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McMaster says winter classes will also be online as COVID-19 pandemic continues

McMaster University has announced classes for its entire 2020/2021 school year will take place online.

Provost Susan Tighe acknowledges the news will be 'disappointing to many'

McMaster University says its upcoming winter semester will also be online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

McMaster University has announced classes for its entire 2020/2021 school year will take place online.

A letter to students from provost Susan Tighe acknowledges the news will be "disappointing to many."

It states a team of academic and campus leaders have been evaluating options for the winter term considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the president and vice-presidents of the university have accepted their recommendation that online learning continue.

"To keep our community as safe as possible, the winter academic term will be online with only a few exceptions where program requirements or the need for access to specialized equipment or facilities may still require some in-person campus time," she wrote.

The decision follows a similar move by Mohawk College, which said on Sept. 9 that lectures during the winter semester would take place virtually.

Brock University has not made a decision for next semester, saying on Sept. 1 that discussions are ongoing.

Tighe said McMaster is making its decision based on the health of students, faculty and staff, noting public health officials continue to stress the need for physical distancing as the pandemic continues.

That means residences will remain closed, only providing accommodation in "exceptional circumstances" and to house international students and others who need a place to quarantine.

Faculty and staff are being encouraged to find a way to teach virtually and the majority of students will not need to come to campus for their courses, according to the letter.

Tighe said students enrolling in programs with an on-campus component will be contacted directly by their department.

As for labs and other specialized facilities, a request process including permission from department chairs, deans and the provost of a delegate that is being used this fall will continue.

Employee has tested positive

The latest update for the university comes just one day after the university said it had been notified that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

A statement from the university says the employee was last on campus on Sept. 8 and that the areas on campus they visited were "thoroughly cleaned over the weekend."

The virus has added even more stress for those at McMaster, Tighe wrote, saying that announcing plans for the winter just over a week into the fall semester is meant to help.

"We hope to provide as much stability as we can in what is a dynamic and unpredictable pandemic."

She said anyone struggling with stress should reach out for support and encouraged students to speak with their professors or other mentors.

Tighe recognized online learning comes with other challenges too.

"For those of you who are used to being on campus and interacting with colleagues, peers and students in person, the virtual environment presents additional challenges," she wrote.

"For those of you who, like me, are new to McMaster, I understand the difficulties with building relationships and negotiating through our University virtually."

McMaster says it will continue to work with public health officials to stay up to date on the pandemic and ensure its decisions are as informed as possible.

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