As restrictions lift in Quebec, several Concordia University student unions say students don’t feel safe about heading back to campus.
They say they believe the university is not doing enough to keep them safe from COVID-19 transmission since they returned to in-person classes on Feb. 3rd.
On Tuesday night, during a townhall meeting organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU), several students shared their experiences on campus.
Crystal Sayers, who says she is COVID-19 positive, says she’s being forced to go to class.
“Because I never presented a fever, I did not qualify for longer accommodations and I’m still coughing and I’m still in class and it’s very difficult for me, and it’s difficult for the teachers and you can see they are apprehensive about having me in class but they have to have me in class,” Sayers said through tears.
“I’m really worried about putting my classmates at risk but according to the regulations, I only had to isolate for five days.”
Some of the university’s student unions say stories like Sayers’ are too common and just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lack of COVID-19 safety on campus.
“They say that they are packed like sardines in the classroom and there is no social distancing,” said Sean Smith, the executive coordinator at the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) which represents Concordia undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science.
Another student, Payton Mitchell, said simple measures could help a lot.
“In the library and in classrooms, there is no disinfectant wipes available for students to simply just like wipe down the table,” said Payton Mitchell.
Others mentioned there was no enforcement of public health rules and said some flout mask wearing.
As a result, several unions have stepped in to fill the void.
The Teaching and Research Assistants union at Concordia say they purchased and distributed N95 masks to students who are particularly at risk.
The Concordia Student Union has created a contact tracing document where students can report their COVID-19 infections.
But they say taking on the charge is not sustainable in the long term and they would like to see Concordia University step in.
In several open letters sent to the administration, they’ve presented their list of demands, which include that the university offers testing and N95 masks, as well as hybrid learning options for immunocompromised students, such as Julianna Smith, a fifth-year sociology undergrad.
“I don’t leave the house now except to go to class. If that’s the one reason why I’m leaving my home I should at least be kept safely there,” says Smith.
“The fact that students aren’t wearing their mask properly, the fact that there are professors who routinely take their masks off in class, that there are people on campus that aren’t vaccinated… as an immunocompromised student, that’s scary.”
CSU’s Academic and Advocacy Coordinator Hannah Jamet-Lange says their demands have not been addressed by the university’s administration.
“They have discussed it in private, closed sessions in meetings but we haven’t received any direct response to any of our concerns,” Jamet-Lange said.
“I think that is extremely troubling because it shows that there is no actual want for dialogue.”
Concordia University told Global News in an email that they’ve met regularly with the Concordia Student Union and other groups.
“All the preventative measures implemented by Concordia since the beginning of the pandemic have been in line with the directives and guidelines received from the government, including Public Health authorities,” wrote Vaninna Maestracci.
Maestracci says the very large majority of activities that take place on campuses do not require N95 respirators, according to Public Health and, in educational sectors, procedure masks are being used to help mitigate transmission risks.
“We have been providing procedure masks on campus that meet government safety standards (ASTM F2100 Level 2) and will continue to do so,” Maestracci explained.
“We are also maintaining several measures, including the use of vaccine passports for recreational activities, dining spaces and social events among others; the verification of air quality and ventilation, including through increased air exchange; and contact tracing by a dedicated team within the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) unit at the university, in collaboration with Public Health Montreal.
“We meet regularly with the representatives of Santé Publique Montréal to discuss guidelines and assess the protocols and measures in place at the university.”
But for Tom Fraser, a member of TRACT, the union representing teaching and research assistants at Concordia, following government guidelines is not enough.
“The provincial government has set a fundamentally low bar but that doesn’t mean that Concordia needs to be at that bar,” Fraser said.
Student leaders say they are looking at all their options, with some saying they are even considering going on strike.