Hyman Soloway will be one of the residences that will be open in the fall. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
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Uncertainty faces students who choose to live in residence in the fall

The University of Ottawa has released a new set of guidelines for students planning to live in residence this fall. The new guidelines aim to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in residence and protect students from contracting the virus in their residence. 

These guidelines involve a number of severe rules that students who live in residence will have to abide in order to protect themselves and their fellow residents from COVID-19. 

The guidelines have raised a number of concerns among students. Students are concerned that the guidelines may be too stringent and infringe on their personal liberties. Some of these guidelines are also very confusing and neglect very important information. 

Social Circles and social interactions

The guideline that raised the most eyebrows when it was released in early June was that students could not leave their unit to stay with friends or family overnight. 

This guideline has as of July 10 been removed from the U of O’s website due and replaced with a new guideline. The new guideline, however, is unclear on if students can leave residence overnight.     

“It’s still too early to speculate about what public health guidelines will be in place in the fall for congregated living situations,” states the U of O’s website. “Currently, Ottawa Public health guidelines allow for people to build “social circles” of up to 10 people where physical distancing is not required. It is reasonable to expect that students will be able to visit someone within their circle. Policies surrounding this are being developed.” 

Currently, Ontario is the only province to observe social circles.

This is cause for confusion amongst incoming first-year students who plan to live in residence and aren’t accustomed to traditional university life and will have to deal with these guidelines. 

To add to the confusion for incoming residents, the assistant director of Housing Services Julie Tam in an Instagram live with “UOttawafuture” said that she “could not at the moment” give an answer on if students living in residence would be allowed to go home for Thanksgiving, reading week and the winter holidays. This Instagram live was published on June 8, there has not been another Instagram live with Tam or any other member of Housing Services since to give an update on the situation.   

In its latest update on its website, the University of Ottawa fails to address this concern. The only way of safely visiting your family according to the guidelines would probably be to include them in your social circle.

There will be no external guess allowed in residences this fall.

For some students, not being able to interact with their family due to social circle constraints could have negative impacts on their mental health.

“I have been made aware of the mental health crisis at uOttawa, and believe that it is about to get infinitely worse, with hundreds of incoming freshmen being completely cut off from their home support systems and families,” wrote on incoming U of O student in an email to the Fulcrum. “In addition, this could escalate into a human rights violation, as many have specialist doctors out of town that they would be unable to visit.”

The student wished to stay anonymous to not affect their status with the U of O’s Housing Services. 

Students who fall ill and develop symptoms of COVID-19

Another huge question mark for students is what to do if they fall ill or are in contact with someone who has developed symptoms of COVID-19.

Students in residence will be asked to self-monitor their health. Students who develop symptoms of COVID-19 and feel ill will be asked to self assess with public health authorities (be tested for COVID-19). 

Students will need to notify Housing Services of their symptoms and the result of their self-assessment (depending on the results) and then follow the directions of their health care provider.

“Everyone is asked to self-monitor his or her health,” wrote the University of Ottawa’s spokesperson Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn in an email to the Fulcrum. “We have a protocol in place to address any potential case.”

There was no clarification in her email on the protocol but on the U of O’s website, it states that the student who has developed symptoms and his roommates will need to self-isolate. Housing Services will deliver meals and stay in constant contact with the students who are self-isolating. 

“Everyone needs to do their part in order to avoid spreading the virus,” states the U of O website.  

There are some concerns with this guideline especially when it comes to access to a COVID-19 test. There are currently two assessment centres open to the general public in Ottawa, they are located at Brewer Arena and Montfort Hospital. Both locations are far from campus and will require students who show symptoms and don’t own their own vehicle to take transit or a taxi putting others in the community at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

The other big concern with this guideline is that COVID-19 has shown it can spread from asymptomatic and presymptomatic carriers to others. An asymptomatic or presymptomatic carrier could potentially infect a large number of students in a residence especially if students don’t respect physical distancing measures.

International students will need to isolate themselves for 14 days when they come to Canada in accordance with the Quarantine Act. 

“The self-quarantine period can be completed at a local hotel or in a separate residence room depending on room availability,” states the U of O on its website. “Additional fees will be charged for the quarantine period charged for students requiring early arrival.”

Residents will still need to be very vigilant and respect every physical distancing rule to not cause an institutional outbreak in a residence. 

Immunocompromised students

For students who are immunocompromised, the University is “encouraging them to seek advice from their health care practitioner prior to planning to live in a congregated living setting this fall.” The University says that it will do “every effort to accommodate students with a variety of health issues in residence, COVID-19 poses significant challenges.”

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people with underlying conditions that contract COVID-19 are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from the virus than people who do not present any underlying conditions.

The U of O’s says on its website that “immunocompromised students must make the best decisions for their own health.” 

Fees and cancellations

Traditional residences such as Thompson, Leblanc, Marchand, and Stanton will be closed due to their very communal style of living. Only Annex, 45 Mann, Hyman Soloway, 90U, and Henderson will be housing students in the fall.

This way most students will have their own bedrooms and a limited number of students will have access to the same bathroom. Most common rooms in residences will be closed until physical distancing restrictions are lifted

Students who received offers for the traditional residences should receive a new offer for one of the open buildings through the Housing Portal on Uozone by the end of July. Students will pay the price of the new room they will be offered, not the old room.

Students who have a guaranteed offer to live in residence can opt-out of living in residence in the fall and choose to only live in residence starting in January for the winter semester. 

Students who cancelled their 2020-2021 reservations by July 6, 2020, received a full reimbursement of their deposit to live in residence. Students who cancel before Aug.15 are eligible for a 50 per cent reimbursement of their deposit. 

For those who miss the Aug.15 deadline, they will need to find a replacement (i.e. another eligible student to take over the room) or they will be required to pay for the cost of the room for the entire agreement period, whether they stay in residence or not.

Students could be asked to move out of residence if a second wave of COVID-19 hits or an outbreak occurs during the school year for the “health and safety of residents, employees, and community.”

It is unclear whether students will receive a reimbursement if they need to be evacuated or moved from residence due to COVID-19.  

Public Health and the U of O working ‘hand in hand’

In her email to the Fulcrum, Mailloux-Pulkinghorn affirmed that “The University of Ottawa’s main priority is the health and wellbeing of its students. Like all other universities in Canada, uOttawa is following public health guidelines when developing its scenarios.”

According to U of O, at this point, most of this is “hypothetical”. 

“it’s important to understand that some public health restrictions may still be in place in residence this Fall and that uOttawa may impose further restrictions for the health and safety of the uOttawa community (students and staff alike),” wrote Mailloux-Pulkinghorn. “Students who chose to live in residence can expect that additional restrictions will be in place for the safety of the entire university community. These restrictions will align with public health guidelines, will be mindful of Provincial guidelines around congregated living setting, and will take into account the specific and unique residence settings at the University.”

The University is also stringent that students will need to rigorously follow the new residence guidelines.

“Students must respect all of the terms and conditions set out in their Residence Agreement and their Code of Conduct including newer rules around COVID-19,” stated Mailloux-Pulkinghorn in the email. “Students should inform themselves of the restrictions currently in place by public health officials for the Ottawa area and make an informed decision before choosing to live in residence this fall. We are providing as much information as possible to students registered to stay in residence.”