British Columbia

Post-secondary schools eye return to normal as B.C. government releases return-to-campus guidelines

Students, faculty and staff at B.C.’s colleges and universities will be returning to classrooms, dormitories, cafeterias and offices in person this fall.

Campuses this fall 'could look a lot like they did in fall 2019,' says chair of guideline committee

Students on campus at the University of British Columbia on Nov. 20, 2019. New guidelines are now in place for the fall for provincial post-secondary campuses after COVID-19 closed classrooms in spring 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Post-secondary students and staff will be returning to classrooms and dormitories across British Columbia this fall, according to the provincial government's new return-to-campus guidelines.

Released Monday, the guidelines are built around the province's four-step restart plan, which aims to lift virtually all COVID-19 restrictions by September.

As of July 1, B.C. has entered the third step, with plans to move on to the fourth and final stage by Sept. 7, which coincides with the start of the fall semester.

According to the guidelines, post-secondary institutions will no longer be required to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place by then. Instead, schools are developing communicable disease plans to reduce the risk of all respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

Campus student housing providers can plan for close-to-full occupancy for the fall, but schools are "strongly encouraged" to hold back one to two per cent of of total beds for isolation and quarantine use in case of a future outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Masks will not be mandatory, lectures and lessons will be held in person, cleaning protocols will return to pre-pandemic levels and individuals coming to campus will be responsible for daily self-health checks to make sure they are not coming to school sick.

"We are back to pre-pandemic normalcy," said Matt Milovick, chair of the committee that created the guidelines and vice-president of administration and finance at Thompson Rivers University.

He said September 2021 on B.C. campuses "could look a lot like they did in fall 2019."

Immunization key to success

Milovick said the guidelines were created with experts from the public post-secondary sector, including Indigenous organizations and student associations, working "hand-in-hand" with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"The key to this being successful, of course, is people getting vaccinated," said Milovick.

As of Monday, 5,288,644 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., including 1,668,268 second doses.

By June 29, before the province transitioned to the third step of its restart plan on July 1, almost 80 per cent of British Columbians had had at least one dose of vaccine. About 36 per cent of the province's population have been fully immunized.

British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:

Sherri Bell, president of Camosun College and chair of the British Columbia Colleges association, acknowledged there may be some nerves around the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic conditions on campus.

"While some people may be a little nervous as well as excited, the health, safety and well-being of employees, students and campus visitors remains the priority," said Bell in a statement.

LISTEN | Matt Milovick speaks to On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko about B.C.'s return-to-campus guidelines:

With files from On The Coast