New Brunswick

They're back: University students return to province by the hundreds, ready to be alone

More than 1,200 students face two weeks of isolation as they return to New Brunswick from holidays at home.

Universities helping students to self-isolate through mandatory quarantine plans and regular check-ins

Maggie Ivimey is hoping her new kitten will help keep her occupied while she isolates in her apartment in Sackville. (Maggie Ivimey/submitted)

This will be Maggie Ivimey's fourth 14-day isolation since last March.

She is one of more than 1,200 university students returning to New Brunswick for the winter semester.

Ivimey's first isolation began when she returned from studying in France last March, as the COVID-19 pandemic reached New Brunswick. 

The fourth-year Mount Allison University student from Halifax has had to go back and forth between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia twice for work and school, resulting in two more isolations.

Her fourth, and what she hopes is her last, two weeks hidden away in her Sackville apartment begin Wednesday. 

Approximately 855 returning or new University of New Brunswick students have to be isolated. (CBC)

"I recently got a kitten, so I'm hoping to keep distracted with that," said Ivimey.

Her other tips include sticking to a regular eating and sleeping schedule.

"I get up and get dressed, I don't stay in my pyjamas the whole day, I try and keep a routine where I eat breakfast around the same time, make sure I'm not just letting all of the days and all the hours blur together," said the veteran self-isolater.

Ivimey's roommate is arriving from Nova Scotia on the same day and the two will isolate together. Two other roommates plan to return to New Brunswick when and if the Atlantic bubble reopens. 

More than 1,200 in isolation

It's an inconvenience, but between Mount Allison's more than 300 students, another 108 students from St. Thomas University and 855 arriving at University of New Brunswick campuses in Saint John and Fredericton, more than 1,200 students are returning from out of province to study. The total doesn't include students heading back to the University of Moncton.

Each returning student must self-isolate for 14 days.

It's a huge logistical undertaking for the students and the universities that are offering support. September was a dry run, but the Atlantic bubble burst long before the winter semester was set to begin, forcing far more students to prepare for self-isolating.

Each of the three universities have compiled lists of returning and new students coming from outside the province. Students living both off and on campus have to submit a quarantine plan before their return.

Daily check-ins

The universities check with students daily via phone calls or emails. Conversations revolve around symptom checks, ensuring that guidelines are being followed and that students are feeling mentally and physically well.

Heather Campbell, associate director of communications at UNB, said a team of 50 faculty and staff are offering support, "including assistance with arranging travel to NB, airport pickup, meals, grocery delivery, routine check-ins, a connection to campus and community health services and after-hours support."

Ryan Sullivan, associate vice-president enrolment management at St. Thomas University, says more students have to self-isolate this semester because there is o longer an Atlantic bubble. (Ryan Sullivan/submitted)

St. Thomas University is conducting its classes online, and many students are choosing to remain where they are, but according to Ryan Sullivan, associate vice-president enrolment management, many students plan to travel to Fredericton regardless.

"We have students who may not have the broadband or the internet access at home," he said.

There are also issues around living and working in different time zones that make online school difficult. 

"And then, of course, we also have students who have part-time jobs and commitments through work and want to be here," said Sullivan.

Thirty-four international students at STU have already returned or plan to return to the country for the winter semester that begins on Jan.11. 

Mount Allison University residences are opening on Jan. 8 for students who need to self-isolate. Classes start online on Jan. 18, with in-person classes starting Jan. 25.

At UNB, classes resume on Jan. 11, and in-person classes start the following Monday for those required to be on campus for certain studies.

Federal and provincial restrictions in a near-constant state of flux have added complications. 

Effective Jan. 7, anyone entering the country by air must have documented proof of a negative COVID-19 test result that was taken within 72 hours of the flight.

Sullivan said this new directive announced on Dec. 31, 2020, resulted in a flurry of emails and a few changed flights for students coming from abroad, but it's part of the job, managing hundreds of travellers in a pandemic.

Mount Allison University has paired alumni with students isolating in residence. (Submitted by Mount Allison University)

One difference in regulations between this semester and last, according to Sullivan, is that students can't "co-quarantine," meaning if they haven't come from the same place, they can't isolate together.

"If you're a student from Maine, a student from Toronto and a student from Jamaica, you can't all come back into that same apartment," said Sullivan.

To help students who wouldn't otherwise have a place to go, STU has made dorm rooms available for isolating students who plan to live off campus with roommates after the two weeks are over.

"We don't want cost to be a deterrent from properly isolating," said Sullivan, citing a hotel as one possible pricey option.

Tests after 10 days

Sullivan said the province has mandated that international students are tested for COVID-19 after 10 days of isolation, even if the test comes back negative the student is required to complete the isolation. It's highly recommended that Canadian students have the test at 10 days.

The province would not confirm or deny this.

While this isn't how Maggie Ivimey wanted to start the last semester of her time at Mount Allison, she feels prepared.

"Me and my roommate have actually come up with a list of activities we plan on doing: board games, cribbage, different kind of projects we can do around our apartment," she said. 

'We're hoping to kind of not do them all in the first three days and really spread it out."

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.

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