Students at a private Vancouver technical college for dental hygienists say their school isn’t doing enough to ensure safety amid the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Students at the Vancouver College of Dental Hygiene are calling for their classroom instruction to be moved online, citing crowded classrooms, poor air circulation and and on-campus exposures.
Global News spoke with several students, all of whom asked for anonymity out of fear they would be reprimanded for speaking out.
“We’ve been told that if we’re not comfortable we can drop the program, which is kind of disheartening to hear, because some of us have been in here for months and months and have paid thousands of dollars to this institution,” one student said.
A second student said the in-class theory elements of instruction see up to 52 students in the room together for hours on end, with no social distancing.
Multiple people in the class came down with COVID during the first week of classes this month, the student said.
“(We sit) basically shoulder to shoulder,” they said, adding that they felt exposure was inevitable.
“I totally think so, because how can you avoid it? Especially with such long hours being in school side by side and also eating there.”
Instruction at the school is split into classroom instruction and clinical lab instruction. Clinical instruction is conducted wearing PPE and with plenty of space, and feels safe, the first student said.
The classroom component had previously been conducted online, and the students Global News spoke with said they wanted a return to that hybrid model.
“We really feel like we shouldn’t have to fight for our health and safety, the basic stuff they’re responsible, but we feel like they’ve kind of neglected that with us,” one student said.
Many people in the program have immunocompromised family members at home they fear bringing the virus back to, the first student told Global News.
“It’s not easy to just social distance within your own home,” they said.
“If you live with them and you have to isolate, missing any part of theory or clinical is really detrimental to your (schooling) because it’s hard to catch up. If you miss anything, you have to pay extra money.”
Last week, the students say, an instructor tested positive and taught class from home, but that they still had to watch the virtual lecture from inside the crammed classroom.
The students say despite having support from some of their instructors they’ve been given the runaround after taking their concerns to the administration and the province.
The college did not respond to a request for comment about the issue.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health encouraged students to get vaccinated, and said that public and private institutions were expected to follow the province’s COVDI-19 Return to Campus Guidelines, which lay out safety protocols to keep students and staff safe.
“Students who attend private institutions and see COVID-19 safety violations are encouraged to report them to their local bylaw officers,” the ministry said.
In a letter to the heads of post-secondary institutions last week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the loss of in-person instruction was linked to “significant negative consequences for post-secondary students, who reported significantly poorer and worsening mental health outcomes.”
It’s a message the students Global News spoke with said they’d also been given when they raised concerns.
“Dr. Bonnie Henry was like, ‘It will be less stress on you, and good for your mental health and less anxiety,’ but we polled basically 150 students and we all agree that it will be best for us to stay hybrid and that it doesn’t affect our mental health,” the first student said.
“We’re telling them this is causing stress and anxiety by being here.”