With a mostly in-person semester in full swing, members of the University of Ottawa community are feeling the impact of looser covid regulations
Earlier this month, the Fulcrum reported students were feeling concerned about the University of Ottawa’s (U of O) decision to offer the majority of courses in-person.
More recently, students, professors, and other U of O community members have taken to social media to voice their complaints about seeing more and more of their peers getting sick with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, and the lack of options available to them.
Reddit Rule of Thumb
“If you have a cough, are feeling unwell, or literally have COVID, at least wear a mask,” began one of many posts made by frustrated students in the ‘r/geegees’ subreddit.
Though masks are no longer mandated on campus, the U of O “strongly encourages” everyone to wear one, “especially in high-density areas like classrooms, labs, elevators, and meeting areas.” Furthermore, mask dispensers are available at the entrances of many buildings.
Another Reddit user said the issue has more to do with lacking access to online lecture recordings, which means there is little incentive for sick students to stay home.
“So far almost all of my teachers have stated that they won’t record or upload any of their lectures. Why they’ve decided not to do that anymore is beyond me, but they’re screwing the student population over by essentially forcing them to show up to class if they’re sick.”
On Sept. 21, the University sent an email to students informing them of the introduction of a COVID-19 absence self-declaration form. The online tool is available for students to use should they be unable to write an exam, submit assignments or miss mandatory course requirements due to COVID-19. A medical certificate is not required.
While the self-declaration tool will allow students to miss deadlines and in-person coursework unpenalized, it does not allow students to attend in-person lectures virtually or entitle them to recorded coursework.
Twitter testaments of bitter sentiments
The conversation continued on Twitter after Evan Sterling, a librarian at the U of O, shared screenshots of what students expressed on Reddit. In an email to the Fulcrum, Sterling, who is also part of the University Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee (UJOHSC) and the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO), said the concerns from students closely reflect how some professors and staff are feeling.
“Myself and many of my colleagues — both librarians, staff, and professors — are concerned about the lack of covid measures on campus this semester. I am glad that classes are in-person and that campus has lots of activities, but with no protections such as mask requirements in classrooms/labs, case tracking, mandatory isolation if you have COVID, or easy access to testing, it is a recipe for widespread infection.”
For his part, professor Patrick Gauthier, who teaches theatre in the faculty of arts, replied to Sterling’s tweet, saying a number of his students tested positive for covid after attending his lectures.
“My first class was the first Thursday of the semester… And then once I got home, that afternoon, I had three emails from students who had tested positive since being in class that morning. That kind of set the tone for the following class — I had probably six to ten out with symptoms or confirmed cases,” he said.
The ongoing case for alternatives to in-person learning
With regards to live-streaming or posting lecture recordings online, Gauthier suggests it’s an effective way to keep sick students out of the classroom without compromising their grades.
“The only way to keep sick students home is to give them the option of recordings,” he added. “That seems like a nice compromise for students. Even if they’re wearing a mask … I don’t think people want students with symptoms in class, right?”
On Sept. 21, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) stated on Instagram that they are “asking the University of Ottawa to reinstate a mask mandate for instructional spaces, to implement more virtual options, and that professors be further encouraged to record and live-stream their classes.”
UOSU is asking students to support by sending an email to President Jacques Frémont, Provost Jill Scott, and the Faculty Deans at the U of O.