Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Off to another good start--StFX successfully transitions to winter term

February 16th, 2021

StFX students are now nearing the midway point of the second semester of face-to-face classes, and by all accounts, the start of the winter 2021 term is going well.  

It was no small undertaking, with over 1,300 students required to isolate for 14 days after the Christmas break. 

StFX VP Students, Elizabeth Yeo, says the COVID-19 Steering Committee and staff synthesized feedback from students, parents and staff and analyzed developments to review and improve the January plans for students required to quarantine following the holiday break. StFX, she says, worked with provincial authorities and committees to gain support for developments and changes to existing protocols and plans.

Among new protocols this term was the introduction of online classes for all students for one week during the quarantine period, as well as the unexpected introduction of a mandatory quarantine for students arriving from New Brunswick. These students hadn’t previously needed to isolate.  

In all, 450 students from outside Atlantic Canada and around 100 from New Brunswick quarantined in residence between January 4 and 24. Faculty and staff volunteers and short-term contract students helped support these students. Off-campus, about 800 students were in quarantine due to travel. The Alumni Office, through StFX’s Neighbours Helping Neigbours program, coordinated with about 250 community, staff and alumni volunteers, who called, emailed, and delivered groceries to these students.  

Ms. Yeo says something that stood out for her was the faculty willingness to begin classes online while the non-Atlantic Canada students were in quarantine, so that the non-quarantine students could stay in their home communities. This enabled the university and the community to focus on supporting students during quarantine and keeping everyone safe. And StFX faculty commitment to supporting StFX students really shone through when the faculty seamlessly extended the online class period for an additional week to accommodate the provincial government requirement for New Brunswick students to isolate for two weeks. “Being able to begin classes online for the second week was welcomed. The students appreciated the structure, the ability to be productive during quarantine and the connection with the faculty and other students in their classes. The additional week of online classes helped immeasurably to support the varying needs of all of our student groups.” 

Another key difference was the large group of staff and faculty volunteers and short-term contract students who provided support and supervision in the residences for the extended period. “The extra hands made all the difference and the transition back was very smooth,” she says.  

 “Also, the students knew what to expect and seemed very prepared. Also being able to begin classes online for the second week was welcomed. The students appreciated the structure, the ability to be productive during isolation and the connection with the faculty and other students in their classes.”

She says there were no breeches of the Quarantine Act, and students did an amazing job doing their part for the safety of the community. “We are very grateful for the support of both faculty and staff for students during isolation and for our amazing Alumni Office for their coordination of this effort.” 

Isolating students in residence, who had their meals delivered to their rooms in September, saw a change in January. The students, under supervision, were able to walk to Morrison Hall to select and pick up their meals to bring back to their dorm rooms. “This was popular because it provided additional opportunities to get outdoors for a walk in addition to outdoor time. It also permitted the students more choice with food selection, which was welcomed by our residence students,” Ms. Yeo says.  

HR Advisor Alison Sampson took the lead on scheduling volunteers and hiring/scheduling student staff in the roles of residence monitors when it was decided that the isolation and meal delivery would look different this term. “It was determined that we would need 40-50 people per day to staff the 11 residences. Over the course of three weeks, that totaled almost 5,000 hours,” she says. “We put a call out in early December looking for staff volunteers, to see how many of those shifts we could cover with current resources. We were really pleased to have 66 staff members give their time to work multiple shifts (including Linda Hakin, wife of StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin, who volunteered for seven breakfast shifts). Staff volunteers were able to cover about 30 per cent of the shifts,” she says. “To cover the rest, I hired 60 student staff. Some were able to work two-three shifts, where others worked 15-20 shifts over the course of three weeks.” 

The residence monitors escorted students to meal hall three times per day (ensuring they followed all public health guidelines), escorted them to scheduled outdoor recreation time and helped with deliveries (take-out, groceries, packages) to student rooms.  

“It was a big undertaking, but it was a great opportunity to work in a different capacity on campus.” 

Once again, the Alumni Affairs Office coordinated its StFX’s successful Neighbours Helping Neighbours program with about 250 volunteers picking up groceries for 449 students. More volunteers participated in wellness calls with over 400 isolating students.

Alumni Affairs Director Shanna Hopkins said new this term, volunteers supported an off-campus house as opposed to a single student, and supported students on campus who needed groceries. The program proved extremely valuable, not only for delivering groceries, but also helping students with other needs throughout their isolation. She said several alumni referred students, who had reported insomnia and other issues, for mental health services. 

“It was a lot easier this time. We had so many volunteers who wanted to help. They did it the first time and enjoyed it. The alumni really enjoy it. It’s a way to give back and show them this is our community and if we all do our part, we can keep everyone safe.”

While StFX successfully navigated the fall term without a single COVID-19 case, in January, three students (not related to each other) tested positive shortly after arriving from out of the province. “All three were isolating properly and following the protocols while travelling and there was no further transmission resulted from these cases. All have recovered,” says Ms. Yeo. “We were well practiced from the first term at moving students into quarantine and the protocols for supports and meal deliveries. The students who tested positive were provided daily monitoring by Public Health and one of our nurses from our own Health and Counselling Centre also provided medical support and regular wellness check ins.”

Other differences from last term included provincial and federal quarantine requirements for international students. StFX underwent a rigorous process in the fall to develop and meet provincial and federal public health standards for residences, isolation protocols, transportation, facilities etc. Meeting the standards was required to quality for Designated Learning Institution (DLI) Status, which enabled international students to travel into Canada and Nova Scotia. StFX provided accommodation, monitoring and supports for all international students arriving to StFX from outside of Canada.

Similar to the fall, StFX hosted town hall information sessions and updated communications materials to prepare students, their families and the community for the January return to campus. 

Ms. Yeo says student feedback concerning the isolation period was positive and in particular, many students expressed appreciation for the ability to join classes online while in isolation.  

Once again, she says the Students’ Union and Student Services delivered an online program of activities during isolation for students on and off campus to engage students with each other virtually and entertain them to combat boredom and loneliness, particularly during the first week of quarantine and during weekends and evenings.

The province, under the direction of Public Health provided the opportunity for students to be tested for COVID-19 on Days 6–8 of quarantine (rather than three mandatory tests as provided in the fall.) “The PAC reported they were very pleased with the numbers of students who voluntarily were tested.”

As in the fall, she says the province required students to check in daily during their quarantine using the provincial app, and the university followed up for any student who missed the daily check in to ensure that everyone was safely quarantining. All students were required to quarantine for the full 14 days. “The PAC reported they were very pleased with the numbers of students who voluntarily were tested.”

Ms. Yeo reflected on the importance of the wider Antigonish community to the students’ successes. She says that says the response of community members from the Town and County, both over the holidays in support of students who stayed in Antigonish, together with the community support for students required to isolate has been remarkable. 

“Over Christmas, local merchants and citizens reached out to help students celebrate the holidays in Antigonish through direct to student donations of catered holiday dinners and Christmas stockings. Thank you to Bethany Theuerkauf and Pat MacGillivray for coordinating the events and activities and the band of merry elves who stuffed and delivered stockings to every student who stayed in Antigonish! And a sincere thanks to all the community volunteers who delivered groceries, ran errands or reached out with friendly calls, funny videos, and cheery notes. StFX and Antigonish together exemplify the very best in what it means to be part of a caring community.”

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