U of A, SAIT students asked to leave on-campus housing over COVID-19

Some of Alberta’s post-secondary students are being evicted from residences due to the coronavirus and social distancing concerns.

'We needed to get ahead of it and give people a warning'

University of Alberta students like James Davis (pictured) were asked on Friday to move out of on-campus housing before Tuesday because of COVID-19. (Submitted by James Dunn)

Some of Alberta's post-secondary students are being asked to move out of on-campus housing due to the coronavirus and social distancing concerns.

It's a move that many other universities across the country have already made. 

Approximately 5,400 University of Alberta students living in on-campus housing were told Friday evening in an email to move out before March 24 "to support social distancing and protect against the spread of COVID-19," according to an email shared with CBC News. 

Many students, like electrical engineering student James Davis, have been frantically packing and trying to figure out living arrangements since receiving the email.

"I was incredibly frustrated, upset and aggravated. They gave us basically no warning that they wanted us gone," said Davis, who is moving back home to Calgary. 

The email came as a surprise to several students who spoke to CBC News, including international student Josh Parker.

He now has to travel back home to England earlier than expected.

"I might not be able to come back here, so in four days I have a lot to sort out," he said. 

Not all students will be asked to leave on-campus housing on Tuesday, university officials said. 

International students unable to travel to their home country, out-of-province learners who need more time to move, self-isolating students and those with "exceptional circumstances" may be exempt from the move out date.

"We came to the conclusion [Friday] night that ahead of any potential outbreak, we needed to get ahead of it and give people a warning," said Andrew Sharman, the university's vice president of facilities and operations, on Saturday.
Exchange student Michael Zhang moved to a smaller room on campus. He is one of several international students unable to move back home because of coronavirus travel bans. (Submitted by Michael Zhang)

He expects about 1,500 students will be staying on campus for a variety of reasons.

Michael Zhang, an exchange student from Guangzhou, China, is one of those who plan to stay in residence. 

He was supposed to finish his program at the U of A in April and now he's not sure when he can go back home.

"I've been homesick for a few months so it's my wish to go back to my country as soon as possible," he said. "But nobody could expect this."

Other Alberta schools

Some 600 students living at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) residences were also asked to pack up their belongings this weekend.

James Dunn, a second-year broadcast student from Red Deer, was told on March 17 about the change and was asked to leave by Monday.

He hoped that residence staff would help students "try to manage this without everyone having to do the hassle of moving out."

Like the U of A, a SAIT spokesperson said some students will be allowed to stay if they aren't able to return home.

"We are asking all students who could return home to their families, to please do so. This is out of an abundance of caution," said Chris Gerritsen, SAIT spokesperson, in an emailed statement.

This is out of an abundance of caution.- Chris Gerritsen, SAIT spokesperson

Olds College students who have other accommodations were also asked to move out of student housing before Sunday.

As of Saturday evening, students living in residence at the Concordia University of Edmonton, University of Calgary and Mount Royal University were allowed to stay on campus.

MacEwan University did not respond to CBC News. 

Universities across the country have made similar decisions to ask students to move out of residences to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Social distancing has been a key message for both national and provincial health authorities, including Alberta's health officials.

"The whole aim of all the social distancing restrictions we've put in is to decrease the number of people getting ill, and to decrease the speed at which they're getting ill," said Dr. Marcia Johnson, Alberta's deputy chief medical officer of health.

As of Saturday, there were 226 cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.

What's next?

Students at the U of A moving out will be reimbursed residence and meal fees in the coming weeks, Sharman said.

University of Alberta staff have said they will make support staff available to answer questions on campus and will continue to put information on social media.


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