The declining number of COVID-19 cases in Toronto and across the Greater Toronto Area over the past few weeks have given many a much-needed sense of relief. It’s encouraging to see an improving public health situation amid the uptake of vaccines among eligible Ontarians. In the context of return-to-campus planning efforts, an accelerated vaccine rollout across the city and province during the summer was anticipated. However, many hadn’t predicted just how rapid the pace would be (see TVOntario July 8).
That said, it’s still essential to be mindful of how seriously we need to treat COVID-19, given the presence of Delta and other variants of concern identified by the World Health Organization. The return-to-campus planning team is closely following the situation around the world, including in the U.K., Israel and the Netherlands. While there are some important differences between what is happening in Ontario versus these other countries, (see the Globe and Mail July 8), the increase in the number of cases and the subsequent reintroduction of risk-reducing measures tell us two important things: it is essential to get fully vaccinated as soon as you can; and a robust, multi-pronged approach to health and safety will play a central role in our gradual return to campus.
The University continues to strongly recommend that all eligible York community members receive their full COVID-19 vaccination series this summer. The latest health data reveals that there is a disproportionate rate of infection among those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated (see CBC News July 13).
To support “on the ground” vaccination efforts, York University hosted pop-up clinics on July 6 and 8 this year, in collaboration with health partners from Humber River Hospital. The turnout on both days was exceptional. It was especially noteworthy that 18 per cent of doses administered at the first York pop-up clinic were first doses. Given the success of these pop-up clinics, the option to offer additional Keele Campus clinics is being explored with Humber River Hospital for deployment in late August and early September.
What’s new about fall planning this year?
Vaccines are a powerful tool to protect against COVID-19, but they are just one of many that can be used to keep ourselves, those we care about and our community safe. York’s return-to-campus planning continues to advance multiple strategies and initiatives to protect the health and safety of the community in the fall and beyond (see York’s Better Together website).
This includes a gradual approach to welcoming people and groups back to on-campus and in-person activities. The University’s approach to the fall will remain more measured and this means that we will not see an immediate return to pre-pandemic numbers on our campuses on any given day. The planning team recognizes that: some students, faculty and instructors will not be able to come to York’s campuses due to travel and/or health restrictions; some staff will be participating in the Transitional Remote Work pilot; and not all courses will be offered in-person or on-campus.
In the midst of preparing this special issue of YFile, new guidance was received from Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities for the upcoming fall term (see the Better Together community update July 20). York is continuing to plan for a mix of in-person and remote learning, scheduling only the courses that have been previously submitted and approved for in-person instruction. The University does not intend to convert existing courses or meets that have been marked for remote or online delivery to in-person delivery.
In the coming weeks, the University will closely follow the latest guidance from public health authorities and any additional restrictions that may be imposed. The COVID-19 Planning and Response Team continues to work with leaders from across the University to create the conditions that will allow the community to return to York campuses with confidence.
For example, all York community members will be expected to continue observing the mask and face covering mandate and the screening protocol this fall. In August, the University will also be introducing YU Screen, a new automated screening tool. YU Screen will be available for anyone intending to come to campus, as COVID-19 screening continues to be required. This tool will also help support case and contact management where needed and help to monitor overall campus density. Full instructions on how to use the tool will be rolled out in late August when YU Screen goes live.
Lastly, it is important to highlight that over the month of August, the entire University community will see a major educative push across multiple communication channels on the safety measures that will need to be observed this fall. As soon as possible, York University will also have a suite of resources available that touch on conflict resolution and suggested language for syllabi to remind faculty, instructors and students of the public health requirements that will need to be observed while on campus.