SFU faculty staff seriously concerned about return-to-campus plan

Aug 5 2021, 10:08 am

An open letter signed by over 40 members of faculty staff at Simon Fraser University (SFU) expresses serious concern over the SFU “Return to Campus” plan.

“We believe SFU’s planned COVID-19 response should not assume a low level of community transmission because a major wave of COVID-19 cases appears highly likely this fall.”

The letter was written by Lucas Herrenbrueck and Shih En Lu, both associate professors of Economics at SFU.

While Herrenbrueck references a potential surge in COVID-19 this fall, BC is currently in the midst of a resurgence in cases, reaching the highest total case count since May in the first week of August.

“We are writing to express serious concerns regarding SFU’s “Return to Campus” plan, as shown on the university website, considering our evolving understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of the highly infectious Delta variant.”

The letter suggests that higher education is particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, stating:

  • Unlike in most commercial settings, relatively large groups of people are expected to share the same room for long periods of time – up to three hours for many courses.
  • Unlike for most large gatherings, there is no practical way to cut capacity halfway through the fall if the situation worsens – short of a return to fully online instruction, which we all want to avoid.
  • Unlike in K-12 education, students cannot be placed in cohorts. Undergraduates take courses and socialize across departments and faculties, so an outbreak can rapidly spread across the university.

The letter asks the BC government to step in and go beyond the COVID measures that the general public has been asked to adhere to.

“This would mean, at a minimum, to stop asking universities to limit themselves to basic Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafeBC guidelines.”

There are a few specific recommendations the faculty hopes SFU will implement.

Recommendations include mandating vaccinations for students living in residences, citing that this is something that other Canadian universities have done, and lobbying for vaccine clinics on all three SFU campuses.

They’re also hoping for a mask-wearing requirement in all public indoor settings on campus, for at least the fall 2021 semester. They also want guidance signage posted on how to properly wear a mask.

They do give SFU credit for improving ventilation on campus and for conducting a rapid testing pilot, which they want to roll out to the entire community.

“If any organization should have the resources to stay up to date with the science and quickly translate it into evidence-based policies, it is an institution of higher learning.”

This letter comes just weeks after the UBC Alma Mater Society raised similar concerns about their return-to-campus plan.

Herrenbrueck tells Daily Hive that they’re now up to 61 signatures.

Daily Hive has reached out to SFU for comment.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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