New Brunswick universities extend winter break to allow self-isolation

·5 min read

When Jonathan Ferguson found out the Atlantic travel bubble had ended, his plans to spend the holidays with family in Charlottetown went up in the air.

The president of Mount Allison University's student union said many of his peers are also waiting to see if travel restrictions continue when exams end on Dec. 12.

But many are expecting to stay in Sackville for the holidays.

"Now with the collapse of the bubble a lot of Maritimers, a lot of Atlantic students are more in favour of the idea of staying, because we know that we have friends around that we might be able to see once we go back to the yellow phase," Ferguson said.

Universities across the province have decided to extend school break for the Christmas season, pushing back the start of January classes. With many students expected to leave New Brunswick, the extension is designed to provide enough time to self-isolate after returning.

Submitted/Jonathan Ferguson
Submitted/Jonathan Ferguson

People travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador, or Prince Edward Island are now required to self-isolate for 14 days. Nova Scotia does not require Atlantic Canadian residents to self-isolate.

That rule also applies when returning to New Brunswick. That means a student returning home to Prince Edward Island would need to spend 28 days total in isolation.

Those requirements prompted several Nova Scotia universities to also make calendar changes.

More time to self-isolate

Mount Allison decided to adjust its academic calendar earlier this term to allow students to have a longer break and time to self-isolate before classes resume for the winter semester. The next term will start on Jan. 18.

Ferguson said students have welcomed the change.

"That was done with out-of-bubble international students particularly in mind, but thankfully it's really forward-thinking planning that was done," he said.

About 60 per cent of Mount Allison's more than 2,000 students are from outside the province.

The university had a mix of virtual and in-person classes, before the remainder of the fall term went online last week in response to rising COVID-19 cases in the region. Exams will also be held entirely online.

Submitted by Mount Allison
Submitted by Mount Allison

The University of New Brunswick will be starting the winter term a week late, on Jan. 11. Classes will also only be online for the first week to allow for students to continue their isolation period.

Kathy Wilson, UNB's associate vice-president academic, said students were encouraged to stay for fall reading week because of isolation requirements. Now the longer break will make it easier to head home.

"It also gave our staff an opportunity for a bit of a reprieve over the holiday time," she said. "Everybody is working really hard."

Break from 'virtual fatigue'

St. Thomas University is not offering in-person classes this academic year, but also decided to push back the start of the winter term. Classes will resume on Jan. 11 instead of Jan. 6.

Ryan Sullivan, the associate vice-president of enrolment management, said the university wanted to offer more of a break from "virtual fatigue" after adapting online learning for the fall.

"We felt there was an opportunity there to give students and faculty a bit more time between the two semesters," he said.

Professors are teaching online, although they are allowed under the yellow phase to organize some optional, in-person activities with physical distancing. The second semester will also be delivered remotely.

Submitted by NBCC
Submitted by NBCC

Sullivan said the longer break will also allow more time to complete self-isolation for students who return home for Christmas. Only about 25 per cent of St. Thomas students are from outside New Brunswick.

"We have students who are still trying to figure out what their plans are," he said. "I think most, from our general sense of things, are still planning to head home."

The University of Moncton is also delaying on-site courses by one week in January, but continuing to deliver classes online starting on Jan. 11.

Spokesperson Nathalie Haché said the change was made to allow students and staff to be able to spend time with family for the holidays.

Practical courses, which are offered in-person, won't start until Jan. 18, allowing students who need to self-isolate to begin after New Year's Day.

'It has created uncertainty'

As New Brunswick students prepare to write exams, many are waiting to see how the pandemic will play out in the days ahead.

If travel restrictions continue, Ferguson is unsure if he'll return home for the break if it means self-isolating after his return.

"I understand that obviously that might not be possible, and we've just kind of got to play it by ear as Maritimers and see how the COVID cases continue," he said.

Google Maps
Google Maps

Wilson said some UNB students have decided to stay to avoid isolation. For those who decide to travel, the university will work with them to develop an individualized self-isolation plan.

"It has created uncertainty. I think we have students who are still perhaps revisiting their plans to go home," she said.

Both the Fredericton and Saint John campuses are currently under orange-level restrictions, which includes a single-household bubble.

Ferguson said he is hopeful Sackville will return to the yellow phase, as community members often invite students who can't make it home to a holiday meal.

"We hope that the community will be there to support students that are here alone, and we hope students will support other students that are on their own," he said.