C/O Georgia Kirkos

What the university hopes a near full return to in-person will look like 

2022 marks nearly two years of McMaster University students adjusting to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After the initial school closure in March 2020, the McMaster community has faced recurring uncertainty every semester. Unfortunately, it seems the winter semester of 2022 will be no different. 

In October of 2021, McMaster informed students that the university is planning for a near full return to in-person activities in the winter semester after a hybrid fall semester. 

Kim Dej, McMaster’s associate vice-provost, believed the school has been successful in adapting to COVID-19 regulations amid the hybrid format.

“I think as a community, McMaster faculty, staff and absolutely students did a great job. I really do feel like we all held it together. We supported one another. We recognized that things weren’t going to be perfect, but we adapted well,” said Dej during a MacDiscussions roundtable hosted by the Silhouette and CFMU in early December. 

During MacDiscussions, Sean Van Koughnett, the dean of students, and Denver Della-Vedova, the McMaster Students Union president, also joined Dej in addressing what they anticipate the winter semester would look like. 

Speaking about eating areas, Van Koughnett said that though the school is planning to have the majority of food services open, they must also balance considerations of health and safety. 

“There are a couple of locations in [the Student Centre] that will be closed because we’re trying to keep congestion to a minimum, if possible. So, for instance, in MUSC, Teriyaki [Experience] and Booster Juice will be closed, [but] Booster Juice in DBAC will be open, so if students want Booster Juice they can go there,” said Van Koughnett. 

“There are a couple of locations in [the Student Centre] that will be closed because we’re trying to keep congestion to a minimum, if possible.”

Sean Van Koughnett, Dean of students

For classes, Dej emphasized that although bringing students back in person is important, the school is also mindful of offering flexibility. This includes a combination of online and in-person components to classes and more options for lectures to be recorded now. 

“[W]e have really invested in our learning spaces over the last 20 months. Most of our medium and large lecture halls have Echo 360, which is a capture tool that the MSU has been advocating for many years pre-pandemic and it means that live lectures can be streamed or they can be recorded,” said Dej. 

“[W]e have really invested in our learning spaces over the last 20 months. Most of our medium and large lecture halls have Echo 360, which is a capture tool that the MSU has been advocating for many years pre-pandemic and it means that live lectures can be streamed or they can be recorded,”

Kim Dej, Associate vice-provost

However, certain in-person components such as labs or tutorials may not offer an online option. If students are to miss those components, they would have to use a McMaster Student Absence Form for accommodations. 

Dej also added that she hopes students can make informed decisions about missing in-person lectures since in-person interactions can be uniquely valuable. 

With the MSU, Della-Vedova said that the plan is to introduce more in-person returns amongst staff and reevaluate at the end of January to see where things can go for the rest of the semester. 

“[A] number of our services will still be provided online, but will likely move more into that hybrid space where folks can access them a few select times a week in person,” said Della-Vedova. 

“[A] number of our services will still be provided online, but will likely move more into that hybrid space where folks can access them a few select times a week in person,” said Della-Vedova. 

Denver Della-Vedova, McMaster students union president

During this episode of MacDiscussions, concerns over the Omicron variant were also brought up. 

On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization classified a new variant known as Omicron as a variant of concern for the COVID-19 virus. This was soon followed by cases of the variant identified in Canada only a few days later. 

At the time of recording, McMaster had not announced any new changes to their operations as a result of the Omicron variant’s appearance and Van Koughnett said the school will continue to adapt should the government implement any changes.  

Unfortunately, soon after, a rapid rise in Omicron variant cases began to occur and on Dec. 14, McMaster announced that the first week of the winter semester will be entirely online. The school stated that this measure was taken to be proactive about safety concerns the new variant may pose. 

On Jan. 3, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, held a press conference to announce that the province will be returning to a modified stage 2 of the reopening plan as of Jan. 5. This includes a decrease in social gathering limits, reduced capacity limits in a variety of settings and the prohibition of indoor dining. Schools are also being moved to remote learning until at least Jan. 17. 

On Jan. 3, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, held a press conference to announce that the province will be returning to a modified stage 2 of the reopening plan as of Jan. 5.

As a result of these new provincial guidelines, on Jan. 5, McMaster announced that the school will be pushing back in-person classes. 

Starting Jan. 17, only labs, clinical and other high-priority hands-on activities will be taught in person. Then, on Jan. 31, first-year students will be returning to campus for in-person classes. In-person classes for all other students are scheduled to begin on Feb. 7. 

In-person classes for all other students are scheduled to begin on Feb. 7.

Other university operations such as food services will also be adjusted to align with provincial guidelines. Indoor dining will be closed in all eateries, but take-out is still available in certain locations and will be open as of Jan. 17. 

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