A student working from home
The lockdown measures are complicating an already difficult situation for students. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.
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Students react to starting a new semester while Ontario implements new lockdown measures

Ontario universities have started their winter 2021 semesters under a province-wide stay at home order. But while this is not the first semester impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown measures are complicating an already difficult situation for students. 

In an attempt to settle nerves, University of Ottawa president and vice-chancellor Jacques Frémont sent an email to the U of O community on Jan. 13 regarding the new measures in Ontario. 

“These new directives will have limited impact on our current activities. Most of our courses are already being delivered via distance learning, most of our employees are teleworking and our research activities can be pursued under the controlled conditions we have already put in place,” read the message.

He then continued to explain the university’s commitment to support its students during the unprecedented times.

“For some members of our community, however, these new directives may make a tough situation even tougher. I want you to know I feel deeply for you,” wrote Frémont. “The University continues to strive to support faculty, students and staff facing especially challenging circumstances.”

“Your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health … I urge each of you to spend time outside in the fresh air, to speak regularly to friends and family, and to otherwise care for yourself.” 

Fremont thanked essential U of O staff for their commitment to the university and reiterated the importance of following public health protocols. He also linked the university’s page on COVID-19 for further information and resources before signing off by stating that “together we can — and will — get through this.”

However, the email failed to address some of the concerns held by students. In a poll posted on  the Fulcrum’s Instagram story on Jan. 14, 43.6 per cent of the 110 respondents answered that the new regulations did not account for many students’ living conditions.

Students that the Fulcrum spoke with expressed that they felt overlooked by parts of the new regulations. Though many added that despite this, they still thought it was important for students to follow the regulations. 

“I have a lot of issues with how the provincial government has handled their pandemic response,” says Julian Ward, a third-year civil engineering student. “But the guidelines they’ve issued, I think, are pretty clear.”

“I think that the government didn’t take students fully into account when making their plan, but students still shouldn’t get a pass for breaking the guidelines,” shared Ward.

As is the case for many students, Ward shares an apartment with roommates and believes that,“every household should sit down and have a conversation about what they’re comfortable with and be firm.”

On the other hand, many students live on their own and are now being asked to stop seeing those they might have had in their social bubble. People who live on their own, can only see one other person, given that the person lives in a single person household. In the summer and fall, students were allowed to have a small social bubble outside of their house. 

Jayda Felix, a second-year chemical engineering student is concerned about this issue.  “I live by myself and in the past few months I’ve kept a small sphere of contact with people who also mostly live alone.”

Felix too feels that some of the new rules contradict one another. 

“The new guidelines said there can be absolutely no indoor gatherings and only up to five people outside. But then it also says you can’t go outside unless it’s for essential reasons. So does that mean I can’t see my friend outside even if we both live alone?”

The stay at home orders have also changed the way some students are starting their semester.

“The whole university experience is very different now. I barely leave my apartment anymore except to get groceries or to take a walk.” said Felix. “I spend most of my time at my desk.”

“Making connections with other students has become much harder as you can’t meet face to face. [And] many student organizations are doing their best to have events online,[but] not as many people are participating.”

Veronica Gordyn, a history student in her first-year shared that there is added hardship to getting prepared for the winter semester. 

“Last semester I was able to go to the UCU and get my books, or buy them used. But now the bookstore [is] closed, and reselling did not feel safe, I ordered mine, which is taking weeks longer.” 

As Intensive Care Units (ICUs) across the province are overloaded, these next few weeks will be critical for all Ontarians to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and work towards reopening the province.