, McMaster U researchers argue that “variolation” could mean you experience far milder illness, and we collectively put less burden on the healthcare system: “the value of masking is under-appreciated in a public health context.”
“How often do we go outside and walk in the street in bare feet? Almost never, right? Why? You want to protect your feet. Why would you not want to protect your lungs?” – Donald Vinh, medical microbiologist, McGill U Health Centre
My plan for this summer, at least, is to stock up on KN95 masks, spend as much time on Zoom and outdoors as I can, and encourage everybody around me to get their booster shots. With luck, that will cut my odds of catching COVID19. With a bit LESS luck, it will still reduce the likelihood of serious illness.
But for Fall, I’ll be keeping an eye on pandemic developments, because few experts want to hazard a guess yet!
Speaking of spending more time outdoors, while keeping upbeat…
Where the Adventure Begins
Douglas College released a snappy 3-min vid last month that showcases its campuses and the natural beauty around them, with “endless outdoor opportunities” and plenty of parks, mountains, cyclists, hikers, and joggers. Set to Tim Halperin’s “Where the Adventure Begins,” the vid is worth a listen for the soundtrack alone. It certainly portrays an appealing look at the student experience in Vancouver! YouTube
As always, thanks for reading. I’m focusing on a virtual event tomorrow, so you won’t hear from me until next week.
Enjoy your weekend, stay safe and be well!
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