Red River College Polytechnic is hitting pause on its winter reopening plan and introducing a stricter mask mandate amid rising concerns about the Omicron variant.
The post-secondary institution is the latest to announce plans to continue to focus on online delivery in the new year, with limited essential hands-on learning anticipated to continue across its campuses.
As of Jan. 4, students, employees and visitors will also be required to wear a medical-grade mask or N95 mask — the latter of which is being recommended — for all in-person learning, teaching and work. Cloth masks of any kind will not be permitted.
“With the increased concern of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and projections from public health officials about a significant increase in cases of COVID-19 in January, RRC Polytech has made the decision to change our plans,” states an update from the polytechnic that was sent to community members midday Friday.
“We are communicating with you now to provide as much notice as possible for our entire community as we adjust to this change.”
Earlier this week, public health officials warned the number of daily cases could spike to 1,000 — upwards of four times the current daily average — in coming weeks.
Citing the stark projections, the University of Winnipeg indicated Thursday it would be reverting to remote learning in early 2022 until at least the end of the university’s reading week in late February.
A spokesperson for Brandon University indicated “active discussion” on the subject is underway. The university in western Manitoba plans to share its itinerary for the winter term with staff and students on Monday.
Neither the University of Manitoba or Université de Saint-Boniface announced changes. Administration at the latter, however, sent staff a note to reassure them that plans are being finalized to take into account the current public health situation.
“Quite frankly, it would be irresponsible of universities and colleges to have large gatherings in classrooms when our health-care system is in just an absolute state of chaos. We can’t afford to get sick,” said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations.
Forbes, a biology professor at U of W, said he was relieved to learn this week that his employer would not force him to teach dozens of students in-person in a crowded lecture hall in January.
Given the uncertainty of the new variant and how it is infecting fully immunized people, even a vaccine mandate and the installation of CO2 sensors in all classrooms are not enough to protect community members, he said, noting a rise in classroom exposures could cause a logistical nightmare for both professors and students.
If the province will not begin to enact rules to restrict gatherings and events, post-secondary institutions need to show leadership — and sooner rather than later, because preparation time is required, Forbes added.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press