The University of Alberta Students' Union (UASU) recognizes that the aggressive Omicron variant is driving a rapid fourth major wave of COVID-19 infections. While Omicron is not yet well understood, new cases and test positivity are rising at a faster rate than in previous waves.
Due to sharply rising COVID-19 numbers, the University and the provincial government have decided to shift most classes online, and take other safety measures, until at least January 23. Other post-secondary institutions across Alberta and the rest of Canada are taking similar measures against Omicron.
"Students need as much clarity, safety, and predictability as the University can provide, as early as possible," said UASU President Rowan Ley. "As the Omicron situation develops, students are making hard choices over the next few days about personal safety, housing, and the return to school."
The UASU continues to call on the University to strengthen masking recommendations, distribute high-quality masks to student-facing staff, and keep students promptly and clearly informed of all developments. The University will also need to take serious measures to preserve the quality and accessibility of education.
"The add/drop deadline needs to be extended to the end of January," said Abner Monteiro, UASU VP Academic. "That will give students a chance at an in-person educational experience before they need to commit to keeping or dropping classes. The University also needs to stop persistent EClass crashes and ensure the established equity issues of remote proctoring don't make a comeback."
For the vast majority of students, remote learning was a frustrating and unsatisfying experience. Remote proctoring and other accessibility challenges have had deep impacts on equity, especially for students of colour, disabled students, or students without stable internet access or safe living situations. The University will need to prevent these inequities from recurring over the coming weeks.
"Like the rest of the student body, we find this situation intensely frustrating," said Monteiro. "We're ready to do our part to limit transmission, get booster shots, and get the new wave under control. We hope it'll be safe to return to in-person classes very soon."
If you or a loved one need access to vaccines and COVID-19 testing, please see the Government of Alberta's rapid testing and vaccine distribution programs. For more information on mental and physical health support, see UASU Cares, an interactive wellness resource designed to connect you with the services you need. If you wish to connect with UASU leadership about our advocacy on these issues or additional supports, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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