Q & A from May 13 Town Hall on Preparations for Fall 2021

The May 13 Town Hall on preparation for Fall 2021 was well-attended and time ran out before all of the questions could be answered. As noted at the Town Hall we have answers to the remaining questions from each area except for International Education – these will be shared next week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s announcement on Tuesday, May 25, on the lifting of some restrictions and the next four phases of BC’s pandemic response, was hopeful, and clearly stated that by the time Fall 2021 is here, we will be in a very different position than we are today. In fact, few restrictions may be needed.

With that in mind we have responded to the remaining Town Hall questions with the information we have now. As noted in the Town Hall our plans will be based on the province’s Go Forward Guidelines that are being prepared for post-secondary institutions.

Also, please note the questions were left as asked and only edited where clarification was required for understanding. In some places, the questions are long and continue when you click on the answer. We are still working on answers for a handful of questions, so if you do not see yours, please check back soon. We hope to have them all up by the end of the week.

To date, the Office of Scholarship, Research and Creative Activity has not indicated that they will be changing their process in Fall 2021 to approve research activities during COVID-19. However, as things evolve in the coming weeks and months, this may change. For more information, read the current process to resume research activities.

 

Lab meetings will continue to fall under VIU’s general operational procedures for conducting meetings. Currently, virtual is preferred, but in-person meetings are allowed provided they follow the VIU Safe Meeting Guidelines. Fall meetings may look different but how they look will depend on the public health restrictions and WorkSafeBC guidelines related to workplaces that are in place in the fall.

VIU will continue to follow the Provincial Health Office requirements for masks in indoor spaces. The primer for post-secondary institutions and the Town Hall Dr. Henry led with post-secondary institutions indicated that her office will determine the requirement for masks using two factors: community vaccination rate and transmission and will communicate this requirement in the summer

This will be determined when the revised Go Forward Guidelines are published.

VIU will continue to follow the Provincial Health Office requirements for masks in indoor spaces. The primer for post-secondary institutions and the Town Hall Dr. Henry led with post-secondary institutions indicated that her office will determine the requirement for masks using two factors: community vaccination rate and transmission and will communicate this requirement in the summer.

Presently we are not clear what the exact details of the Go Forward plan will be for the Fall, nor what the WorkSafeBC direction will be alongside that plan. We will have a clearer idea on what level of employee presence on our campuses is preferred when we get closer to the end of summer. 

... online for two weeks, which is a workload issue.

The usual practice for managing faculty absences will be used for COVID-19 absences although faculties will be encouraged to consider these situations for their fall planning. With respect to contact tracing, Island Health’s current processes do not result in isolation of entire classes or cohorts under the current safety plans and with the current provincial situation. Island Health has not yet provided guidance on what contact tracing and subsequent controls will look like in September.

VIU will follow the direction from the Provincial Health Office and from WorkSafeBC in our decision-making. There may be situations in classes or activities/events where masks would be required. This would be indicated in the safety plans. More details on mask requirements for the Fall semester will be available in August 2021 with the Go Forward Guidelines.

VIU will continue to follow the Provincial Health Office requirements, including BC Centre for Disease Control guidance, in our decision making. Details on mask requirements for the Fall semester will be available in August 2021 with the Go Forward Guidelines.

Meetings, including providing face-to-face student services in small office spaces will continue to fall under VIU’s COVID-19 operational procedures. Currently, virtual is preferred, but in-person meetings are allowed provided they follow the VIU Safe Meeting Guidelines. Fall meetings may look different but how they look will depend on the public health restrictions and WorkSafeBC guidelines related to workplaces at that time and VIU will ensure that our procedures reflect these.

There are no official plans at this time for rapid testing, but VIU has been exploring this option with Island Health and discussing how rapid testing could be used. 

VIU is operating based on what we currently know and based on the predictions from the Public Health Office on the anticipated impacts of the vaccinations. The recent Town Hall led by Dr. Henry and her Deputy provided detailed explanations for why the PHO is confident that we can return safely to in-person instruction in fall, and how individuals are protected by the vaccination program. Decisions with respect to mode of delivery for classes in the fall have been communicated to all students via the course schedule. Students have selected courses based on that and are relying on the mode of delivery to remain as communicated. Modes of delivery should only be changed in response to future increased restrictions directed by the PHO or WorkSafeBC.

The VIU Health and Safety Office connects regularly with colleagues at institutions across Canada and reads/researches studies from around the world. VIU will continue to follow the Provincial Health Office requirements in our decision making.

