Some universities delaying return to in-person classes next month as COVID cases rise

By Maan Alhmidi

TORONTO – Some Ontario universities are delaying the start of in-person classes planned for January amid a rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

York University’s president said the school is making “modest adjustments” to plans for the winter semester, which aims to deliver most classes in-person and resume most on-campus activities in the new year.

The winter term will start on Jan. 10, she said, but the in-person delivery of courses and most on-campus activities will now start on Jan. 24.

“In light of recent guidance issued by the Ontario government, and reduced activity on our campuses due to the completion of classes, York University will be limiting in-person campus attendance to those who are required to help complete the term, effective immediately,” Rhonda Lento said in a letter to students Tuesday.

“From the start of term until January 23, all classes will be delivered in a remote format unless it is essential that they be delivered in-person.”

She also said holiday events and in-person meetings planned for this month will be cancelled or switched to a remote format.

McMaster University in Hamilton also notified its students that the winter semester will start as planned on Jan. 10 but in-person classes won’t begin before Jan. 17.

University president David Farrar said the school is making “short-term modifications” to its plans as it monitors the impact of the Omicron variant.

“We are asking instructors, with limited exceptions in clinical settings, to hold classes virtually for the first week with in-person instruction beginning January 17.”

“The remaining virtual exams (in December) and any programs still in session will continue as originally planned,” he said.

Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo said it is has cancelled all gatherings and meetings on campus during the holiday period and asked employees and students to cancel any planned off-campus events.

University of Waterloo President Vivek Goel and Vice-President James W.E. Rush said in a letter to staff and students that the school will share more information about its plans for next semester in the coming days.

“Scientists around the world are learning about Omicron every day,” they said. “We need to act to protect the things that are most important to us like keeping schools open and allowing our students to take exams and learn together in person.”

Queen’s University in eastern Ontario has also postponed in-person exams earlier this week due to rising COVID-19 case counts in the community. Exams will be changed to an “alternative delivery format” if possible, and those that must be done in person will be postponed until the new year.

That came after the Kingston, Ont., school confirmed a virus outbreak in the student community, and after the local health unit announced a case of the Omicron variant not linked to travel.

The University of Toronto said late Wednesday that it will not hold in-person exams effective Dec. 16 and will delay most in-person learning until Jan. 31 to help curb the spread of COVID-19 amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The university said online exams will proceed as scheduled and some in-person exams may move to online delivery. As for the winter semester, the university said classes will resume virtually on Jan. 10 – except for some courses in health sciences and placements that will resume in person.