Nova Scotia

Students from outside Atlantic bubble in store for unique welcome at N.S. universities amid COVID-19

Students from outside the Atlantic bubble who want to return to Nova Scotia campuses this fall will be expected to self-isolate before venturing out into their communities. To ease the transition, schools will be performing many services for students.

Schools working with province to determine testing protocol on campuses

Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University are unique among Nova Scotia universities in offering mostly in-person classes this fall. (Robert Short/CBC)

"It won't be the move-in weekend we're used to."

That's how Bryn de Chastelain described what's coming for university students like him from outside Atlantic Canada who will have to self-isolate before venturing out onto campuses this fall.

After spending time in his home province of Ontario this summer, he's returning this week to Halifax — where he's a student at Saint Mary's University (SMU) and president of the student union. Following public health's COVID-19 guidelines, he'll have to spend his first 14 days closed off from the wider community.

With SMU's plan to offer classes predominantly online, not all students will choose to return to campus, making it easier to accommodate physical distancing for those who do. De Chastelain said he expects dorms at SMU to be around 50 per cent capacity.

Most Nova Scotia universities are operating like SMU, with classes taking place mostly online, but Acadia University in Wolfville and St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX) in Antigonish will soon be welcoming back their full student bodies for in-person classes.

Students at Acadia will start arriving in early September, as usual, but the start of the fall term has been pushed back to Sept. 21 to give time for quarantines.

At least 500 Acadia students from outside the Atlantic bubble will need to self-isolate when they arrive, likely more once international students are accounted for. Scott Duguay, Acadia's vice-provost of students, recruitment and enrolment management, said international numbers remain uncertain because of travel restrictions.

Testing for COVID-19 symptoms

About half of those students will be moving into dorms. They'll have meals delivered to them and will be expected to comply with a daily health check-in to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

On Thursday, the province announced that students coming to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic bubble will need to get tested for COVID-19 in addition to self-isolating for 14 days.

Premier Stephen McNeil  said the students will be tested three times within their self-isolation period.

"If students are asymptomatic, these tests should help us detect COVID," he said. "This will also enable institutions and Public Health to respond quickly if the virus is found."

This measure applies to students living in residence and within the larger community. 

Making the best of a challenging year

Elizabeth Yeo, St FX's vice-president of students, said some students from across Canada and abroad have already started trickling onto campus, but most will arrive on two dates at the end of August, with assigned move-in times.

Yeo said St. FX is expecting close to 800 students from outside the Atlantic bubble and about half of those will be living on campus, where they'll have free accommodation for their isolation period.

Like at Acadia, they'll have meals delivered. They'll also be provided laundry service and an assigned support person.

"It is a unique experience and we're trying to make it memorable in the most positive ways," said Yeo.

She said the school is trying to ease the challenges of self-isolation with mental health and resiliency sessions and other virtual programming.

With files from Cassidy Chisholm