USask students prepare for in-person learning amid COVID-19: ‘It is still scary’

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The University of Saskatchewan (USask) is slated to welcome the vast majority of its students back to on-campus learning on Monday – Feb 3, 2022

University of Saskatchewan (USask) student Jeremy Storring said he is disturbed by the thought of returning to campus on Monday during the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s in the final term of a computer science degree but has a first-year class with more than 350 people enrolled.

Read more: In-class learning paused at universities of Regina and Saskatchewan

“Shoving us all into one room where we’re not going to be able to social distance isn’t going to go over well,” Storring said in an interview.

Storring has Type1 diabetes, which is an underlying risk factor for COVID-19. Though he considers himself relatively healthy otherwise, he remains concerned about the virus spreading in his classes.

The prospect of developing long COVID is particularly worrying, he said.

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“I don’t need to add that to my own plate,” Storring said.

A return to in-person learning should at least be delayed until after the mid-term break at the end of the month, Storring said, but the end of term would be preferred.

Read more: USask researchers’ projects aim to tackle COVID-19 pandemic issues

Second-year Indigenous studies student Desiree Couillonneur told Global News she needs in-person instruction because it’s easy to get distracted during online lessons. Remote learning requirements led her to take a break from class before returning in the fall.

The COVID-19 situation is concerning, she said, but she trusts the measures in place.

“With everything (USask has) set up for protocols, I think we should do OK, but at the same time, it is still scary,” Couillonneur said.

University officials cite plateauing new case counts, lower levels of viral load in wastewater and increased uptake of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots as encouraging factors for a return to in-person learning. There is a 99 per cent vaccination rate among people who plan to be on campus, according to the university.

Currently, booster shots are not required to attend, though they are encouraged, according to Dr. Darcy Marciniuk, a respirologist and chair of the USask pandemic response and recovery team.

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Read more: Medical experts reject statements by Scott Moe that vaccines don’t stop COVID-19 spread

“The added benefit from a booster is real and meaningful,” he said, referring to the upwards of 70 per cent protection rate from the shot.

“We hope that we’ll never have to come to a point where we’ll have to mandate that, but this is something that is always under consideration.”

Masks will also be required on campus and rapid testing will be available to students and staff.

Physical distancing is “not really feasible” with up to 30,000 people on campus, Marciniuk said. As a result, a few classes will remain remote. Staff not needed on campus will continue working from home.

Marciniuk noted that even as Omicron cases skyrocketed last month, some research and up to 25 per cent of teaching and learning activities continued on campus.

Earlier this week, the University of Winnipeg announced an extension of remote learning until the end of its term in April.

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