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Plans for exam period still being developed but finals will not be taken in person

The University of Ottawa has cancelled classes and labs on Monday and Tuesday and will move the remainder of the semester to online or distance learning on Wednesday due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an online update from president Jacques Frémont on Friday afternoon. 

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in the university community but there are three positive cases in Ottawa as of Friday. The campus remains open, including all residences, food services, libraries and “other facilities and services.”

Frémont says exams will not be taken in person and plans are being developed for the exam period, with more information to come. Clinical and co-op placements will continue without change unless students are otherwise notified.

“For the time being, all staff will continue to perform their usual tasks and roles,” Frémont wrote. “However, the health and safety of our employees is paramount, and the university is considering various factors including school closures, social distancing and essential services and weighing their impact on employees.”

The university president says more information will be provided to staff in the coming days.

“These unprecedented measures will be disruptive,” wrote Frémont. “I trust, however, that all members of our community will understand that they are necessary and being implemented for the benefit of all.” 

All university-related travel by U of O students and staff is prohibited until further notice, while faculty travel is “strongly discouraged.” Additionally, the school says any university event that involves visitors arriving from international destinations should be cancelled.

“I am confident that by remaining resilient and by continuing to support one another that we will be able to meet and overcome the challenges ahead,” added Frémont.

Other schools in Canada have already cancelled classes, including Carleton University, University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Western University, York University and Laurentian University.

Students at the U of O have been pushing for the cancellation of classes. One online petition had collected over 1,200 signatures as of publication time, while over 500 students have signed a similar open letter to Frémont

The first case of COVID-19 in Ottawa was confirmed on Wednesday, a man in his 40s who contracted the virus while travelling in Austria. The man is experiencing mild symptoms, was not symptomatic on his flight back to Canada, and is now self-isolating after being tested at the Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus.

Ottawa’s second case was confirmed on Thursday, a woman in her 40s who is also self-isolating with mild symptoms after testing positive at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, according to the province. The woman is not connected to the city’s first positive case of the virus, was not symptomatic during her flight home, and has had no close contacts since returning from Italy, according to Ottawa Public Health.

A third unrelated case in the city was confirmed on Friday, a woman in her 40s who recently travelled to England. The woman is currently in self-isolation at home with mild symptoms. 

Across the province, there have been at least 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, with five labelled as resolved. There have been at least 152 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada

COVID-19 has infected more than 135,000 people and killed over 4,900 globally since emerging in China in December 2019. 

U of O Health Services introduced a new medical note protocol earlier this week, where students can request a medical note for a short-term illness (less than 72 hours) proving they are or were unable to meet an academic requirement from walk-in clinic reception staff without needing to see a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The new process looks to cut down on the administrative strain to clinical resources, reduce exposure of students to contagious illnesses in clinic space, and save the clinic’s capacity for those who need to see a medical professional for advice or treatment.

The U of O is also waiving fees for cancelled or postponed events on campus until the end of August if a 10 days’ written notice prior to the event is provided, according to an email from the school’s convention and reservations team.

The school has also struck a working group of senior administrators, led by Frémont and provost and vice-president (academic affairs) Jill Scott, to coordinate the university’s response across campuses.

Earlier this month, it was announced that five U of O professors are receiving more than $2 million in funding from the federal government to support research projects aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.