Students concerned about returning to in-person learning

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With the emergence of the Omicron variant across New Brunswick and the globe, UNB originally planned to do alternative delivery courses from January 8 to 24. 

(Wolfgang Duechtel/The Baron)

On Thursday, January 13, UNB students were made aware of the transitional approach to returning to campus for the winter term. Classes are to return to in-person learning as of February 7 for all courses. Many students have expressed concerns over safety with this plan. 

GNB moves to Level 3 of COVID-19 Winter Plan

The transitional plan to return to campus was announced within an hour of the Government of New Brunswick’s announcement that the province would move to Level Three in the COVID Alert System. The catalyst to the provincial government moving to Level Three was having over 100 people in hospitals across New Brunswick due to COVID-19 complications. 

Changes to testing eligibility

COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in the province during this fifth wave and have resulted in such a backlog of COVID tests that GNB has informed New Brunswickers that only those considered vulnerable and aged 50+ would be able to get a PCR test. Furthermore, GNB said that those who test positive with an at-home rapid test are considered to be positive for the virus. 

Days later, public health lacked the resources to provide rapid test kits to everyone who wanted them and backtracked on their messaging encouraging everyone to use rapid tests consistently and before gatherings even when asymptomatic.

Currently, rapid tests are available through the province to those who are symptomatic and by appointment only. Moreover, New Brunswickers that test positive via rapid test are merely encouraged to report it to public health instead of confirming with a PCR. 

Student concerns

Many students contracted COVID-19 over the winter break and understand its severity, even if they were fully immunized.

One third-year student contracted the virus when she went home for the holidays and criticizes the university’s campaign to get students to receive their boosters.

“They’re just saying, ‘it’s a good idea to get it!’ and leaving it up to us to find [out] where to get one. Why wouldn’t they offer boosters [on campus] like they did the flu shot?” she said. 

A fourth-year student expressed his concerns over the university’s decisions being made without the advice of students themselves. 

“Why are students not brought in on decisions that affect them?” he says. He continued by saying that he and many others “…do not want to go back [to campus] because of the virus and the large classroom sizes… We have the tools to do [school] online, and we feel that is the best option,”. 

Many students have also expressed concerns about not feeling comfortable immediately returning to campus and not having the option to do online learning if they, themselves, or those who live with them are vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There’s been no clear sense of what would happen if I tested positive and can’t come to class. Do I just miss class altogether? Am I expected to be in class five days after a positive test?” one student asked.

They also added their concern over the possibility of long COVID symptoms affecting their ability to attend class.

UNB not providing masks to students

Furthermore, UNB announced that under Level Two and Three of New Brunswick’s COVID-19 Winter Plan, the UNB community will only be able to wear medical-grade masks, being either surgical, N95 and/or KN95. Students have expressed concerns over the availability of these supplies. Many say that the university should be providing students with some masks like the university had done with their UNB-branded masks in the fall of 2020 and 2021. 

UNB will only be providing rapid tests to those enrolled in the testing program this semester. Moreover, under new GNB guidelines, the university is not required to conduct contact tracing or to report exposure sites. This means that if a student tests positive, it is their responsibility to notify their contacts.