Ontario colleges, universities told to prepare for a normal fall, with backup plans

Published July 19, 2021 at 10:15 pm

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TORONTO — Ontario colleges and universities should prepare for all in-person classes and activities to resume this fall without capacity limits or physical distancing, the government says, though many institutions will still use a mix of in-person and online learning.

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities has told the institutions to have plans for how learning will continue in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“While we must remain vigilant and responsive to the trajectory of COVID-19, I am optimistic that the (post−secondary education) sector will resume many of the cherished in-person experiences that have been on pause for so long,” deputy minister Shelley Tapp wrote in a recent memo to the institutions.

Tapp said it’s “anticipated” that all in-person instruction and on-campus activities will be allowed again this fall, after more than a year since they were paused due to the pandemic.

Universities and colleges will still have to follow all public health and workplace safety rules, including requiring masks indoors, Tapp said.

The schools will still have flexibility to offer teaching in a variety of ways that best suit their needs, Tapp wrote, including virtual and hybrid models.

University of Toronto Mississauga is encouraging students to come to campus. A large number of courses will be offered remotely, with select opportunities for dual-delivery and in-person only courses. UTM also says the University of Toronto will distribute enough non-medical, reusable facemasks in order to provide two to every student, staff, faculty and librarian.

McMaster University in Hamilton is offering courses that are listed as either in-person, online, virtual, or a combination. It is telling students that for “in-person” courses, “there will be varying levels of in-person engagement throughout the term.” 

Mohawk College in Hamilton is planning to offer a mix of virtual, remote and in-person learning planned for most programs. It says most lecture-based courses will continue to be delivered virtually,

Brock University in St. Catharines has stated it is “most intently planning” for a significant return to on-campus instruction, complemented with online and hybrid delivery elements to support students who may wish to study online. It says it is also planning for alternative scenarios.

Sheridan College in Oakville says it will offer remote access where required, but expects to welcome more students to campus.

Ontario Tech University in Oshawa is requiring all students, staff and visitors to campus to complete a COVID-19 screening questionnaire.

In case of COVID-19 outbreaks, institutions must have a “continuity of education” plan ready by September, including information on health protocols in the event of an emergency and how instruction will continue if in-person learning is disrupted.

Specific guidance from the ministry on measures such as masks, screening and cleaning is set to be issued in early August.

The ministry is encouraging schools to use rapid antigen testing for routine screening of asymptomatic people, as well as wastewater surveillance for levels of COVID-19.

The NDP’s colleges and universities critic, Laura Mae Lindo, said resuming classes “is more complicated than just opening the doors,” and called for the government to provide increased funding, including for onsite rapid testing and upgraded ventilation systems.

The province announced approximately $100 million in March for post−secondary schools that have lost revenue while incurring additional pandemic-related expenses.

The Council of Ontario Universities has said the institutions are facing a shortfall of $500 million related to the pandemic.

Provincewide, there were 130 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday and no new deaths. Eighteen of the new cases are in Toronto, 17 in Peel Region, 16 in the Region of Waterloo, 14 in Hamilton and 10 each in Grey Bruce and Middlesex-London.

There were 11,567 tests completed in the previous day. There are 151 people in intensive care in hospitals due to COVID-related critical illness and 94 patients are on ventilators.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 91,320 vaccine doses were administered in the previous day, for a total of more than 18.2 million.

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