VIU will continue to follow the Provincial Health Office requirements in our decision making. The BC COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer states, “the combination of immunization and continued application of the ‘COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines for B.C.’s Post-Secondary Sector’ will support the safe and complete resumption of campus teaching, learning, and research.” The BC K-12 model, where physical distancing is not required, has shown that students in controlled classroom settings have not been a high source of transmission in the province. This applies to older students in the K-12 system. 

Classrooms without windows are served by mechanical systems providing fresh air directly from outside though ducting. 

Facilities Services communicated with President’s Council members, and Deans and Directors over the past few months asking for feedback about which buildings could be shuttered, based on building utilization data. The list has been communicated through the Digest twice and will be run again next week. 

Short term parking is the best structured option for individual employees. If drop off/pick up is required many times a week please work with your manager to make a request of Facilities Services for accommodation. 

around – is pretty weak. The air within the room is moving and will spread any airborne particles. This seems like it would void all other precautions.

This is being considered by WorkSafeBC and the Office of the Provincial Health Officer. VIU will comply with their recommendations for universities.

All campuses will need to comply with the steps outlined in the Go-Forward guidelines and by WorkSafeBC. In some cases, modifications may be required. Concerns on regional campuses should be raised to the campus administrator for communication with Facilities Services.

Most VIU spaces that have opening windows also have mechanical ventilation. In those cases, the mechanical ventilation alone will provide the necessary fresh air. In rooms without mechanical ventilation, opening windows may be necessary. Facilities Services is currently reviewing these spaces with a third-party engineering firm to ensure they meet requirements and will clearly communicate protocol for each room (where applicable) before September.

Washrooms are equipped with extraction fans to reduce transmission of odors and aerosols. At this time there is no plan to add lids to toilets. 

It is standard practice for nighttime cleaning crews to be assigned to specific buildings. Day porters travel between buildings to address emergent issues as they arise.

We are guided by the Public Health Office. Vaccinations are now recommended for children 12 years and older. VIU has policies in place to support both students and employees regarding family and these policies will continue to apply.  We will consider specific circumstances with respect to children/families as they arise. 

Yes, we believe we will meet expectations. Faculty plans contain a variety of modes of delivery, and there is still a possibility that programs can make adjustments to these plans in consultation with their Dean. The significant return to campus was a direction by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to all public post-secondary institutions in BC.   

Many people - staff and students alike - are still (reasonably) apprehensive about returning to crowded spaces, given our current perceptions (look at today's turnout).

I truly hope that everything goes as planned, however: All I hear is "we are going back to crowded spaces and here's the justification." All of this "reasoning" that we are hearing is based on a few assumptions. Assumptions are often wrong. I have asked many times now, "what if these assumptions are wrong? What's the back-up plan" but only ever heard admin-speak in response: "The expectation is <insert weak justification here>" It is entirely possible, even if unlikely, that things will worsen over the summer. So, I ask again: What if assumptions are wrong? In the event that assumptions are wrong, is there a plan B? If so, what? If not, why not?

At the Town Hall, we talked about the recognition that VIU is operating based on what we currently know and based on the predictions from the Provincial Health Office on the anticipated impacts of the vaccinations. VIU demonstrated the ability to shift approaches last spring and summer with little advance planning time. Should the assumptions and predictions for Fall 2021 be wrong VIU will respond as appropriate. The primary alternative for Fall 2021 is to replicate the approach used during 2020/21 with respect to an appropriate volume of online course delivery and reduced student and employee presence on campuses.

We appreciate that every individual employee is experiencing this situation in unique ways. VIU and all post-secondary institutions in BC are following the advice and direction from the BC Public Health Office (PHO). We now have more information about COVID and are also the impact the vaccine is having on allowing us to manage this virus. The recent town hall led by Dr. Henry and her Deputy directed to post-secondary institutions provided detailed explanations on why the PHO is confident that we can return safely to in-person instruction in fall, and how individuals are protected by the vaccination program. Additionally, there are individual decisions that you can take, should you choose to, such as continuing to wear a mask even if masks are not required. 

Teaching faculty who are using a blended approach and who may rely on in-class assignments and engagement for deep/rich/collaborative teaching, learning and assessment, but whose students are unable to attend because they fail the self-assessment check, may find themselves struggling to engage and assess students as they would have hoped.  VIU (and support units like CIEL) may want to consider this potential challenge (in light of information in this presentation), and continue to provide support resources on how to design courses and policies for maximum flexibility, given some uncertainties for the fall semester. Maximum flexibility could also address students feeling anxious and overwhelmed if they can’t make in-class sessions because of safety protocols.