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Plan for return to in‑person learning, masks, residence and more

Posted by Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic on January 14, 2022 in News

MEMORANDUM

To:                   Dalhousie students, faculty and staff

From:               Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic

Date:                Friday, January 14, 2022

Re:                   Plan for return to in-person learning, masks, residence and more

Thank you to our entire Dal community for your patience and cooperation over these past few weeks. As much as the measures we’ve taken together were necessary considering the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in our province, we appreciate the burden these decisions impose on everyone — students, faculty and staff alike.

With apologies for the length of this memo, please review this entire message carefully as it contains several critical updates on the following topics:

  1. COVID overview: Insights from our Science Advisory Council
  2. Plans for return to in-person learning: Most programs returning to in-person beginning Jan 31
  3. Revised mask guidance: Three-ply masks now required – medical masks preferred
  4. Residence: Reopening to new and returning students on Jan 29
  5. On-campus work, campus operations, research, meetings, events: Remote work continues to be recommended in January with a return to campus starting Jan 31 based on operational needs; research spaces remain open
  6. Cases and exposures: Information on what to do if you test positive and more
  7. On-campus testing: Remaining test supply will be used for high-priority groups
  8. Campus Check: Update on vaccination requirements and compliance

1. COVID overview

We continue to consult closely with Public Health and the provincial government on our plans, ensuring full alignment with the postsecondary safety framework that applies to all of Nova Scotia's universities and colleges.

We have also engaged the expert advice of our COVID-19 Science Advisory Council. Established by the President, the committee brings together some of our Faculty of Medicine’s leading infectious disease researchers, helping ensure our COVID-related decisions are informed by the latest scientific evidence and understanding of current variants including Omicron. The committee’s insights have helped guide our collaborative work with Faculties and units on a path forward for the rest of the winter term. A few takeaways from these shared discussions:

  • While Omicron is more infectious than previous COVID strains, the risks of serious illness are notably lower in fully vaccinated individuals. It remains vital that we continue to protect our community from infection as much as possible, especially those who are more vulnerable. But we can take confidence that our Dal community’s extremely high rate of full vaccination (98.8%), our winter term vaccine requirements and associated vaccine mandate, and our Campus Check compliance strategy are all helping to avoid more serious consequences of COVID.
  • Adherence to multiple layers of safety can help prevent Omicron spread. Dedicated mask-wearing, quality ventilation, cleaning and hygiene, each of us looking after our personal health — these simple measures are still effective against the Omicron variant, despite its increased infectiousness. When these are adhered to properly, and supported by strong vaccination rates, the risk in spaces like classrooms remains low.
  • While COVID risks can be managed through our comprehensive health and safety planning, the serious negative consequences of losing another full term of in-person learning are very real, as we learned from multiple student surveys throughout our COVID shutdown last year. In most of our academic programs, the best student experience is in the classroom — and in our classrooms, a shared commitment to layered safety measures will help keep one another safe. In this, the guidance we’ve received from Public Health reflects similar direction as in the P-12 school system, with the added benefit of our university’s strong vaccination rates.  

By redoubling our efforts to adhere to safety protocols, we can begin resuming in-person activities while continuing to limit COVID spread, protecting not only critical health-care capacities in our province but also the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.

2. Plans for return to in-person learning

  • Dalhousie programs are returning to in-person learning beginning Monday, January 31. Some courses or course components will continue to be online.
  • Students can expect to receive clear direction on how their specific courses and programs will be delivered by Tuesday, January 18. This information will be provided through their Faculties and instructors.
  • If you have not received any updates on your courses by then, please contact your instructor, program director, academic advisor or Associate Dean Academic as appropriate.
  • All in-person learning will be conducted in full compliance with Dalhousie’s safety plan and the postsecondary safety framework. Students and instructors will be required to adhere to our vaccine requirements and revised mask guidance (see below). All learning will take place in classroom and lab spaces that actually exceed minimum targets for air exchange as outlined in our ventilation strategy. And there will be a continued focus on cleaning, disinfection and personal hygiene. It is the protection we gain from all layers of health and safety that will help get students back to class and keep everyone safe.
  • As always, students who need advice or require guidance on their academic plan are encouraged to reach out to their advisors or Assistant/Associate Deans. Visit our Academic Support website.

3. Revised mask guidance

  • All masks worn on campus should be made of at least three layers, in alignment with the latest Nova Scotia Public Health directive and guidance from our COVID-19 Science Advisory Council — the three-layered blue medical masks are appropriate, for example. Learn more.
  • Given Omicron’s increased infectiousness, homemade or store-bought non-medical masks (ie. cloth masks) must contain at least three layers to offer sufficient protection. If you are unsure, we strongly encourage you to wear a three-ply medical mask. Disposable masks will be available on campus in a variety of locations should they be needed.
  • A reminder that masks must be worn in all common spaces for the duration of the winter term, including in all classrooms and in spaces such as libraries, hallways, common rooms in residence, meeting spaces, washrooms, etc. For a summary of updated mask guidance, visit our “Wearing your mask” page.
  •  Given Omicron’s spread, adherence to mask protocol is critical. Masks should be well-fitting and should always remain on and never lowered for more than a very short period of time (for example, taking a quick sip of water) in spaces where they are required.

