I have sent the following to my CIS*4150 class, to bring them up to date on the current situation with respect to classrooms as per the information made available to me at the current time (4:28 pm, August 17, 2021 — 23 days before class starts).
One of the class members just wrote to me to indicate that rumours are abounding as to what recent administrative decisions will mean for “face-to-face” classes for this fall, with some concerns as to how this affects my earlier information.
Rest assured, our class setup remains the same:
- I am not going to force anyone to come to a classroom where they will be unsafe. This course will be set up to allow 100% participation through remote technologies (almost certainly zoom).
- Similarly, all labs will be remote. I am still designing the lab plan, but it will provide you an opportunity to do group participation with your friends and classmates. Based on the survey results so far, I am anticipating providing a mechanism to allow people who wish to be assigned into groups a way to sign up so this can happen, and allow everyone else to self-select into groups so that you can work with your friends or meet new people as per your choosing. Grades for labs will be small, but the activities will be directed around helping you work on the assignments. If you or your friends did CIS*3050 with me last year, you have some sense how this will be managed.
This is all in line with University guidelines. The university is currently trying to force faculty into classrooms (and providing no recognition that they may be taking COVID home where they may endanger unvaccinated children — a stance that I personally find inexcusable — so if you have faculty in other courses who have children, the faculty themselves may be terrified).
There is however no guideline from the university forcing students into classrooms, and the university has maintained that any accommodations are up to the faculty. I am therefore accommodating all of you, in advance, by saying that there will be a fully remote option available for all activities.
That said, we may be able to do some kind of face-to-face activity for those who choose to do so. This will simply mean holding our Wednesday synchronous discussion from a classroom, still via zoom, so some people may be able to come to the classroom. No one is required to come to the room, and as the vast majority of survey respondents who want a face-to-face setup also want distancing, it is clear that only a few people can participate that way anyway. I’ll have more details by September 9, when we meet (virtually) for the organizational meeting.
In general, however, I remain unconvinced that there is going to be reasonable safety on campus overall. I and many other faculty have been writing both to the admin, and to our safety board, for details on what is happening outside of the classrooms as far as ventilation management go and other basic concerns, and we have heard little back.
My understanding of campus this fall is as follows:
- few if any virus management strategies have been put into place in residence. If you as students have been told of any, I would love to hear it, as questions on this point are regularly asked by faculty, and we are getting absolutely no response. As it stands, I am expecting an outbreak to develop based on the low vaccination numbers among the Canadian student age population in general, and the fact that the airflow in residence is known to spread airborne infection. I hope that I am wrong, and that the vaccination requirement with the 30-day exemption leads most people to be vaccinated in advance, but the lack of distancing and masking requirements remains a grave concern. Iceland currently has an outbreak in a 90+% vaccinated population because they relaxed masking and distancing and opened up bars.
- classrooms, and classrooms only, have been measured for airflow, and upgraded to ensure a minimum of 6 effective air changes per hour. This is a much higher standard than is legally required for a classroom, and is the standard that one would see in a hospital in rooms like the x-ray lab, or surgical recovery. Compared to a hospital waiting room, where one might assume that an infected person may be randomly encountered, this is however a very low standard — the minimum for emergency waiting rooms is 12 air changes per hour, not 6. I therefore have concerns about our building hallways, cafeterias, common spaces and in particular the library, if we are to assume that contagious students on campus will be relatively common (due to the residence situation). We have again received very little information in response to these questions, however we have been definitively told that there are no upgrades or measurement being done in the library.
- masking on campus is intended to be done by all, however the only enforcement plan for this that I am aware of is laid on faculty. There has been no answer as to what happens outside of classrooms for enforcement. My strong recommendation is to stay far away from anyone without a mask. Certainly, don’t try and enforce this yourselves.
- a vaccination is now “mandatory” to come to campus, however the university president stated at a town hall meeting last Thursday that compliance with this “mandatory” vaccination is “voluntary”, and that the only enforcement of this will be through “attestation” (that is, claiming that you have a vaccine) and that no proof will be required. This extremely confusing situation means to me that those who do not want to get vaccinated will likely not get vaccinated and will be wandering around campus as a danger to themselves and others.
None of this seems remotely safe to me. While some students are quite comfortable, and are looking forward to face-to-face activities, I have heard from many other students now — some in this class — that some people are absolutely terrified. I get it — I am not going to force people into a situation where you might take COVID home. Many people are afraid of killing family members or partners, and I completely understand this fear. You won’t be in any dangerous situation due to this class — you have my word on that.
On top of this are the changing Provincial guidelines. We are definitely in a fourth wave. The Ontario government has been at least as reluctant to use science to guide actions as our university admin has been. That said, the Province announced today that there is a limit of 25 people on indoor gatherings. How this relates to university classes is not yet clear.
I am definitely not going to force any members of the class into danger. Your safety remains my highest priority, even if classroom and campus safety is not being responsibly managed by our upper level decision makers in this situation.
Take care of yourselves, be safe, get vaccinated, and help anyone else you know get vaccinated too. Even if you get sick after being fully vaccinated, the outcomes are much better. Fully vaccinated people are quite unlikely to be hospitalized, and very unlikely to have to be put on ventilation support.
That said — take steps not to get the virus. A disturbing recent finding is that cognitive deficit (brain damage) is apparent even in people who had only mild symptoms — and really, who wants that as a memento of their university experience: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(21)00324-2/fulltext
This virus, and especially this variant is nasty. Until we get the world vaccinated, there will be more variants.