This article was written by Liam Devitt
It’s been about a year since classes at the University of Lethbridge were moved online with the beginning of the pandemic. Now, University administration is thinking about significantly taking things back into the physical classroom.
Their plan relies on the Trudeau government’s commitment to provide a vaccine for any Canadian who wants one by September, when the Fall semester begins. But as doubt is cast on the Prime Minister’s commitment by vaccine supply issues, so may doubt be cast on the university’s plan. The emergence of new COVID variants, which have been proven to be more transmissible, may also throw a wrench into the plan.
On February 9th, the University announced in a press release that they, “anticipating positive shifts in the coming months related to COVID-19 pandemic health directives”, would be planning for a “significant return” to campus in the Fall 2021 semester.
University President Mike Mahon said in the press release: “It will be great for our students to begin to once again experience the social and academic benefits a more traditional in-person setting offers.”
“What’s guiding us is the student experience, and the student experience that the students of the University of Lethbridge have come to expect is an in-person experience,” said Kathleen Massey, Associate Vice President (Students).
When asked about specifics on the reopening, Massey was not able to provide key details. She said that the plan is still being formulated, so figures like how many students there will be on campus and what specific physical distancing measures will be in place are still up in the air.
Massey was clear that this would not be a full reopening of the campus. Currently, eleven percent of classes are being offered on-campus. The amount of classes that will be offered on-campus in the Fall is still uncertain, Massey said, but it would be a “significant” increase. Due to physical distancing restrictions, Massey figures that classrooms will only be able to accommodate thirty percent of their usual capacity. Blended models, where a portion of a class is offered in-person and another is offered online, are also being seriously considered by the University.
Residence, currently operating at thirty percent capacity, would be increasing capacity to seventy percent.
However, this plan is simply that and nothing is for certain. Massey stressed the importance of public health and that maintaining public health is the top priority of the University. She noted that there will be multiple “checkpoints” between now and September where the University will reassess their planning given the evolving nature of the pandemic. But the government’s issues with procuring a steady vaccine supply make the public health situation in September incredibly uncertain, not just in Lethbridge, but in the whole country.
“Our announcement of a significant return is based on what we understand now to be the case in terms of guidance and other factors that are available to us,” said Massey. She noted that the University will continue to seek guidance from public health, especially as September draws closer and the situation would perhaps become more clear.
The University is open to holding a vaccine clinic on campus, provided Alberta Health Services can operate one there. Massey said that opening a clinic at the University would increase vaccine accessibility to students, and would perhaps entice students to get vaccinated.
The University plans to hold further consultation and updates on the reopening plan starting in March.