Concern is high as Canadian schools brace for COVID-ravaged US students

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Pandemic-ravaged US post-secondary students prepare to return to school in Canada – a rite of passage that causes more anxiety than usual for parents and front-line university workers at work of COVID-19.At McGill University in Montreal, some employees are increasingly concerned as the school prepares to welcome international students to residences on campus, even those whose courses are fully online.

Parents, too, grapple with new and unknown concerns: the risk of infection on campus, the fact that border restrictions make in-person visits impossible, and the prospect of their children facing an anti-American backlash.

A McGill employee, who spoke to the Canadian Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work, said the base was concerned about another “fiasco” like the epidemic in long-term care homes. duration in Quebec, which represented 80 percent of the highest provincial total of deaths from COVID-19 in Canada.

“I’m in the office with, say, four colleagues and we’re all: ‘What’s going to happen? “In America it’s exploding like crazy, and people are supposed to be back in seven weeks,” said the employee, who described these coworkers as frontline workers – many in their fifties or sixties, with parents. elderly at home – who are usually in close contact with students.

“There are a lot of health related family issues that come with this. And, you know, maybe I wouldn’t be thinking about these things if I hadn’t seen America explode in such a mess.

Others, however, are convinced that the institution can ensure the safety of students and staff.

“Part of our mandate is not only to educate, but also to educate and protect these young adults,” said Franco Taddeo, who has worked in the McGill library network since the 1990s. “Honestly, as as father and Canadian, I would much rather have these students here for their safety and well-being than being in America today. ”

The new coronavirus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed 140,000 people in the United States, compared to 109,000 cases and 8,800 deaths in Canada. And it’s not the only thing that gives American parents sleepless nights.

They are well aware of reports that Americans – accused of failing to comply with travel restrictions – are victims of verbal assault in Canada.

‘My life awaits me there’

One mother, a dual citizen who has heard of American vehicle vandalism, purchased a leaf-sized magnet to attach to her car door that reads: “We are Canadian citizens and are done. our 14 day quarantine.

Since students can take the courses online, one might ask – why send them?

“We have to trust that she will make decisions to keep her safe, there or here,” said a mother, whose daughter is entering her second year at McGill and who fears for her if her name is released. The parents struggled over whether to let her go.

“I kept telling him, ‘I’d rather you stay at home and wait.’ And she said, “But my life is waiting for me over there. So we let her make the choice. “

Quarantine in residence

In a statement, McGill would only say that the fall courses will be offered “primarily through distance delivery platforms”, but that they develop learning and life activities on campus “that will respect protocols of rigorous security ”.

“We will continue to put the health and safety of our community first by working closely with public health authorities. ”

At the University of Calgary, some international students have spent the summer in residence to avoid returning to countries where the virus is rife or where travel restrictions have made it impossible to return home, said Susan Barker, vice-president. marshal in charge of the student experience. .

New arrivals will be quarantined at home, while some who have no living conditions will be sequestered in local hotels, Barker said. American students are not treated any differently from those elsewhere, she added.

“Our values ​​as an institution are just and equitable,” said Barker. “We haven’t had to make decisions that give students in one place preferential treatment over another. “

A quarter of U of T foreign students

Some American parents take comfort in knowing their children are fleeing the United States, where the newly resurrected virus is breaking daily records of new cases and deaths – fueled in part by partisan divisions over face masks, the reopening of businesses and the relaxation of physical distancing requirements.

“It’s completely bittersweet,” said the father of a second-year McGill student from a hard-hit southern state, who is also concerned that his child would be targeted.

The good news, he said, is that his daughter “made a connection, made a living and found a place in a culture and a country that has a certain sense of the common good.”

At the University of Toronto, where 23,000 international students made up nearly a quarter of the school’s 93,000 students last year, a detailed and comprehensive plan is underway to ensure the safety of all students, said Joe Wong , vice-rector of the school. and Associate Vice-President, International Student Experience.

Last year, the University of Toronto had 722 undergraduate and 514 graduate students from the United States, and so far 268 new American students have accepted offers of admission, he said.

“The three levels of government are coordinating right now – they’re really setting the bar very high in terms of what is a safe corridor for students and universities across the country,” Wong said.

“I can’t speak for others, but I know they are all working really hard at it, and the plan we came up with at University of T… goes above and beyond what most people expected.”

Students from outside Canada will be quarantined on campus for 14 days whether or not they plan to live on campus, Wong said. These quarantines will include daily check-ins with staff, meals delivered to their rooms, and “after-school” programs while students pass the waiting period.

“When they come out on the other side of quarantine, if they are healthy, they will join the rest of the students who are on campus – of course, physically removed and in accordance with all health authority regulations.” , did he declare.

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