Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Ottawa has been closely following Ottawa Public Health guidelines to ensure the safety of our valued community members. Until recently, that meant shutting down most campus facilities and moving all courses to online formats. Now, with the fall term just around the corner, we asked Jill Scott, provost and vice-president, academic affairs, to tell us how the University is prioritizing safety for the students who are returning to campus.
What is the general strategy for keeping the COVID-19 infection rate down within our University community?
The University of Ottawa wants to be part of the solution in terms of controlling the spread of COVID-19. That’s why we’re taking a cautious and gradual approach to bringing people back to campus, starting on an as-needed basis, for everyone including students, faculty and staff.
For uOttawa staff, those who can work from home should continue to do so. For students and faculty, most of the courses this fall will be offered in online and distance formats.
Reducing the number of people on campus is a major part of the strategy to keep us all safe, as well as using contact tracing to prevent the spread in the event that a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19. We will soon have an on-campus testing site as part of our measures to keep our community safe.
Starting this fall, approximately 5,000 students will be taking courses that have an in-person component. How will the University prioritize safety for students enrolled in these courses?
Only the courses that require an in-person component will be offered on campus. We’re talking about courses with clinical elements, those being done in science labs, especially upper-year science labs, where a simulation is not possible, or courses that are generally very hands-on. With our foundational science labs, we’ve been able to create simulations that will be offered online.
For students attending courses on campus, specific measures will be put in place to ensure their safety, in accordance with the Ottawa Public Health guidelines. With the reduced number of students, we will be able to ensure appropriate distancing in our labs, and offer proper personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, visors, gloves and so on.
All of our health care and science programs are already so highly regulated with respect to health and safety that our labs are already well equipped, and our personnel is properly trained to manage safety protocols.
Even if your course has an in-person component, we know that there are students who are immunocompromised, have pre-existing health conditions or have other valid reasons why they cannot be present. No matter what, we will find ways to accommodate you so you can move forward in your program.
The Student Academic Success Service (SASS) team has also been looking at innovative solutions to help support student learning at a distance. In fact, every unit on campus is working very hard to find creative ways to ensure an outstanding student experience, notwithstanding the current circumstances.
What about residences and other campus facilities?
Generally speaking, all campus buildings have been outfitted with directional indications—stairways up, stairways down. Guidelines for elevators, signage demonstrating the two-metre rule, hand sanitizer dispensers and additional cleaning protocols have been put in place.
Following Ottawa Public Health guidelines, we have made changes in residences so that students have individual rooms, with access to either a personal washroom or a bathroom shared between a very reduced number of students. We’ll also be doing appropriate cleaning, disinfecting and distancing.
We have put in place measures for self-isolation, if that is required. If students have come into contact with the virus or have tested positive for COVID-19, we will ensure that meals are delivered to them and that safety measures are being followed. For our international students, we have made arrangements for quarantining when they come into the country. In order to support our students’ mental health, we will have regular check-ins and virtual activities for those in isolation or quarantine.
We’re confident that we have the right measures and strategies in place to keep everyone safe. We’re also working hard to ensure that students in residence have access to services and activities on campus so they can enjoy a full, rich and dynamic student experience.
Access to libraries, athletic centres and cafeterias will be granted. We just ask that students be understanding of the protocols that we’ve put in place when it comes to using these facilities.
What message do you have for students, especially first year students, who may feel like they’re missing out on some very important experiences?
Our Student Life team and our professors are hard at work to facilitate engaging learning opportunities for our students and to come up with creative ways to make connections and find new friends. We want students to learn, but you also need to have fun!
This is an extremely important time in a young person’s life. I know a number of young people who are starting their first year at uOttawa this fall, and I know that this is going to be a very different first-year experience. Having a sense of space, place, belonging and identity is just so important. So, we’re doing everything we can to foster virtual connections—finding ways for students to get to know each other in informal, fun ways—to ensure a memorable and exciting start to the year.
I want students to know that the University of Ottawa cares about them. We care about you having a fulfilling and rich student experience. We want you to achieve academic excellence and maximize your potential, so we’re going above and beyond to make that happen. We’re so excited you’ll be with us this fall, and we can’t wait to see you!