4. Residence

  • Residences will re-open to returning and new residents on Saturday, January 29. Dining halls will also reopen beginning with dinner that Saturday.
  • Residence students should watch their Dalhousie email for an update from the Residence Office (residence@dal.ca) with revised community standards, COVID protocols, dining hall information, etc.

5. On-campus work, campus operations, research, meetings, events

  • It is recommended that employees who can work remotely continue to do so as much as possible during the next two weeks.
  • As of January 31, we invite leaders to begin to return employees in their units to on-campus work based on operational need. As always, leaders will be asked to moderate the pace and nature of their teams’ return, balancing the values of employee experience with service excellence, and prioritizing health and safety. Accommodations, as needed, will be processed through Accessible Employment.
  • Until the Omicron wave is behind us, we discourage in-person employee meetings or congregating in lunch rooms or other common spaces, particularly while eating or drinking.
  • Research spaces remain open. All safety precautions must be followed.
  • Events or activities that are indoor and unmasked should not be taking place at this time.
  • We expect some services will continue to operate in virtual or mixed mode of delivery, while in-person campus services essential to supporting our students, faculty, staff and general operations will remain open. In-person service will be available at the Libraries, the Bookstore and many other services.
  • As COVID continues to circulate in Nova Scotia, cases and close-contact exposures will continue to have some operational impacts in departments and units. Leaders are encouraged to develop contingency plans to ensure core operations continue.

6. Cases and exposures

  • We’ve developed a resource for students, faculty and staff on current Nova Scotia testing protocols and instructions if you test positive. Visit “How to test and what to do if you test positive” to learn more.
  • Formal exposure notices will only be issued by request of Nova Scotia Public Health. At the moment, these requests are unlikely given that most contact tracing is being managed by individuals, not Public Health.
  • This change to contact tracing also changes our procedures for case information in lower-risk settings such as classrooms and labs. As confirmed by conversations with Dr. Strang and Public Health, a potential exposure in a classroom space where safety protocols are followed is low risk and does not meet the threshold for testing. In the event a student who has been in class tests positive and informs their instructor, the instructor will be encouraged to share with the class that a potential exposure has occurred and to advise students to monitor for symptoms and, if symptoms start, follow testing protocols.
  • There is no change to our current residence procedure in that students who test positive must notify their residence life manager and the Residence Life team by phone (Halifax 902-220-9038 / Truro 902-956-0750) so they can immediately help support self-isolation.
  • At times, including during December’s outbreak, Dalhousie has shared statistics regarding campus COVID cases. Under current provincial testing procedures, providing accurate data in this manner is no longer feasible. Where helpful and in the interest of transparency and community safety, Dalhousie will endeavour to share general assessments of COVID activity on campus to the best of our abilities.

7. On-campus testing

  • The Province of Nova Scotia has currently halted its workplace testing program that supplied Dalhousie’s rapid tests in the fall. As a result, we are not able to provide general asymptomatic testing to our Dal community. If you are symptomatic or a close contact and require testing, you can access testing through Nova Scotia Health by completing the NS COVID-19 self-assessment tool.
    • We do have some rapid tests remaining from our fall supply. We plan to use this limited number of tests to provide efficient access to rapid testing for high-priority groups including:
    • Residence students and on-campus staff/faculty who are symptomatic
    • Staff/faculty required to work on-campus in close contact environments
    • Accommodated students/staff/faculty who are required to test as part of our vaccination requirements.
    • Our health faculties to support front-line clinical setting requirements
  • Information on accessing these tests will be provided directly to these groups through the appropriate channels. We continue to work with Public Health to obtain additional tests.

8. Campus Check vaccination requirements

  • All students, faculty and staff are required to submit proof of full vaccination through the Campus Check program or receive an accommodation, following the procedures announced back in December. Whether you are on- or off-campus, or if you are part- or full-time or casual, everyone needs to complete their Campus Check. The requirement to submit proof of vaccination through Campus Check also applies to those who may have provided proof of vaccination through other processes (for example, in our health Faculties).
  • Code of Student Conduct violations have been issued to those students who have failed to meet their Campus Check requirements, and appropriate remedial procedures are also underway with non-compliant faculty and staff.
  • We are now up to a 98.8% rate of full vaccination on campus. Efforts to increase Campus Check compliance have raised the percentage of students, faculty and staff who have completed the Campus Check process to 97%, with nearly all the remaining outliers being part-time or occasional individuals with limited engagement with the university. We continue work to improve this completion percentage to as close to 100% as possible.
  • Some have asked about whether boosters will be required for Campus Check. At this time, booster information does not need to be uploaded into Campus Check as we are continuing to align our definition of “fully vaccinated” with that of the province. In the future, should the province’s definition change to include boosters, we would look to revise our own requirements accordingly. We encourage all members of the Dal community to get their booster shot as soon as they can.

We plan to share further updates, and important reminders about our safety plan, ahead of returns at the end of the month. In the meantime, please consult dal.ca/coronavirus for more information.

Stay safe, and we look forward to seeing you again.

Frank Harvey
Provost and Vice-President Academic

Dalhousie University is located in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi`kmaq. We are all treaty people.

We recognize that African Nova Scotians are a distinct people whose histories, legacies and contributions have enriched that part of Mi’kma’ki known as Nova Scotia for over 400 years.