Queen's U cancels in-person exams amid student concerns over COVID-19 surge

Queen's University announced Sunday afternoon it would be cancelling all in-person exams for the rest of the year. Leading up to the announcement students expressed concerns about attending exams as cases in the region rose steadily — with many suspected to be the omicron variant.

University tells students to get tested before going home for the holidays

In addition to cancelling in-person exams Queen's University is also reducing capacity limits at its library and athletics centre. (John Last/CBC)

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Queen's University announced Sunday evening it would be cancelling all in-person exams for the rest of the year.

Exam season continued last week, while public health measures tightened in Kingston, Ont., and strained local hospitals transferred COVID-19 patients to less hard-hit regions. 

Leading up to Sunday's announcement, students and some faculty expressed concerns about attending in person exams as cases in the region rose steadily — with many suspected to be the omicron variant. 

The university said in a press release all exams that can be changed from in-person will be and those that cannot will be rescheduled in the new year.

Exams scheduled for Monday and Tuesday will be delayed, so that faculty can make the necessary changes, except for those already set to be online, which will continue as planned. 

The university said it was making these changes in response to a rise COVID-19 cases within its student population. 

Before this decision, third year psychology student Alexandra Kelly described the situation at the university as "completely petrifying."

Kelly is currently self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19 and was forced to miss two final exams while awaiting COVID-19 results.

Some students were reluctant to get tested as they were afraid of either missing an exam or having their exams deferred as late as August 2022, she said. The university is moving up this timeline, according to an email to CBC. 

Others didn't feel safe packed in to crowded exam halls, Kelly said.

"People just don't want to go home for Christmas and gift their family COVID," Kelly said. 

Jane Mao looks for a key for a student during Queen's University's move-in day in Kingston, Ont., Sept. 1, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

A petition circulating online asking for changes to exam delivery garnered more than 5,000 signatures in under 24 hours. 

The petition's author, third-year student Abby McLean, says she felt "relieved" to hear in-person exams would be moved online or rescheduled, but still "disappointing" Queen's did not make this decision sooner.

"I'm worried that with any issue that comes up like this in the future, that Queen's will just continue this pattern of not taking any action until they're forced to," said McLean.

WATCH | Queen's University should have cancelled in-person exams sooner, student says 

Queen’s University should have cancelled in-person exams sooner, student says

12 months ago
Duration 0:42
Abby Mclean, a third-year Queen’s University student, says she’s frustrated that in-person exams weren’t cancelled sooner after students raised concerns about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city.

For Emilia Patterson, cancelling in-person exams right now is not enough because she already isolating in residence after being exposed to COVID-19. 

She says while she thinks the university's decision will prevent additional cases, it "should have been done a couple of weeks ago." 

"Too little, too late, to be honest," she said, "The damage has already been done in terms of like, COVID transmission and the cases rising." 

Queen's tells students to get tested

Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health says there are suspected cases of the omicron variant among the positive COVID-19 cases at the university. 

As a result, the university and the health unit are encouraging all students to get tested before heading home for winter break. 

Students who are not high-risk contacts of confirmed cases and don't have symptoms should get a rapid antigen test. If they test positive they should isolate in-place for the next ten days, public health said. 

If students have symptoms they must get a PCR test and isolate until they have results from the test. And if they have been identified as a high-risk contact they must get a PCR test and isolate for a full 10 days regardless of the test results or their vaccination status. 

Students who have already left should also get tested. For those who can't leave, the university said support services will remain available. 

Though in addition to cancelling in-person exams and increasing accommodations for students. Queen's is reducing the capacity limits at the library and the athletics centre. 

With files from Sara Frizzell