The following message was sent to the McGill Community via email on Wednesday January 19th, and contains a useful set of guidelines for the January 24th Return-to-Campus:
Dear Members of the McGill community,
As we transition to more in-person learning activities, some members of our community remain concerned about safety at McGill. The Omicron variant has made us all more cautious, and the situation in Quebec is changing how we track the presence of the virus on campus. We will continue to adapt as the pandemic evolves, as we have in the past.
Those of you already on campus may have noticed new recycling bins for procedural masks. Starting on the 17th, procedural masks are now being recycled at McGill, thanks to the staff in Building Services and Procurement Services.
For administrative and support staff, academic staff and students who will be returning to campus soon, we wanted to review our key safety measures and how things went in the fall.
Safety measures to follow
- Wear your mask fully covering your mouth and nose at all times:
- Instructors must now wear their mask while teaching.
- Staff must now wear masks even if seated two metres or more apart.
- Change your mask every four hours or sooner if it becomes soiled or wet.
- If your mask is not fitting tightly, you can follow recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for a better fit: wear a close-fitting cloth mask over your procedural mask or use the “knot and tuck” method on your procedural mask.
- Cloth face-coverings worn without a procedural mask underneath are NOT permitted.
- A few exceptions to mask-wearing are allowed.
If you have COVID symptoms or test positive, stay home
- Before coming to campus each day, all individuals are required to complete the self-evaluation form.
- If you have COVID symptoms or have tested positive you are required to stay home and self-isolate.
- Short-term accommodations are available if you need to miss work or school for COVID symptoms or a positive test. Students and staff can complete the form in the personal menu of Minerva. Specific guidance is available for instructors who have to miss classes.
- Call McGill’s Case Management Group at 514-398-3000 if you are self-isolating because of symptoms or a positive test AND have been on campus in the 48 hours before symptoms started. This is very important so that we can identify and limit potential transmission.
- When on campus, cough or sneeze into your elbow, away from other people.
- Follow guidelines for distancing.
Ventilation in classrooms
- Throughout the Summer and Fall semesters, ventilation in classrooms (and exam spaces) was optimized, and CO2 levels were measured in rooms without CO2 monitors already built in. CO2 levels are a good indicator of the air exchanges per hour and most mechanically ventilated classrooms have automatic CO2 detectors. Once levels reach 800 ppm, the detectors automatically increase the air exchange in the room.
Safety in the university setting
- Throughout the pandemic, universities in Quebec have been very safe, with very few people catching the virus through on-campus activities.
- The INSPQ publishes data for outbreaks in different sectors on their site. (An outbreak is defined as two or more cases in a setting in a certain time frame, indicating transmission of the virus.) In mid-December, for example, when Omicron cases were beginning to rise sharply and testing was widely available for people (so the data is reliable), outbreaks in Quebec universities made up 0.1% of the outbreaks in all settings across Quebec. This is based on public health data, not university data.
Preventing outbreaks in our community
- In the Fall semester, McGill’s Case Management Group did contact tracing for every case reported to them directly or that they received information on from Montreal Public Health where the person was on campus in the 48 hours before symptoms started.
- In the fall, there was no evidence that anyone caught the virus through contacts in a classroom, even though 85% of our teaching activities were in person.
- Even as Omicron was beginning its rise in mid-December, any possible transmission the Case Management Group investigated on campus could be traced back to people having close contact without masks.
- People have caught COVID through interactions off-campus and then have come to the University while they were contagious, not knowing they were infected. But this fall, the contact tracing conducted revealed only a couple of instances of transmission on campus – which shows the measures have worked.
- This term, the information we will have to track the virus on campus will not be as complete as in the fall. The information in the Winter semester will come from calls to the Case Management Group, and requests for accommodations, without input from Montreal Public Health. The numbers will give us a sense of the trends, but not the absolute number of cases. There will be a mix of underreporting (people who do not report) and overreporting (people with COVID symptoms that may not be COVID, but who do not have access to tests).
Omicron has created new and unwelcome challenges that we have to face, but we will get through it. Before the end of the week, we will explain a bit more about the accommodations process, both short and long-term.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning)