Return to Campus update: new orders and more information to come

By Public Affairs | August 24, 2021

"COVID-19 Return to Campus" text on blue background with illustrated students hanging out around the letters and graphics.

Hello OC students,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying the remaining days of summer as the fall semester draws nearer. We’re looking forward to seeing you and welcoming you to campus soon. To those of you who have already begun or resumed your studies this month, welcome! I hope your first days in the class, lab or shop have been rewarding.

The last couple of days have brought significant and far-reaching new health orders and guidance that will affect us at Okanagan College. I want to thank you in advance and ask for your patience and understanding as we consult with the Ministry and Public Health to inform our planning for September and onward. Above all, your health and safety, along with the successful delivery of your education and overall on-campus experience remain our highest priorities.

BC Vaccine Card announcement; initial proof of vaccine guidance to post-secondary

Yesterday, Premier John Horgan and Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the rollout of the BC Vaccine Card, the province’s new proof of vaccine program. As of Sept. 13, for people 12 and older, one dose of vaccine will be required to access an array of discretionary settings, services, and events. By Oct. 24, entry to these settings will require people to be fully vaccinated. Affected spaces include indoor ticketed sporting events, indoor and patio dining in restaurants, fitness centres, and indoor organized events, like conferences and weddings. You can find more details about the program on the Province’s Vaccine Card page, including the full list of settings.

Although Monday’s announcement would have impacts for OC, Dr. Henry, joined Anne Kang, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training today to provide further clarity around the potential impacts of a proof-of-vaccine requirement in higher education. Specifically, student housing was identified as part of the public health order identifying where proof of vaccination is required, and that this requirement will be in effect for Sept. 7 (first dose). Minister Kang informed us today that we can expect to receive more information and guidance imminently this week; we’ll share this with all students, and particularly the guidance and expectations for students living in College provided housing, as soon as we possibly can.

Included in this morning’s announcement, Minister Kang identified that post-secondary institutions may implement their own proof of vaccine requirements for employees that exceed the BC Vaccine Card requirements and/or the list of settings covered by the public health order. Individual institutions will be responsible for working with public health and doing their own due diligence. We are currently working with partners in the sector to understand the potential implications of this significant change in direction for Okanagan College.

For purposes of clarity, Dr. Henry stated that while PSIs can implement vaccine policies for employees, we cannot do so for students in the same way. This means, based on what we know today, we are unable to mandate students be vaccinated to access education at OC. Proof of vaccination can only be required for students to access certain non-essential high-traffic services on campuses, students living in college provided housing, and students in health sciences programs with practicums in high risk health care settings. If anything changes on this front, we will keep you informed. If you are a student in an affected program, you can expect communication directly from your instructors of Dean’s office. As we continue to seek clarity, your feedback and questions about OC’s return to campus are always appreciated and you can provide them to us online here at any time.

Mask Mandate announcement

Also this morning, Dr. Henry announced a new province-wide mask mandate for indoor public settings across BC, as well as a new mask mandate for post-secondary, effective Wednesday, Aug. 25.

While this represents no immediate change for Okanagan College – as are already operating under a mandate in the Interior Health region as announced last week (more on that below) – this new order from Dr. Henry will be in place until at least Oct. 24. As Dr. Henry has indicated, this measure represents a vital way to help protect our community heading into the fall, while more people continue to be vaccinated. Just a reminder that under the current conditions, masks are required for all employees, students and visitors in indoor common areas at Okanagan College, including learning environments such as classrooms. You can read more in our mask directive here.

COVID-19 Return to Campus Guidelines

As we have noted before, a primary source of guidance for the College is the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guidelines initially released in July. Minister Kang reiterated this morning that the Return to Campus Guidelines are being revised; as soon as the new guidelines are released, we will adapt our Communicable Disease Plan and all other pertinent planning measures and protocols to follow suit.

Rest assured that the College will be following the guidance issued today – consulting with other institutions and with public health to determine what makes sense and is relevant to our context, which is deemed far lower risk than settings such as health care. As soon as determinations are made, we’ll communicate out and work to ensure expectations and requirements for students, employees and visitors to our campuses are clearly understood.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to strongly encourage all students and employees to be vaccinated as soon as possible, and to support this however we can.

Vaccine Clinics on Campus – Sept. 7

On that note, Okanagan College has partnered with Interior Health to offer vaccination clinics for students and employees. These will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 7 on the Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm campuses and offered on a drop-in basis – no appointments needed. You’ll find other community clinics, drop-in and pop-up events on Interior Health’s immunization page.

Reminder of last week’s new region-wide orders from Interior Health

In case you missed it, a reminder that on Friday, the PHO and Interior Health also implemented new region-wide health orders that will remain in place until the end of September and Interior Health experiences lower cases and higher vaccination rates. Read the full orders here.

Thank you and stay tuned

In closing, I want to acknowledge it is not lost on me that the shifting pandemic conditions and evolving health guidance we are all digesting this week, no doubt brings uncertainty and uneasiness to the OC community. These are more challenging times than we had hoped to find ourselves in as September approaches. That said, the dedication of the OC community continues to inspire at every turn.

And while these new orders represent a significant shift for us, I’m pleased to see the new health measures being put in effect and have been heartened by the depth and breadth of dialogue with the Ministry and the PHO on these considerations for our sector. With luck, these new measures that are being put in effect now will significantly and swiftly improve conditions in the region and across the province. We remain deeply grateful to our public health experts for the work they are doing to listen and adapt, while we continue to heed their guidance and take confidence from their assertion that environments such as ours are and continue to be safe.


Neil Fassina

President, Okanagan College

Tags: COVID-19 students, COVID-19



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