I am writing to you today about COVID messaging going on at various Universities.
Most, if not all, Universities in Ontario (and Canada wide) have been sending messages to students that a “normal” semester should be expected this fall. There has been a hard sell on the face-to-face experience, and after hard lobbying of the Ontario government, University administrations have been given authorization to pack classrooms and library spaces to a high density.
Completely unsurprisingly, students being told that it is safe to be in a room with up to 250 other students for class, with no distancing, and who are being told to expect a “normal” semester are going to parties and other off-campus events. This should shock no-one – there is no reason that on-campus spaces are magically safe, so of course students are inferring that if it is safe to be on-campus crammed in like sardines, then it is safe off-campus too.
The reality, however, is that it is not safe. It is actually not safe in either case, but the administrators at many Universities, ours included, lobbied hard to convince the government that it was.
Taking this a step further, some Universities are now blaming students for this situation – this article from Laurier is particularly disturbing, as it seems that Laurier is planning on expelling students who followed their advice and treated the semester as “normal”: https://www.wlu.ca/news/spotlights/2021/sept/message-regarding-illegal-street-gatherings-sept-2021.html
The main reason that this is happening is because a very few people make all of the messaging decisions for the entire University, and are, unfortunately, able to speak over the many University community members who want you to stay safe, want you to have a good learning experience, and want open and clear communication.
I cannot speak for the motives of our University President, Provost, and Vice-Presidents, but their actions do not seem in alignment with these goals. Certainly, the messaging of administrators at this level both at our University and others is beyond hypocritical. It seems that they want students on campus in order to take your money, but then are shocked when students behave as students. Frankly, I am not sure why anyone would want a “face-to-face” experience if it consisted only of a classroom experience where people sit silently and listen to an instructor drone on. University life is so much more than that, but this seems not to be within the plans of the administrative planners.
I am writing to you as I want you all to be aware of some things that I and others who are watching the science see going on:
- Blame for this stupid situation is being shunted onto students, and onto course instructors. Neither of these groups had any hand in creating the messages about a “normal” semester expectation, and unsafe behaviour is coming simply because people in these two groups are taking messages from the upper admin at their word.
- None of this is actually safe. The science has shown this for months now. Anyone paying attention to the US will have seen hundreds of thousands of deaths arising from not having proper precautions for COVID.
- There are loud voices campaigning for everyone to pretend that “COVID is over” and to “go back to normal”. These voices come from one of two overlapping groups:
- Conspiracy theorists who somehow believe that the entire world bought into a hoax of a dangerous virus (these people clearly don’t get news from a good source – this belief is right up there with belief in a flat earth)
- People who want your money, and are angry that the pandemic response gets in the way of this.
Clearly these are dangerous people, and should not be listened to.
For our class(es) I am 100% committed to your safety, and your ability to make choices to defend your safety.
We will talk on Friday about what our options are, but in the meantime, I wanted to ensure that you had some good information about what is going on. My advice on COVID management remains the same:
- Opt for good ventilation – stay outdoors if possible, and definitely if with a group of people you don’t know. Any NEW contact is more dangerous than a regular contact
- Keep your distance. If you don’t need to go near someone, especially strangers, don’t. Have a chat from a few meters away before committing to shared airspace.
- Use a good mask, and use it regularly. You will be wise to be suspicious of people not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly – they are clearly not caring for their health, and by extension, don’t care for yours.
- Be vaccinated. If you are vaccinated, you can still get and carry the disease, but you are FAR less likely to see the major negative outcomes. There are some risks to the vaccine, but the risks of the disease are MUCH higher. Speak to a health professional if you are concerned.
- Act as though you are a carrier. We have not been given access to the testing that would be required to manage the positive but asymptomatic population that is likely, so our only choice is to act as though we each may be carriers at any time. This is frustrating, but sadly our only course of action right now. We can hope that testing will become more available in the short term.
- Remember that children under 12 are all at risk, as are those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. Give these people extra space and take care. The delta variant appears to be just as dangerous for children as adults, so arguments that “kids are safe” are completely incorrect.
- Finally—don’t blame, educate. There has been a lot of misinformation and outright lies being spread, some of which come from sources you would normally expect to trust (such as the University administration). People are understandably confused, and their behaviour reflects this. Feel free to pass this email on to anyone if it helps, but recognize that we need to very quickly CHANGE behaviours, but we should not blame those who have been responding in good faith to the bad messages they have received.
Stay safe, and we will talk more on Friday.