Four months from in-person learning, here’s what we know about UBC’s plan for returning to campus

The BC government’s return-to-campus COVID-19 primer for post-secondary institutions outlined plans for full dorms and lecture halls, with the expectation of an immunized campus.

UBC’s campus return plan will be informed by the provincial primer, UBC Media Relations Director of University Affairs Matthew Ramsey confirmed to The Ubyssey in an email. The primer leaves universities with some flexibility, but many uncertainties, for how to manage the shift.

Here’s what we know about UBC’s plan for returning to campus so far.

Vaccines won’t be mandatory.

By September, most of the BC population will have had the opportunity to get at least one dose of a vaccine — but the primer states that vaccination will not be mandatory to return to campus.

“Current projections of the COVID-19 vaccine supply in BC suggest that all vulnerable and high-risk groups should be immunized this spring and the majority of the adult population by the summer,” wrote Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on April 30.

“Young adults aged 18–24 should receive the vaccine no later than the end of July, but more likely sooner.”

Although vaccine timelines are hard to predict, the primer emphasized the “worsening mental health, increased financial instability and diminished future prospects” of COVID-19 distance learning as reasons to return to campus in September.

“The timing of immunization should not be a determinant of planning for a return to on-campus activities,” wrote Henry.

Neither the primer nor UBC spoke specifically about vaccinations for students travelling to Canada from abroad — simply that international students living in BC are eligible for the vaccine.

Housing will be close to full capacity.

On-campus housing has been operating at a reduced capacity throughout the 2021/22 school year, but the primer said universities can plan for a return to full, or close to full capacity.

“We also believe ... dining and other on-campus student services will be able to return to normal or close-to-normal capacities,” wrote Henry in the primer.

UBC’s capacity clocks in at 12,500 beds: “one of the largest post-secondary purveyors of on-campus housing in North America,” according to Ramsey. Demand for housing is even higher.

In addition to the incoming first-year class, many second years have never lived on campus — likely increasing the demand for on-campus housing. UBC will not provide housing for all second years, but in its return plan, said it will work to “increase their likelihood of being offered housing.”

According to Ramsey, 800 to 1,000 more second-year students will be offered housing than they would in a normal year.

We’ll be back in the classroom.

Activities classified as “educational” are recommended to return to full capacity, according to the primer.

Although each university decides which activities are deemed “educational,” the primer includes orientation activities, academic field trips and lectures as examples.

For large lecture halls, the primer recommends students sit in the same seat each class to make contact tracing easier in the event of a positive COVID-19 test.

Students and staff are expected to maintain the same COVID-19 protocols that have hopefully become routine in the past year: staying home when sick, washing hands regularly and wearing masks indoors.

UBC is working to accommodate those who can’t return to campus.

Some travel restrictions will likely be in place in the fall — an area of unpredictability for international students.

UBC currently provides accommodation for international students during the mandatory two-week quarantine period, although it is no longer free. Students can apply for a subsidy if needed.

“We are monitoring the situation closely as on-campus resources are limited and demand for student housing is high,” Ramsey said of quarantine units.

Ramsey said the university is working to offer students online courses if they cannot come to campus due to travel restrictions.

The primer also acknowledges that some First Nations may still be under states of emergency, but UBC is still formulating plans to address potential differences in First Nations communities’ campus returns.

On concerns surrounding COVID-19 transmission, Ramsey said some faculty and staff members plan to continue to teach online into the winter term.

“A core team of UBC communicators from across the university meets weekly to discuss concerns among their communities emerging during the return planning process,” said Ramsey.

This feedback process includes meeting with faculty and community members who have concerns over the transition to try to make the delicate and complex process representative of diverse community needs.

The primer recommends universities take the possibility of more frequent staff absences into account when planning for a return to in-person learning.

“While community transmission is expected to be very low, employees may need to take time off or work from home if diagnosed with COVID-19, or advised to self-isolate or quarantine as part of the contact tracing process,” the primer states.

More information will be released here as UBC finalizes return to campus policies.