British Columbia

3 more B.C. universities to begin 2022 school term online after surge in COVID-19 cases

Simon Fraser University, the University of Northern B.C. and the University of Victoria have all announced they will be beginning the new year’s spring term online.

Announcements come one day after UBC made similar move due to Omicron-fueled spike in daily cases

Three B.C. universities announced Thursday they will start the 2022 spring term online after a surge in COVID-19 cases in the province. (Mike McArthur/CBC, Robb Douglas/CBC, Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Simon Fraser University, the University of Northern B.C. and the University of Victoria have all announced they will be beginning the new year's spring term online.

The announcements came on Thursday as B.C. saw its biggest surge of COVID-19 cases to date, primarily due to the more infectious Omicron variant.

They follow a similar announcement from the University of B.C. on Wednesday. The province's biggest university is not resuming in-person instruction until at least Jan. 24.

SFU and UVic said they will also not resume classes in person until that date.

UNBC said all of spring term's first week of classes, from Jan. 5 to 11, will be delivered online. Following that first week, it says "many" courses will be in-person, but some will continue to be online only until Jan. 28.

All three universities acknowledged a letter from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry when making their announcements, a letter written in response to continuing concerns from university staff and students over the course of the in-person school year. 

In the letter, Henry says educational settings are "low risk" for transmission and recommends in-person instruction in 2022.

"Public health leadership will work with post secondary institutions to provide guidance, support and assistance to ensure that students are able to continue learning in place," she said.

Henry says some of the high-risk settings for COVID-19 infection include "homes and unstructured or informal social settings," contending that transmission is uncommon on school campuses.

"There is no evidence that moving to online post-secondary instruction will decrease such interactions [in informal settings]," she said. "Students would spend fewer hours in structured settings, which have a lower risk for transmission."

The letter was criticized by university staff and students after it was made public, especially after concerns at UBC that COVID-positive students wrote in-person exams.

Nearly all universities in the province, including SFU and UNBC, concluded their December exams in person despite student protests.

UVic was the biggest university to shift some of its exams online after an Omicron-driven surge on Vancouver Island in early December.

UVic, SFU and UNBC all say that the decision to begin the next term online will "offer clarity" to staff and students as they go into the holiday break.

Some in-person learning will continue to happen at all three schools in January, including lab work and studio work, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.