Dr. Henry and Minister Kang,
As many students in this province are set to return to campus for in-person learning, the extraordinary spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant represents a real and continued threat to the safety of post-secondary students and staff, specifically those who are immunocompromised. We, the undersigned, strongly urge the Provincial Health Officer to change the guidance issued to post-secondary institutions on December 21st, 2021, which “strongly recommend[s] continuation of on-campus instruction for post-secondary institutions in January 2022.”[]
Since the Provincial Health Officer’s guidance to post-secondary institutions was issued in mid-December, the COVID-19 situation in BC has drastically changed. As of January 20th, the total number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia was 305,715.[] The number of active cases in the province as of January 20th was 37,430, with a total of 2,520 deaths to date.[] In Canada as a whole, the total number of cases has increased to 2,868,862, with 32,220 deaths.[] The Omicron variant has shown “evidence of increased transmissibility,” as well as the risk of reinfection for those who have previously contracted a former variant of COVID-19.[] The highly transmissible Omicron variant poses a serious threat to many student demographics.
Post-secondary institutions must take an approach that acknowledges local health conditions, the size of their institution, and the needs of students and staff who are immunocompromised or living with those in high risk categories. For the safety of all students and British Columbians, institutions need to maximize their hybrid learning capabilities and allow students to attend online or in-person, depending on their own comfort levels and circumstances .
Post-secondary institutions look to the Provincial Health Officer for direction when making decisions related to COVID-19. The current guidance encourages institutions to take an approach that will result in an unsafe environment for students and staff. Every student navigates post-secondary education differently, and while there are those who prefer the in-person model, there are many students who face great risks to their health and safety by coming to campus.
Post-secondary institutions have been refining hybrid learning since the beginning of the pandemic. In the midst of the Omicron surge, post-secondary institutions must continue to utilize these online and hybrid learning models that help ensure the safety and well-being of all students. We believe the Provincial Health Officer should be encouraging them to do so.
[] Provincial Government of British Columbia, Ministry of Health, Office of the Provincial Health Officer, December 21, 2021, https://adm.viu.ca/sites/default/files/1217020-letter-to-psi-presidents-dec-21-2021-%28003%29.pdf (accessed January 12, 2022)
[] Government of Canada, “COVID-19 Daily Epidemiology Update”, January 17, 2022 https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-summary-covid-19-cases.html?stat=num&measure=total&map=pt#a2 (accessed January 12, 2022)
[] Government of Canada, “SARS-CoV-2 variants: National definitions, classifications and public health actions”, December 23, 2021, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/testing-diagnosing-case-reporting/sars-cov-2-variants-national-definitions-classifications-public-health-actions.html#a3 (accessed January 12, 2022)