COVID-19 concerns unanswered ahead of return to campus, Saskatchewan Polytech student says

·4 min read
Saskatchewan Polytechnic is the only large post-secondary institution in the province resuming full on-campus learning to start winter term 2022. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan Polytechnic is the only large post-secondary institution in the province resuming full on-campus learning to start winter term 2022. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

A student at Saskatchewan Polytechnic says the school still hasn't provided clear answers to COVID-19 concerns ahead of the upcoming winter term.

The post-secondary institute is returning to on-campus learning in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert on Jan. 4. In the final week of 2021, Saskatchewan's daily COVID-19 case counts rose drastically due to the Omicron variant.

Rachel Dennison, a mature student in the medical laboratory technician program, is immunocompromised.

Dennison said students received a "very simple" email, signed from the school's president and CEO Larry Rosia, a few hours after Premier Scott Moe updated the province on its Omicron response Thursday.

"It was shocking, honestly," Dennison said. "There's nothing specific being given for how this will be dealt with."

Sask. Polytech sent the same email to CBC News on Friday, in response to a request for clarification on the school's COVID-19 measures, its vaccination policies and the spread of Omicron.

"Saskatchewan Polytechnic continues to monitor the emergence of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Saskatchewan, and to be guided by the provincial government, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and the Chief Health Medical Officer of Saskatchewan," the email stated.

"At this time, programs and courses will resume Tuesday, January 4th, 2022 as planned."

They're pushing us to go back without any choice. There's just been very little communication - Rachel Dennison, Saskatchewan Polytechnic student

The two-paragraph email reiterates the school is a "strong advocate" for vaccination, and encourages people to get their booster shot.

It includes a link to the school's vaccine requirements, which says students and staff provide either proof of double-dose, or a negative Covid-19 test every three days.

'Pretty awful choice'

Dennison says she's heard from other students who are also confused about why the school couldn't provide a remote learning option, especially for lectures offered in smaller spaces.

"I just don't think it's fair they're pushing us to go back without any choice. There's just been very little communication," she said. "Am I supposed to sacrifice my education, or my health here? That's what it feels like. It feels like a pretty awful choice."

Saskatchewan's two largest universities have delayed the start of winter term to accommodate a temporary period of remote learning, with a target date of Jan. 24 to resume in-person classes.

Both the northern and southern Alberta institutes for technology, also polytechnics, are starting Jan. 3 with remote learning until at least Jan. 21. In-pereson lab classes will continue with added measures such as smaller class sizes.

Dennison says her lab courses at Sask. Polytech have remained on-campus throughout the pandemic, with classes split into smaller groups and all students donning personal protective equipment, fit for their prospective careers.

"It's an environment where we try to be as sterile as possible. But going and cramming 40 bodies into what are some very small lecture rooms, it seems just completely the opposite," she said.

Dennison says Sask. Polytech hasn't clearly stated how it will handle positive COVID-19 cases on-campus, with no word on whether students would know whether they are close contacts.

She added a delayed start to in-person learning would allow for anyone 18 and older, who does receive a booster, to reap its full protection two weeks post-jab.

Remote answers

CBC News has tried three times in the past week to speak with someone from Saskatchewan Polytech. Each time the school responded with links to its website.

The institute says online there will be "limited resources to assist students and respond to inquiries as Sask Polytech will be closed from December 27, 2021 to January 4, 2022."

It mentions checking emails and its COVID-19 information page for updates.

On its COVID-19 FAQ page, Sask. Polytech instructs students and staff not to go on-campus if ill, and to self-monitor.

If someone tests positive, they are asked to immediately contact their instructor to let them know.

"Follow the guidance provided by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). To protect the privacy of all involved, Sask Polytech cannot share students' or employees' COVID test results," it states.

For academic absences, the school says the instructor will work with the student to "make arrangements for missed assignments, classes and exams."

The school also says online that vaccination policy compliance for students will be handled by student relations.

"Any student not complying with vaccination requirements will be directed to leave the premises and not be allowed to return until compliance is confirmed by the student relations office," it states.

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