By Zachary Flynn
NAIT is choosing to maintain its early January start to the winter semester, despite moves by the provincial government and the University of Alberta to move back start dates by one week.
“We are confident our health and safety protocols, which are aligned with provincial public health measures, will continue to keep the risk of on-campus transmission low during the winter term,” said Sue Fitzsimmons, VP Academic & Provost at NAIT.
“By beginning our winter term as planned, we can continue to deliver our full range of programming options and ensure NAIT students are able to receive their education as scheduled. It also allows us to avoid extending or condensing courses into a shorter time frame, which would put additional pressures on many students and unfairly disadvantage those enrolled in courses with shorter durations,” Fitzsimmons said.
The University of Alberta chose to shift its entire winter semester back by one week including the start dates and exams. The beginning of their winter semester will be January 11.
While the U of A has seen 147 cases and one outbreak on campus as of December 18, NAIT has only seen 85 cases and has not experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus.
Matthew Lindberg, dean of the school of skilled trades, said that the lower case numbers and lack of outbreaks are due to the safe practices that NAIT has put in place for its in-person lab classes.
“With culinary arts, understanding that there were many tight spaces in areas students were working in, we split cohorts in many of those classes in half, bringing the classes down to around 10. In welding, they’re working in their own individual booths, so you’ve got a lot of engineered barriers in place, so we were able to keep those cohorts at 30,” said Lindberg.
“As students were entering and exiting those spaces, we had to make sure there was good traffic flow and that we had a good process in place for those high-touch points. So tools that were being used by one student were cleaned before that student left, and as a new student came into that space, they were also cleaning that equipment.”
Lindberg said that while the semester is set to begin on January 4 and 6 for apprenticeship and diploma & certificate programs respectively, in-person labs may not start right away.
“With all of our staff, we’ve encouraged them to look at the material that will be delivered in the first week or two of classes. If there is an opportunity to move some of that online, reduce the traffic on campus and give everyone an opportunity to become more familiar with online learning platforms, we’ve encouraged our programs to do that,” said Lindberg.
Of the 85 total cases as of December 18, there are only five total active cases.
Three of those come from students on the main campus. These students must undergo isolation or receive a negative test before they are allowed to return to campus.
For students in lab-heavy programs like many of those in the school of skilled trades, these quarantines can leave students far behind.
“We’ve had a couple of cases within our school where students have not been able to attend for a couple of weeks and I just have to give a huge shout out to the instructors who worked with those students to catch them up on material,” said Lindberg.
Lindberg is grateful for the firm adherence to safety protocols by both staff and students, who have been key players in keeping NAIT’s COVID-19 infection numbers so low.
“I want to give a huge shoutout and a thank you to those students and staff who have been accessing campus, following the protocols and safety procedures. Without them working with everyone else in the community, we wouldn’t have been able to safely relaunch our programming to the scale and magnitude that we did,” he said.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19 over the winter break, NAIT is still asking that those students complete a COVID-19 incident report and submit it to campus health services.