McGill students fear outbreaks at in-person exams

·3 min read
Third year economics student Callum Mackay says he's worried about writing an in-person exam at McGill university next week, as COVID-19 cases continue to soar in Quebec. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Third year economics student Callum Mackay says he's worried about writing an in-person exam at McGill university next week, as COVID-19 cases continue to soar in Quebec. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

Students at McGill University say they're worried about writing the last of their end of semester exams in-person, as COVID-19 cases hit record numbers in Quebec. But school officials say the final stretch of the fall semester will continue as planned — with hygiene and distancing measures in place.

Callum Mackay, a third-year economics student, says he's not sure holding the last few days of in-person finals is a risk worth taking.

"Everyone's going home for the break, so you've got this big gathering of students," he said. "And just a few days later, they're going home to their families all across the country, possibly bringing COVID with them."

"I was hoping to see my grandparents the day after my exam," he added, "But honestly, I don't think that's going to happen because it's too risky."

Going ahead as planned

On Friday, McGill sent out an update to students saying it met with government officials that afternoon and will continue with its activities "including research and in-person exams" up until the end of the semester, which wraps up next Tuesday evening.

"We have confirmed that the 250-person limit for gatherings...does not apply to university exams," reads the statement.

A spokesperson for the university told CBC that health and safety measures will be in place on campus and could be adjusted if the epidemiological situation changes. They also noted that distancing measures have been put in place in the school's exam spaces.

Sarah Jeong will be writing an exam in-person on Monday and says she's worried about being exposed to COVID-19 after mostly keeping to herself this past year.

"My classes were online for the whole semester and then the exam is in person and it's a more than 300 [student] class," she said. "I haven't seen a lot of people in one room for a while...I'm going to be anxious."

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Students who need to defer an exam will have to wait until the Feb. 28 to March 4 reading week to write it. Mackay and Jeong say they wish McGill would offer exams online and they're worried the long delay to re-write them could mean some people showing symptoms will still show up to their finals.

Epidemiologist and cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos says the university should be encouraging caution.

"You have to make sure that if somebody has symptoms, if somebody thinks they have COVID, they can get tested and stay home and self isolate without any penalty," Labos said.

"Otherwise there is the very real potential that people will show up with symptoms and could then infect their classmates."

In a statement to CBC, Quebec's Education Ministry said since universities were in class for the fall semester it's not surprising that exams are being held in-person. The ministry said over 93 per cent of university students are adequately vaccinated and there are strict health measures in place.

The ministry says the upcoming winter semester has been delayed however, and universities won't return to in-person classes until Jan. 10.

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