NASA response to new return-to-campus measures

NASA is encouraged by the August 17 announcement by the University of Alberta of new measures to help ensure a safe return to campus for staff, students, and faculty. The new measures include rapid testing/vaccination requirements, mandatory masking, and isolation requirements for those showing COVID-19 symptoms.

We are pleased that the new measures are largely in line with what NASA and many others in the campus community have been advocating for since President Flanagan’s inadequate August 6 announcement. However, we are frustrated that university leadership continues to respond to and involve the broader community only after important decisions have been made. The failure to meaningfully consult with students, staff, and faculty prior to the initial announcement of plans for the return to campus has led to needless anxiety and delays in necessary preparation to implement these new measures in time for the start of the fall semester.

Despite being broadly supportive of the announced measures, NASA has a number of questions about the implementation and enforcement of these measures. Our concerns about who will be responsible for these new measures are especially important given that more than 1,000 staff have been laid off due to provincial cuts to post-secondary education funding and those remaining are in the midst of a major restructuring of their work and responsibilities.

How frequently will rapid testing be required for unvaccinated individuals and will testing also be available to those who are vaccinated? How will a positive test for a staff member or student be managed? How will visitors to campus be screened? Who is responsible for enforcing mandatory mask rules? Why does the university continue to focus on the two metre distancing despite evidence of airborne transmission of the virus? Will remote working still be an option for those who are not required to work in-person? How will accommodation concerns be addressed?

In short, the devil is in the details.

We recognize that many details of the new plan are still to be developed and we hope to update you as more information is shared with us. The delay in announcing these measures means that timelines are extremely tight, with the university indicating the process for self-declaration and other details will be in place by August 25. We hope that university leadership will learn from the failings of its return-to-campus planning to date and better involve student, staff, and faculty representatives in making these important decisions around implementation.

These concerns aside, we would like to thank President Flanagan for listening to the concerns of the campus community and responding with improved measures. More importantly, we’d like to congratulate all those students, staff, and faculty whose advocacy and pressure has resulted in a more balanced approach for all those who are returning to campus.