B.C. lays out COVID-19 guidelines for colleges, universities in advance of fall session

New COVID-19 guidelines for post-secondary institutions, ranging from safe transportation to support for international students, were released Friday as colleges and universities gear up for the start of classes in the fall.

The guidelines mirror many of the regulations other businesses and workplaces must follow. 

The B.C. government is encouraging colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions to:

  • Implement a limit on the number of people in a space at one time.

  • Provide adequate amounts of hand sanitizer, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary.

  • Require masks if social distancing cannot occur.

  • Increase support to students, faculty and staff who may be uniquely impacted by the pandemic, such as people living with disabilities. 

Melanie Mark, B.C.'s minister of advanced education, skills and training, said in a statement that the "Go-Forward" guidelines would provide greater certainty to staff, students and faculty. She says the guidelines also offer a "minimum standard" for institutions to follow.

Protocols are suggested, not required

However, the protocols outlined by the province Friday are not mandatory. 

"These protocols are not a list of requirements," the Go-Forward guidebook reads. "However, they should be considered and implemented to the extent that they address the current risks of COVID-19 for individual institutions."

Post-secondary institutions must implement COVID-19 safety plans, but WorkSafeBC will not review or approve them. 

Still, inspections to assess what measures a school has taken to protect its community may occur. 

The guidelines also recommend post-secondary institutions allow international students to move onto campus early to accommodate the mandatory 14-day quarantine they must complete. Schools are also encouraged to provide meal plan options to those in quarantine or isolation. Meanwhile, to prevent large indoor gatherings, institutions are encouraged to reduce or remove furniture from certain campus common areas. 

All libraries, pubs, child care facilities and other campus amenities must follow relevant provincial guidelines. 

Most schools plan to only partially open in the fall, with many students attending class online. Mark says her ministry will work with the sector toward a full reopening when it's safe.

A mixed reaction from student advocates

Tanysha Klassen, the chairperson of the B.C. Federation of Students, described the newly announced guidelines as a "very safe baseline." 

The call for post-secondary institutions to implement so-called academic concessions for students who miss class because they have to isolate or quarantine is especially important, according to Klassen.  

"I think that might help quell some of the anxieties that students have about returning to school in the fall, knowing that they're not going to lose grades if they have to stay home in order to keep others safe," said Klassen. 

However, Sarina de Havelyn, director of outreach in university relations with the University of Victoria Student Society, believes these guidelines came too late. 

De Havelyn suspects most students have already decided whether they'll return to campus in the fall or only commit to remote learning.

"This guideline is probably not going to be a huge shifting force for students," she said.

And though de Havelyn was heartened to see attention paid to marginalized groups, she feels the province could have placed a stronger emphasis on issues like accessibility to ensure universities accommodate the needs of all students.