Message from the President: Omicron and Safety Concerns

Dear Colleagues,

On 13 December I wrote a letter to President Ono expressing the Faculty Association’s concerns about the January term in light of the spread of the Omicron variant. I raised specific questions about UBC’s contingency plans for January (especially about how faculty who are teaching in January should be planning their courses right now), about the mask mandate, and about the availability of rapid antigen testing. On 15 December, President Ono wrote back. It is important for you to read his letter.

As you will see, President Ono’s response on contingency planning begins:

“To respond to your first question, at the current time, there is no reason to think that circumstances will prevent courses going ahead as planned in January. That said, there is much we don’t know about the trajectory of Omicron, and it is too early to speculate what the picture will look like on the 10th of January.”

What we have seen already is that several Canadian universities, especially in Ontario, have moved their courses mainly online for at least some portion of January—and this despite the fact that the public health measures in Ontario in response to Omicron have been much more robust than they have been in BC. We have also seen case numbers in BC rise and in other parts of the world rise spectacularly. New travel restrictions are coming in and many students might be unable to come back to our campuses. Moreover, as those of you teaching in January know, when you are planning your courses you need to think seriously now about whether you are in-person or online—it is closer to too late than to too early for this planning. So, my own advice to you, for what it is worth, is to prepare for online delivery and in-person delivery. I am sorry that this means, yet again, a substantial increase in your workload—and at holiday time. But it seems the most prudent course of action.

An additional piece of information you might wish to have in thinking about January teaching is this passage from a memo from the Registrar to the Vancouver Senate (Page 30). It is about student compliance with the mandatory testing program:

“At this time roughly 9800 students across both campuses of UBC are not in compliance with the Program due to not having declared their vaccination status, and a further ~6250 have declared their status but are not compliant due to not having uploaded proof of vaccination. A substantial number of students have also not been undergoing regular testing; however, approximate numbers are not available at time of writing. While some of these persons may be located outside of Canada, it seems unlikely that such a large number of persons are unvaccinated given overall trends in Vancouver and Kelowna, and thus this issue is likely one of disregard for the University’s earlier broadcast messages on the Campus Rules.”

These numbers indicate that perhaps more than 20% of UBC students are not currently compliant with a policy brought in to secure the safety of our community during a pandemic. This is both disappointing and potentially dangerous.

I hope that the holiday break brings you some comfort, some rest, perhaps even some joy.

Alan Richardson