U of T president Meric Gertler has announced the cancellation of all in-person undergraduate and research-stream Masters and Doctoral courses across all three campuses, as of Monday, March 16 until the end of term on Friday, April 3.
The decision was made in light of the rapid progression of the coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday.
In an effort to accelerate the decision, students across the three campuses had rallied together to sign a petition on change.org. The petition garnered 19,125 signatures before being declared a success on the website.
Safana Nasir, a second-year student in biology and psychology, gave her reasons for supporting the movement.
“After the closure of publicly funded schools and universities, U of T should also take a stand and care about the students’ health,” said Nasir.
Students also took to the petition’s comment section to voice their concerns.
“The virus is no longer something far away in a different continent across the ocean. We must take it seriously to prevent tragedies from happening again,” commented Tingge Zhang.
Despite the cancellation of classes, students as well as staff continue to remain on campus. Public facilities and student services remain open, but for limited hours. These include residences, the library, and the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC).
Following the early school-wide email sent out by Gertler on March 13, which announced the “athletics and recreation facilities and other public spaces on all three campuses will remain open,” the Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre (RAWC) at UTM closed its doors the next day on March 14.
The RAWC will continue to stay closed until April 4.
“This decision is based on guidance and action from the City of Mississauga, Peel Public Health, and our other University of Toronto campus recreation partners,” stated the RAWC department in an announcement posted on UTM’s Athletics website.
Andrea Carter, assistant dean of Student Wellness and Support & Success, explained that the best efforts are being made to ensure that the campus remains clean at all times.
“We have put out signage in washrooms across campus on best practices for hand washing,” said Carter, adding that more hand sanitizer dispensers have also been installed. “You’ll see more of them in high traffic areas such as the library and the athletics and recreation facility.”
Caretaking staff have also been instructed to increase disinfection of all surfaces.
Across the country, food chains have temporarily stopped accepting reusable cups in accordance with public health official’s COVID-19 precaution procedures. This move is reflected in popular food outlets on campus including Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and the newly renovated Davis Food Court.
“[The HCC is] in the same boat as other healthcare facilities, facing a shortage of masks, but we have some available for patients exhibiting symptoms [of the virus] and staff,” added Carter.
Students showing signs of the virus are advised to self-isolate.
With growing alarm amidst the coronavirus pandemic, countries across the globe have begun to place travel restrictions, posing concerns for international students unable to return home over the summer.
“The UTM Student Housing and Residence Life (SHRL) department is prepared to assist international students with summer housing in case they can’t return to their home countries if travel restrictions are in place at the time, or don’t want to risk going [and] becoming subject to travel restrictions,” said dean of Student Affairs and assistant principal of Student Services Mark Overton.
He advised affected international students to contact the Student Housing and Residence Life (SHRL) department for more housing information or concerns.
Students with other queries regarding travel are advised to contact the International Education Centre (IEC).
“We are dealing with increased questions coming into the IEC […] and each situation is unique. Where they’re going, what country they’re travelling through, what’s their motivation for doing so,” Overton explained. “The immigration team is working with students [on an ongoing basis].”
All future international university-related travel has been cancelled until June 1. This includes course-related travel such as the trip to Portugal through EDS388, the IEC’s Study Abroad programs, and club-sanctioned travel.
Concerns regarding xenophobia have been at the forefront of students’ minds in recent days. Many feel that the coronavirus offers others a chance to discriminate against international students.
“If students, staff, or faculty have any concerns or complaints, we want them to talk to the different services available so that we can support them through the process,” Nythalah Baker, director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, said in response to these fears. “We’re also reminding [the UTM community] of the importance of creating and sustaining a welcoming and inclusive campus.”
As of Tuesday, March 10 the HCC has “not seen a presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19,” informed Carter.
In order to receive medical accommodation, absence must be self-declared through the Absence Declaration tool on ACORN. All other illnesses must be registered through the Verification of Illness (VOI) form. These declarations of absences for academic accommodation continue to be valid in the shift from in-person lectures to other means of learning, including online platforms.
Course instructors will be deciding individually how best to conduct classes remotely and will be communicating relevant instructions to students over the coming week.
Decisions with regards to exams will be released early next week.
Best practices for prevention of illness:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer
- Sneeze and cough into your sleeve
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Avoid contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you are sick
- Ontario Ministry of Health (https://www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus)
- Toronto Public Health (https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/health-wellness-care/diseases-medications-vaccines/coronavirus/)
- Peel Public Health (http://www.peelregion.ca/coronavirus/)
- Public Health Ontario (https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/diseases-and-conditions/infectious-diseases/respiratory-diseases/novel-coronavirus)
- Public Health Agency of Canada (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/symptoms.html)
- World Health Organisation (https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus)
- Government of Canada Travel Advice (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/latest-travel-health-advice.html)
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/bulletins-2020/669.html)