Some post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia will begin their winter term online as the province continues to report record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.
Dalhousie University, University of King’s College and the Nova Scotia Community College announced on Friday that students will be learning from home for at least the first two weeks of January.
“Despite a remarkably successful and safe fall term, the COVID-19 situation has changed significantly over the past two weeks,” said a memo signed by Frank Harvey, provost and vice-president academic at Dalhousie, and Bill Lahey, president of King’s, on Friday.
The memo said there have been 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Dalhousie community in the last week, including 23 in residence.
“Although the immunity from a two-dose vaccination appears to be holding strong against the Omicron variant in preventing serious illness, out of an abundance of caution and given the current epidemiology Dalhousie and the University of King’s College are modifying our approach to the start of the winter term,” it said.
The winter term is scheduled to begin on time, but almost all course delivery will move online for the first two weeks of January. Exceptions will be made in select courses where in-person learning is needed, such as accredited programming in the school’s three health faculties. Exceptions will be communicated by the faculties, it said.
“We will continue to evaluate the situation on a daily basis, in consultation with Public Health and the provincial government, and determine whether in-person learning will be able to resume on Monday, January 17 or if online learning will need to continue,” said the memo.
“We know this situation is challenging for all involved and how important it is for both our instructors and our learners to get back into the classroom as soon as possible. However, our decisions with respect to academic delivery must continue to be driven by our collective health and safety, with full consideration of the best available Public Health guidance.”
Campus is set to reopen on Jan. 4, but faculty and staff who are able to work remotely are encouraged to do so for the first two weeks of January.
Research spaces will remain open, but again, people who have any activities that can take place remotely should do so. Safety precautions such as masking, hand washing and distancing should be followed.
“In-person campus services that are essential to supporting our students, faculty, staff and general operations will remain open, but we expect many services will transition to virtual or mixed mode of delivery during this period if they can,” it said.
Most Dalhousie libraries will be open on Jan. 4 but there will be some changes to regular operating hours. Dalhousie is asking people to check the location hours on its website.
For other services, students are asked to check with the individual service providers on specific details.
The memo noted that Dalhousie residents in Truro are already closed and Halifax residences are set to close at noon on Monday for all students not staying through the break or who are not in accredited programs with in-person classes.
All of Dalhousie’s residences and dining halls will remain closed until at least Friday, Jan. 14, while the residences at King’s will reopen on Jan. 4 as planned.
“Please make sure to monitor your Dalhousie email for the latest information before making any travel plans,” the memo said. “All Dalhousie residence students should complete a COVID rapid test prior to departing residence and prior to moving back in to their rooms. Tests will be available at building entrances.”
The school said refunds will be issued for room and board for all residence students for the period between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14.
There are about 15 students who will spend the December break at Dalhousie due to self-isolation requirements, and said another 130 or so students typically stay in residence over the break. The school said it will provide additional supports for those students, including daily check-ins, outdoor time for asymptomatic individuals, and customized meal delivery.
The memo ended by asking people who are travelling for the December break to follow all restrictions and guidance from Public Health, and to make testing a regular part of their plans.
“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,” it said.
“But we have learned over the past two years to work through these moments by relying on our compassion, our understanding and our patience. This is what unites us as a university community — that we are in this together, and we will get through this together.”
NSCC also moves online
The Nova Scotia Community College also announced Friday that it will begin the winter term online.
An update Friday from NSCC president Don Bureaux said all on-campus learning and service delivery will move online until Jan. 21, 2022. The winter term will start as scheduled on Jan. 6 for students and Jan. 4 for employees.
“There is deep concern about our current situation as a province,” it said. “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 working and learning in-person.”
It said the school will reassess in early January whether the date for online learning will need to be extended.