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Return to Campus and COVID‑19 updates – March 2, 2021

Posted by Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting); Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President Finance and Administration on March 2, 2021 in News

MEMORANDUM

To:           Dalhousie faculty and staff

From:        Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting)
                  Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President Finance and Administration

Date:        Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Re:           Return to Campus and COVID-19 updates – March 2, 2021


This is the latest in our series of regular updates on Return to Campus (RTC) activities and planning. Its contents include:

  • Update on Return to Campus and Return to Research: Most faculty and staff can expect to continue to work remotely until at least the end of June
  • Bookable meeting space: Central meeting facilities have been arranged to allow for a limited number of in-person meetings, where required; will be open to Faculties/units to book mid-March
  • Spring/summer and fall courses: Spring/summer registration is now open; academic timetable for fall will be available mid-May with student registration (new and returning) in early June
  • Events, gatherings and Spring Convocation: Process for submitting and approving events remains unchanged; Spring Convocation to be virtual
  • Travel: Travel restricted between Halifax and Truro campuses; continued limitations on international travel
  • Storm closures: Reminder of procedures and impacts

We have passed the midpoint of the winter term and are quickly nearing the one-year mark of the first COVID-19 lockdowns in Canada and the beginning of remote work and learning at Dalhousie. It has been a year since our university has shifted to conducting most of our work under far-from-ideal circumstances. Despite our successes in coming together to get through the crisis, the conditions and pressures of the ongoing pandemic remain incredibly difficult for many of us in our community, as President Saini noted in his recent column.

We echo Dr. Saini’s important reminder of the need to remain both vigilant and kind — we will get through this. Let’s keep following public health guidelines and let’s continue to look after one another and ourselves as we await broader vaccination that, hopefully, will allow more of our pre-COVID activities to resume in both our work and personal lives.

Update on Return to Campus and Return to Research

As our academic community plans for what we hope will be an expansion of on-campus learning this fall, the RTC Committee continues to work with leaders across the university on a roadmap to support expanded campus opening alongside a phased resumption of other on-campus activities. In planning for this fourth and final phase of Return to Campus, our principles remain the following:

  • Heath-risk management: Our top priority, above all else, is the safety and well-being of our faculty, staff, students and our broader communities in line with both public and occupational health and safety guidelines.
  • Advancement of the university mission: Academic continuity, research advancement and student, faculty and staff supports must remain our focus.
  • A phased and gradual return: Resumption of activities must align with public health guidance and our institutional capacities to support, as well as provide students, faculty and staff with appropriate advance notice of changes that may affect them and their plans.

We know many of you working from home are eager to return to campus. We also know there are many who remain worried and concerned about when and how our expanded return will happen and whether the health and safety risks will be sufficiently addressed. Our phased and gradual approach will ensure significant notice is provided to employees prior to any return, that robust safety protocols (in alignment with Public Health requirements and Dalhousie occupational health and safety plans) will be implemented, and accommodations will be in place to support those who need them.

As for timelines, we continue to be cautious in our approach. Recent flare-ups of the virus in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia demonstrate how quickly public health epidemiology can change, and forecasting from the federal government shows the significant risks posed by variant strains of COVID-19. We also understand the consequences of a second lockdown on our teaching and research, which is why it is so important for us to remain vigilant.

Given the expected pace of vaccinations and the continued prioritizing of the health and safety of our community, we currently expect most faculty and staff to continue to work remotely until at least the end of June. While we will continue to evaluate conditions, we are doubtful that a significant further expansion of on-campus work will be possible before then. In the interim, we are working to meet some significant needs expressed by our community, including providing more bookable space for occasional, safely conducted meetings (see below).

A reminder that if there are unique circumstances where you or a member of your team requires a specific accommodation to return to campus, or if you are struggling with challenges in your current workspace situation, please contact Orla McDevitt with Human Resources at orla.mcdevitt@dal.ca.

Bookable meeting space

While remote work continues, we have seen a growing number of requests to conduct some core university business in person, and we recognize there may be occasions when in-person meetings will serve to advance key priorities in a manner not easily achieved virtually.

The RTC Committee has been working to accommodate this interest in alignment with current public and occupational health and safety protocols. Central meeting facilities have been arranged to allow for a limited number of in-person meetings, where required, in the safest possible manner. These limited rooms (on Studley, Sexton and Agricultural Campuses) are optimal in their locations, ventilation systems, and layouts. Rooms range in capacity from 4-5 to 12, depending on location. Please note that these meetings must also include an option for individuals to attend virtually.

