Fifteen months ago, faculty and staff at the University of British Columbia saw their research, teaching and work change in ways they’d never imagined due to COVID-19.
Now, with public health leaders confident in the safe resumption of on-campus activities by post-secondary institutions, progress in the provincial vaccination program, public health measures and declines in COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, UBC is outlining its phased approach to support faculty and staff returning to campus in preparation for the 2021/22 Winter Session starting in September.
This approach reflects listening sessions with faculty and staff, and other feedback from the UBC community.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank those faculty and staff who have been on campus throughout the pandemic, providing key aspects of UBC teaching, learning, research and operations,” says UBC President Santa Ono. “Together we will bring vibrancy to our campuses, as we see the increased resumption of in-person teaching, learning, and research activity this fall.”
The planning reflects recent guidance from the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Regional Health Authorities and the BC Centre for Disease Control, outlined in the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer and the provincial government’s recently published BC’s Restart plan.
The plan details a phased approach to restarting social connections, businesses, and activities and details a return to normal social contact starting September 7, provided more than 70% of the 18+ population has received an initial vaccine dose — along with low case counts and low COVID-19 hospitalizations.
UBC’s phased approach will allow for the operational needs of each faculty and administrative unit. All units will need to have an approved COVID-19 safety plan in place.
- Phase #1 (June-July): Faculty and staff who are required on campus to support instructional and operational planning or preparation for the 2021/22 Winter Session will be advised of their return date.
- Phase #2 (July-August): Faculty and staff who are required on campus to prepare for direct, in-person teaching, learning, student support and other activities for the 2021/22 Winter Sessionwill begin to transition back to campus.
- Employees who are not required to return to campus as part of Phase #1 or #2 – but who wish to return earlier – should discuss this with their deans, vice-presidents, associate vice-presidents, department heads, directors and supervisors, who will be responsible for making these decisions.
With safety as a priority, a revised COVID-19 Safety Planning Framework is being developed to align with the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer and BC’s Restart plan. This revised framework and accompanying guidance documents will allow the university to maintain a safe learning and working environment, reduce administrative burden, and ensure compliance with Provincial Health Officer Orders and WorkSafeBC regulations.
The framework will be available following updated guidelines from the provincial government in early July.
Some faculty and staff have raised concerns about building ventilation. A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) working group is currently assessing building ventilation systems and forming recommendations based on information from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, WorkSafeBC, and the BC Centre for Disease Control to ensure a high standard of safety and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
UBC Building Operations will continue the cleaning of high-touch surfaces and hand sanitizing stations will remain in place.
In addition to conducting daily self-administered health checks, staying home when sick, wearing a non-medical mask when required, and washing hands often, the university is encouraging everyone in its community to participate in the provincial COVID-19 vaccination program.
“Every adult in BC is eligible to be vaccinated. Now is the time to support each other and raise the rate of immunization,” said Ono. “If you haven’t yet received your vaccine, please register and encourage your families and friends to join the ‘This is our shot’ campaign at www.thisisourshot.ca.”
“While our campuses are safe for our return, in alignment with public health guidelines, there may be some members of our community who have medical conditions affecting their transition back to campus,” said Ono. “There are existing processes to address these concerns, and we will continue to support faculty and staff who are affected by these situations. In addition, those faculty and staff who may be experiencing anxiety can access support for mental health and wellbeing at www.hr.ubc.ca/health-and-wellbeing/mental-health/faculty-and-staff-mental-health-resources.”
“For more than a year now, faculty and staff have stepped up to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Thank you for your ongoing patience and adaptability, and for continuing to provide the high quality of teaching, learning, and research that UBC is known for. We look ahead to the fall with a continued commitment to the health and safety of our community, and with hope and excitement for welcoming back our students,” said Ono.