Op-Ed: Is UNB doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

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With 199 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed over the weekend, public health is in unchartered waters. With vaccination rates so low for the 20-29 year age group, it begs the question, is UNB doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on our campus?

Though UNB sent an email regarding mandatory COVID testing for non-vaccinated students, it has yet to implement it. (Wolfgang Dutchel/The Baron)

Update (September 22, 2021): In light of new information, this article has been updated accordingly.

Mandatory testing not yet implemented

It was announced in August that the campus would require proof of vaccination to attend in-person classes for both students and staff. It seemed like a pretty simple system; upload a picture of your vaccination documents to UNB’s Safe app, or weekly rapid COVID testing would be required for those unvaccinated.

According to the UNB website “testing will be required every three days and testing supports will be put in place on both campuses and on our Moncton site”. However, the university sent an email on September 7 announcing that there would be a delay in implementing the program, and we have yet to hear anything since.

With the promise of rapid testing for the unvaccinated, many students finally felt comfortable attending in-person classes this fall, but the failure on UNB’s part to communicate that testing of unvaccinated students has indeed been taking place leaves many feeling unsafe and uncertain.

Even with GNB’s new mandatory vaccination rules for entering many public spaces taking effect on Wednesday, we have no idea how that will impact students and faculty on campus.

UNB says we should be reassured that life on campus can start to go back to normal because of mandatory vaccinations and testing, yet the unvaccinated have a greater potential of exposing the virus to our community and are still able to be on campus.

Loosening of protocols on campus

Strict following of COVID-19 protocols have also loosened. When you walk through the halls of UNBSJ, many students do not wear their masks correctly so that it covers their nose, mouth, and chin. In lecture halls or the Commons, it is common to find a few students who have moved their masks to their chins, which is not only against UNB’s protocols, but without any social distancing measures, more often than not, said students are within close proximity of others. But who’s going to enforce those rules? Because so far, no one has been.

Moreover, sanitizer has become a rarity to find throughout campus and even if you can find it, the containers are often empty. Not a lot of students are effectively using this form of protection.

On my first day of classes, one of my professors brought us outside. Lined up with 25 other students heading to the front door, we passed a hand sanitizer dispenser, and I was the only one to use it. Furthermore, I have yet to see anyone use the hand sanitizer from the two dispensers at the cafeteria prior to eating. This, along with no socially distanced seating while eating, is a breeding ground for COVID-19.

Furthermore, regular cleaning protocols have been loosened. Last year, common areas in the cafeteria and the Commons were cleaned routinely throughout the day with a gas-like cleaning solution that sanitation workers wore on their backs; I have yet to see these this year. Additionally, tables in the cafeteria are not washed in between each use and neither are desks in lecture halls.

Lax rules on residence

The UNB COVID policies are the same in the three residences on the Saint John campus. For the majority of the last school year, residents were not allowed to bring in guests. This rule was so strict that if you broke it, it was grounds for eviction. Over the course of that year, with GNB guidelines, there were times when residents could bring in guests with approval if their guests were UNB students.

Currently, residents are allowed to bring in any guests. Vaccination statuses are not taken into consideration when it comes to guests, and it is asked, but not required, to submit your guest’s information to residence life staff for contact tracing purposes.

So, even if testing policies were actually in effect at UNB, there is no consideration of vaccination status or negative test results for guests who enter the living quarters of students.

Are we really safe at UNB?

UNB seems to be addressing COVID-19 issues and a full reopening of its campus without taking into consideration the health and safety of its students and staff. The university is fixing a leaky faucet in a burning building when it comes to the protection of students against COVID-19.