Several Ontario universities offering hybrid frosh week as COVID-19 pandemic continues

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Several Ontario universities will be going hybrid for orientation week next month.

The University of Toronto, York University, Hamilton’s McMaster University, Trent University in Peterborough, and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay are among those offering a mix of virtual and in-person events.

The hybrid plan comes as COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been trending upward and universities have been updating their campus vaccination policies, with many mandating shots to access campuses this fall.

“Welcome Week will take a more hybrid approach this year, with large-scale programming facilitated online, while a small number of in-person events will take place, ensuring compliance with Ontario’s current public health guidelines,” McMaster said in a statement.

Read more: Several Ontario universities strengthening campus COVID-19 vaccination policies

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The universities said they’re focusing on outdoor gatherings when students do meet face-to-face, with events such as movie nights, scavenger hunts in small groups, hiking, bonfire nights, and bubble soccer.

Lakehead University said the combination of virtual and in-person activities would help accommodate a range of students, including those who chose not to come to campus.

“We are providing a hybrid orientation with a mix of both online orientation programming and activities and on-campus events to ensure we are meeting all our students’ needs _ no matter where they are,” said spokeswoman Jaclyn Bucik.

Trent University said it had been running virtual orientation sessions through the summer for students to connect with each in small groups. In-person events planned for next month would predominantly be outdoors to minimize COVID-19 risks, it said.

Read more: COVID-19: Ontario universities, colleges told to prepare for normal fall with backup plans

“We have the benefit of having ample outdoor green space on campus, allowing students to connect and participate in orientation week events safely,” said Nona Robinson, Trent’s associate vice president of students.

The University of Toronto said there would be more in-person activities in small groups for those living in residence who were already on campus.

Some universities are also allowing second-year students to participate in on-campus orientation events since the pandemic meant they missed out on them last year. McMaster University in Hamilton was one of them.

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“This will be the first time that those students have been on campus, as they had a completely virtual experience last year,” it said.

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said it was stretching its orientation events across the month of September to allow more students to access its activities, both virtually and in person.

“This has been a very challenging time for our students. They’re navigating a pandemic that has impacted their studies and their lives,” said Brad Clarke, Brock’s director of student life and success.

“At Brock we take seriously our responsibility to welcome them back to campus in a way that prioritizes their health and safety, but that also recognizes we can do a lot to help successfully launch their term.”

Organizers said those attending orientation — or frosh — week will need to abide by universities’ COVID-19 vaccine policies, as well as virus screening and providing phone numbers for contact tracing.

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Read more: COVID-19: U of T to require all those on campus to be vaccinated or have negative test result

They also said several public health measures, including masking and limits on attendance, will be in place.

“All orientation activities are vetted by the university through comprehensive health and safety plans that will be in place for the wellbeing of those participating,” said York University, located in north Toronto.

The new semester at most universities begins next month.

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