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Provincial Health Officer recommends return to in-person classes, UBC, UVic to briefly go online

Returning to in-person classes at universities is being recommended by B.C.’s provincial health officer in the new year.

In a letter to post-secondary schools, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she feels in-person classes should continue citing classrooms being low risk for transmission. Henry said, “a move to online instruction is not an effective means of reducing COVID-19 among students, faculty, and staff, or in the wider community.”

She also added the move to online in 2020-21 caused a negative response from students who reported higher mental health issues and greater economic impacts.

Public health will monitor the situation and make changes depending on the situation, according to the letter.

“At this time, public health experts in B.C. strongly recommend continuation of on-campus instruction for post-secondary institutions in January 2022,” said Dr. Henry.

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“Public health continues to monitor Covid-19 to ensure that safety measures are informed by evolving evidence. In the event that the recommendations need to change, the PHO will discuss with post-secondary institutions immediately.”

In response to the letter, Vancouver Island University (VIU) announced Dec. 22 that they will plan to offer in-person classes in January.

The university said that returning students will have guidelines to follow as they return including vaccine recommendations and/or requirements, testing and contact tracing and following of provincial health guidelines in place.

While North Island College (NIC) has not given an announcement, in an interview with Vista Radio Academic Vice President Tony Bellavia said the college is planning to return to class in January and will follow Island Health recommendations.

The University of Victoria (UVic), however, has decided to move to online classes for the beginning of the school year. Classes will be online from Jan. 10 to 24 with some in-person components like labs in person.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) also announced classes will largely be online until at least Jan. 24. However, they say some portions, like clinical, performance or studio components, will continue in person with safety protocols.

UBC plans to return to in-person classes after Jan. 24, but is monitoring the situation.

Dr. Henry recommends students follow safety protocols, receive vaccination, and keep schools open to reduce outside, unstructured gatherings that they say have higher rates of transmission.

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