Three more B.C. universities to start winter semester online amid Omicron spread

Click to play video: 'B.C. health officials hold Christmas Eve COVID-19 briefing'
B.C. health officials hold Christmas Eve COVID-19 briefing
WATCH: Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a final COVID-19 update before the Christmas holiday. – Dec 24, 2021

Three more major public B.C. universities are following the University of British Columbia’s lead and starting the winter semester with several weeks of online classes in January.

The decision comes amid surging new COVID-19 case numbers in the province, driven by the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and the University of Northern B.C. all announced Thursday they would begin the semester as scheduled, but with short-term shifts to online instruction.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had previously recommended winter semester classes remain primarily in-person, citing a low risk of transmission in education al settings.

SFU announced a two-week shift to remote learning for lectures and seminars, effective Jan. 10 to Jan. 24. Experiential classes, studio courses, and labs will continue in-person with safety guidelines it said.

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“SFU has had a very safe and successful return to campus. Safety remains our top priority, and includes the mental health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff,” university president Joy Johnson said in a notice to students.

“This brief shift to some of our learning and teaching will provide time to learn more about the situation and consider additional tools to support a full in-person return.”

UVic said it would also conduct the majority of instruction online between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24, with in-person attendance for essential clinical, experiential, performance, studio or lab components.

Students who will need to attend in person will be contacted by instructors, the university said.

“For students, faculty and staff who will be continuing with in-person learning, research and services in early January, please be assured that our campus facilities are safe,” UVic said in a notice to students.

“This approach provides certainty for students and instructors for the beginning of term, allows for our ongoing coordination and collaboration with Island Health and provides flexibility for our campus community, allowing for safe travel and transition for students back to campus.”

UNBC said classes would begin as scheduled on Jan. 5, but that the first class for all courses would be conducted online, at which point instructors will provide more information to students on how instruction will proceed.

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“After the first class, many courses will remain in-person, but some will temporarily shift to alternate modes of delivery until Jan. 28,” university president and interim vice-chancellor Geoff Payne said in a letter to students.

“We continue to evaluate the situation and will provide further updates early in the New Year.”

On Wednesday, UBC announced its own plan to shift instruction online until at least Jan. 24, but was monitoring the situation with the Omicron variant in the interim.

All four universities said their campuses and facilities would remain open during the suspension of in-person instruction.

On Thursday, B.C. reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases, nearly triple the number reported one week prior.

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged the province was having to triage testing, with PCR tests limited to seniors and people in high-risk categories.

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