New Brunswick universities prepare to house self-isolating students
Most will be confined to single rooms with food left at the door
Despite moving most classes online, New Brunswick universities are preparing for the return of students from outside Atlantic Canada — some who will be isolating on campus.
Most students will be confined to their single residence room for the 14-day isolation period, with meals or groceries delivered to their door.
St. Thomas University will have limited residence options available to students this year after making the decision to offer all of its courses remotely with some optional, in-person activities.
Most of its facilities have shared washrooms and will be closed in the fall.
Brock Richardson, the director of student services and residence life, said the university heard from students that for a range of reasons they needed a place to stay. Some international students cannot return for safety reasons, while others don't have a good environment to continue their studies at home.
"We've tried to communicate really clearly with people and set up realistic expectations, because residence just isn't going to look the same," he said.
Those arriving from outside the Atlantic bubble will be arriving between Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 to enter their rooms in Rigby Hall, which has individual washrooms.
They will then have to stay in the room for two weeks while in self-isolation. Meals will be delivered and left outside the doors, and staff will do daily virtual check-ins to see how students are doing physically and mentally.
"We'll be really clear with students about the consequences of them not abiding by things," Richardson said.
Big drop in residence numbers
The university currently has 32 students who plan on coming to Fredericton from outside the bubble. But with study permit issues and other changes, Richardson estimates about 25 students will ultimately be self-isolating in residence.
About a third of students coming to isolate are from Canada, with the rest arriving from outside the country.
Richardson said the university has been clear with students about changes to residence this year. He said those in isolation will have the chance to do social activities online while going through isolation physically alone. They will also have access to virtual counselling services.
St. Thomas has created an online orientation program to allow for first-year students to create connections they normally would form during in-person activities.
About 130 people in total are expected to live in residence in September — down from 500 at the start of a typical year.
"The students that are saying I need to come to residence, I need a place to stay this year — they're demonstrating an understanding that they know it's not going to be the ideal living experience," he said.
Most St. Thomas students are already in the Atlantic bubble and Richardson expects the number who will have to isolate off campus will be small.
UNB preparing grocery, food services
Some universities in other parts of Canada are having students self-isolate in hotels and get meals through room service before coming to campus. But most in the region are offering the ability to isolate on campus with access to food.
The University of New Brunswick is offering mostly remote courses, with some in-person classes. It opened residence applications to all students.
On the Fredericton campus, preference was given to students with on-campus activities, as some residences with shared facilities will be closed.
About 56 students will be self-isolating in Saint John and about 30 in Fredericton.
In Fredericton, students will have kitchenettes and groceries will be brought to their door. Those isolating in residence in Saint John will have meals delivered.
Students isolating off-campus will be connected by the university with peers who can bring them groceries.
Check-ins from nurses
Kathy Wilson, UNB's associate vice-president academic, said all open residences in Saint John and Fredericton will be able to accommodate self-isolating students. They will arrive between Aug. 14 and Aug. 20.
"We'll be offering some programming to those students to help support them get through their self-isolation period," she said.
UNB will also have nurses frequently check in with self-isolating students to monitor their health and wellbeing.
Sean MacKenzie, the president of UNB's student union, said he is hopeful students are supported with mental health resources when they arrive from outside the bubble.
"Being isolated for 14 days can certainly have a toll on anyone's mental health, and we hope that the university has plans in place to help students not feel alone."
Wilson, who serves as chair of the university's COVID-19 bi-campus response team, said self-isolation is just the beginning of working with students to support them during the pandemic.
"I think we really want to start that engagement early and so that they start to really feel part of a community even though we can't always be together in that experience," she said.
UNB has set rooms aside in other residences, should a student test positive for COVID-19 and need to go into quarantine. The measures taken would be based on direction from Public Health.
Mount Allison allowing time outdoors
Mount Allison University is having students from outside the Atlantic arrive Aug. 14 and 15 to give them enough time to isolate before the rest of the students move in. They won't be allowed to move around their residence while in self-isolation.
The university says isolation procedures will remain in place even if isolation-free travel within Canada is allowed before the school year begins.
It will be offering many courses online in addition to some on-campus activities, such as lab work.
Students staying on campus will have meals delivered to their doors. They will also have access to a designated outdoor space to get fresh air and can move around the building while following public health guidelines.
The Town of Sackville is working with Mount Allison to make sure students living off campus are able to get groceries and supplies they need while in self-isolation. The university is also offering an airport pickup service that will take students directly to their place of isolation.
The University of Moncton is offering most of its classes this fall, and says it is finalizing a plan for students living in residence.
The university is preparing to inform students outside the bubble they have to self-isolate upon returning to New Brunswick. It says it is too early to tell how many will be self-isolating in residence.