By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Editor and Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief, with files from Harvin Bhathal, News Writer
With confirmed cases of COVID-19, or coronavirus, in Vancouver, potential outbreaks on campus have been a frequent discussion topic through both official school channels and on social media. The offices of Andrew Petter, SFU President, and Jon Driver, Vice-President Academic and Provost pro tem, sent out multiple emails during the week of March 9–13 addressing concerns about COVID-19 at SFU.
This article rounds up these emails, SFU’s institutional response, its student societies’ voices, and the online community’s concerns.
SFU responds to Instagram and Facebook reports of student self-isolating after potentially being in contact with COVID-19
A screenshot of a Canvas message to a BISC 303 class was seen circulating on social media. The screenshot revealed that a class member was self-isolating after potentially being in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. The story was picked up by news outlets such as Burnaby Now.
In an email sent on March 11, Vice-President Academic and Provost pro tem Jon Driver addressed this post. He stated that the student in question had not been on campus since March 3, was in self-isolation, and was getting tested. The email emphasized that the individual is not confirmed to have COVID-19, did not have any symptoms when attending class on March 3, and that all surfaces in that lab where the student worked have been deep-cleaned.
“We realize that there is heightened concern about COVID-19. We are committed to protecting our students, faculty and staff and letting you know if there are any cases of COVID-19 among our community,” said Driver.
SFU decides to “move away” from in-person instruction
On the evening of March 13, the office of SFU President Andrew Petter sent out an email stating that SFU “will be moving away from in-person instruction beginning next week for the remainder of the term.”
It further stated that students should wait to hear from instructors about how to proceed with classes, and that the Centre for Educational Excellence would assist instructors with alternative delivery methods for classes.
All SFU campuses will remain open in the meantime.
Earlier in the week, two online petitions had circulated amongst students, calling for SFU to cancel classes. The larger of the two petitions had 8,336 signatures when it was closed in response to SFU’s announcement.
During the preceding week, the offices of Petter and Dr. Jon Driver, Vice-President Academic & Provost pro tem had sent out multiple emails.
Petter stated in his email dated March 12 that SFU has “convened a COVID-19 operational response team under the leadership of Dr. Jon Driver, Vice-President Academic & Provost.” Petter added that this team is supported by SFU Safety & Risk Services to work on reducing risk of transmission at SFU.
“This group is working closely with health organizations and other Canadian universities to gain expert guidance on how best to manage this situation.”
Petter further added that “SFU’s Emergency Operations process has also been activated, and an Executive Committee established to approve policy decisions and resources required to respond to the situation as it evolves, and to prepare for future actions that may be required to ensure the health and safety of our community.”
Driver sent out multiple informational emails to the SFU community as well. The first email, sent on March 9, requested that all community members register international trips on the SFU Travel Registry, found on SFU’s Safety & Risk Services website.
According to Driver, precautionary measures taken across SFU campuses include promoting good hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing, and “appropriate cleaning and maintenance of SFU premises to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses.”
The Peak has reached out to SFU for additional details on what ‘moving away from in-person instruction’ entails.
What students in SFU Residence & Housing should know
Vice-President Academic and Provost Pro Tem Jon Driver’s email stated that anyone living in residence who needs to self-isolate due to symptoms of COVID-19 should email Residence and Housing at email@example.com for information.
In an email interview with The Peak, Driver responded to questions about long-term plans.
“We have planning groups working on a wide range of scenarios, and those plans will be implemented if required. With regard to people living on campus, the university will continue to provide accommodation in residence buildings as well as access to food and other necessary supplies and services.”
Study Abroad participants advised to monitor the situation
As of March 12, SFU Study Abroad’s page noted that: “As partners make decisions on future programming or as travel advisories change and risk levels change, the University may decide to cancel SFU study abroad programs.”
Currently, all Summer 2020 Field School programs have been cancelled. Student travel has been restricted to Northern Italy and China until further notice.
Students impacted by any cancellations will be contacted directly and updates will be made online. If exchange programs are cancelled before a student leaves SFU, Study Abroad will work with students on a case-by-case basis.
For students whose programs are cancelled part-way through terms and for whom completing the academic term is not possible, International Student Services would refund the full tuition and student fees associated with the exchange. Students enrolled in fee-paying programs, such as those at the Beijing Institute of Technology or the University of California, Berkeley, “would be subject to [their] host institution’s refund policy.”
“The options available would depend on the timing of the cancellation and other factors at the time,” they write.
Students currently on exchange are encouraged to work with their host institutions and contact firstname.lastname@example.org if they are considering an early return to Canada. Study Abroad’s website also outlines how future exchange students can cancel their exchange (and what is or is not refundable), defer their exchange, or request a change in exchange locations.
The Great Northwest Athletics Conference and the National Collegiate Athletics Competition, in which SFU athletes compete, have both announced that they were suspending all athletic competitions until further notice, as of March 12.
SFSS shuts down operations for time being
The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has decided to shut down operations temporarily as of March 13 at 4 p.m. The SFSS’s Executive Committee passed a motion that mandated that all SFSS offices be closed, with the expectation that they will be reopened on March 30.
It further directed all clubs, departmental student unions, faculty student unions, and constituency groups to cancel all further activities and to plan no new events for the time being.
All SFSS Board meetings will be held remotely, and SFSS staff will be working remotely as necessary.
SFU’s largest faculty student union, the Society of Arts and Social Sciences, canceled one of its major events of the year, FASS On a Boat: A Masquerade Night. The event, which was a formal party on a Harbour Cruises boat, was scheduled to occur on the evening of March 20. According to an email sent by Jess De La Cruz, Engagement Programming Assistant for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the event was cancelled as per the SFSS’s advice. Tickets will be fully refunded.
The Graduate Student Society provided a list of resources about COVID-19 to their members.
SFU has posted a COVID-19 FAQ that can be found online.