The process for requesting meeting space will closely follow the existing process for event requests. It will involve booking space through Campus Bookings’ online portal, the completion of a meeting request form using up-to-date safety guidance, and approval by a Dean (in the case of a Faculty meeting) or AVP (in the case of a non-academic unit). This process is currently being trialed in a limited capacity and we hope to make it available to all Faculties and units beginning mid-March.

Spring/summer and fall courses

The spring/summer academic timetable is now online and student registration is open. The timetable is up to date in reflecting delivery format, with a few exceptions where requests for in-person delivery is still being processed.

Planning continues within our Faculties for fall term instruction. To ensure the most accurate academic timetable given evolving health and safety requirements, the Registrar’s Office will be publishing the Fall and Winter 2021/2022 academic timetable in mid-May with course registration for all students (new and returning) opening in early June.

Events, gatherings and Spring Convocation

The process for submitting and approving events — ie. meetings, events and gatherings not part of an approved RTC plan — remains unchanged, and can be reviewed on the COVID-19 website.

The RTC committee has seen increased requests for off-campus events over the past few weeks. We continue to discourage off-campus indoor events and recommend virtual events wherever possible, given the continued health risks, limited insurance coverage and significant liability risks for COVID-19 related occurrences, higher financial costs of hosting activities off-campus, and with respect to being inclusive of all potential participants. Any off-campus activity must, at a minimum, abide by Public Health requirements and legislated gathering limits as prescribed by the provincial government. Off-campus events or gatherings where there is expected to be more than 10 people in attendance must be brought to RTC for approval.

Earlier this month, we shared news with our Spring 2021 potential graduates that Convocation will once again be a virtual celebration. We do not expect to be able to safely host a gathering the size of a typical Convocation ceremony (1,500-2,000 people) by May/June, and we also expect continued travel restrictions that would limit the ability of many of our grads and their families, friends and supporters to take part. As was the case with the Class of 2020, we will make sure our new graduates will have an opportunity to join us in person at a future ceremony to have their moment crossing the Convocation stage.

We are aware that some Faculties and Departments are interested in planning other much smaller events to celebrate their graduates this spring. The RTC Planning Team and the Convocation Committee will be jointly developing guidelines for these events, and requests will need to be reviewed and approved by the Convocation Committee/RTC and must meet Dalhousie and provincial health and safety protocols. Further instruction will be provided to Faculties in the coming weeks.

Travel

Effective February 22, new requirements are now in effect for COVID-19 testing upon arrival in Canada and a mandatory stay of up to three nights at a government-authorized accommodation. These requirements are particularly relevant to international students coming to study in Canada. We encourage anyone planning to enter Canada, or advising students or researchers planning to do so, to make sure they are fully up-to-date on the latest requirements at the Government of Canada website.

As Nova Scotians are currently being asked to avoid non-essential travel within the province — especially to and from restricted areas of HRM — travel between the Halifax and Truro campuses is prohibited at this time. This will remain in place until the current restrictions are lifted; restrictions are currently in place until March 26.

Any faculty and staff who plan to travel for work outside of Canada should consult with Human Resources as there continues to be significant risk associated with international travel. More information on university-related travel can be found here.

Storm closures

A reminder to all employees regarding the procedures for storm closures for this academic year, which can be found on the Remote Working site (login required).

In addition, we ask all to be mindful that though many faculty and staff will be continuing to work during weather events, an individual’s ability to do so may be challenged by everything from storm impacts (snow clearing, power outages) to child-care needs. Leaders and employees alike should keep this in mind in terms of scheduled work activities on storm days. And if circumstances prevent you from continuing your work remotely, the university will support you — please consult with your department head or supervisor to ensure those involved or impacted are aware of the circumstances.

More information

Please continue to visit dal.ca/coronavirus for the latest information.

Thank you, all, for your continued vigilance, kindness and care.

Sincerely,

Frank Harvey
Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting)

Gitta Kulczycki
Vice-President Finance and Administration

Dalhousie sits on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq nation. We are all Treaty people. 

We acknowledge the histories, contributions, and legacies of the African Nova Scotian people and communities who have been here for over 400 years.