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Why universities are taking a cautious recovery approach

Updated on Jun 26
Tags: return to campus, all updates

  • Why universities are taking a cautious recovery approach
  • Second wave risk

Dear members of the University community,

Many members of our University community, and the community at large,
have asked why the University is not moving more quickly toward
re-opening and is instead delivering almost all classes remotely in the
Fall 2020 semester, and has not ruled out the same approach for the
Winter 2021 semester.

Why universities are taking a more cautious approach


Universities differ markedly from typical elementary, junior high, high
school, or office/business environments.

Since the onset of the pandemic, our primary focus at the University of
Regina has been to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of our
students, faculty and staff as we continue our academic mission. In
doing this, we also recognize the reach that our campus has into the
local community, and have taken seriously the need for precautionary
steps to keep the community safe as well. Our approach aligns with that
of most Canadian universities. Here in our province, postsecondary
institutions have been working with the Ministry of Advanced Education
and are in alignment on Fall plans.

But just how do we differ from other school and business environments?

The density of our on-campus population is high. At the height of the
Fall and Winter semesters, the number of people on our main Regina
campus can exceed the population of Swift Current. Some 2,000 faculty
and staff, approximately 15,500 students (another 1,000 Nursing and
Social Work students are in Saskatoon), scores of campus visitors, and
numerous contractors can swell the on-campus population to close to
20,000, all concentrated in an area of just a few city blocks.

Our vector points, or the number of individuals one person might
encounter in a day who could spread COVID-19, are ultimately too
numerous to warrant the risk to students, faculty, and staff. A newly
published working paper* analyzing course enrolment patterns at Cornell
University found that nearly all students are connected via a shared
classmate. The report goes on to state that over a typical week, the
average student will share classes with more than 500 different
students. Cornell’s student population is not significantly larger than
the University of Regina’s.

Comparatively, a typical primary or high school classroom may average
25-35 students, many of whom live in the immediate neighbourhood of the
school. Some University of Regina lecture theatres can hold hundreds of
students who come from across the city, province or around the world and
who may live on campus. If a spike in COVID-19 cases should occur,
primary and secondary schools can send students home immediately and
close their doors within the space of a few hours. That is not the case
for universities and their students. Many would find returning home
extremely challenging. Given that a significant number of students live,
study and socialize on campus, the implications are significant.

Our measured approach to keeping the on-campus population as low as
possible during the pandemic also reflects the number of “pinch points”
on campus. There are several hundred of them: elevators, hallways,
washrooms, stairwells, the food court in Riddell Centre, and other
common areas. In this respect, we are similar to Mosaic Stadium, a
location in which people congregate in great numbers, where it is
difficult consistently to practise prevention measures such as physical
distancing, and where the level of sanitization necessary to prevent the
transmission of the virus would be impossible to achieve as thousands
move through these pinch points throughout the day.

Finally, we cannot endanger those employees who are required to be on
campus to ensure critical services are maintained throughout the
pandemic. In all of our decisions, we must bear in mind the heightened
risk of contagion for these people.

Second wave risk


While Canada and Saskatchewan have thus far done a good job of managing
the spread of COVID-19, reports over the last few days from the United
States and elsewhere in the world are cause for sharp concern. We are
attentive to the changing North American COVID-19 patterns including
spikes in cases in numerous US states. This morning The New York Times
reports that “younger people are making up a growing percentage of new
coronavirus cases in cities and states where the virus is now surging.”
Coupled with the concern that a second wave of the pandemic could
coincide with the annual flu season this autumn, we believe a
conservative approach to the Fall 2020 semester is not only prudent but
imperative.

All of us, I am sure, would like to return to something closer to what
we previously knew as “normal.” We understand that working at home for
faculty, staff, and students can be challenging. Through this uncertain
and extraordinary time, I urge each of you to pay attention to your own
health and well-being. If you can, take some time for rest and
relaxation over the summer months. Shut down your computers, take some
vacation, continue to practise physical distancing, and enjoy our
beautiful Saskatchewan summer.

Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for the University.
We will regularly update you as more information about the Fall 2020 and
Winter 2021 semesters becomes available.

Sincerely,

Thomas Chase
Interim President and Vice-Chancellor


*Source:
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/14/sociologists-say-their-findings-student-interconnectedness-suggest-caution-needed