September Return Update

By College Relations | August 27, 2021
           

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

Hello to the OC Community,

I would like to begin by respectfully acknowledging that Okanagan College's Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon campuses are located on the unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan, our Salmon Arm campus is located on the unceded territory of the Secwepemc, and our Revelstoke Centre is located on the unceded territories of the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc, Sinixt and Syilx.

On-campus and in-person experiences are important to the personal and professional development of so many learners and many young adults have been hard hit by the pandemic and the related responses. It is with that backdrop that we have planned diligently to return to in-person learning this fall. It has been a very eventful few days in terms of new public health guidance in that regard.  Following the announcements this week of the BC Vaccine Card, a provincial mask mandate, and of new health and safety directives for post-secondary for the fall, Okanagan College and other BC Colleges convened with the Ministry and the PHO to seek further guidance on how we can continue to keep our campus environments safe and healthy for a full return to campus this September.

I was heartened by the depth and breadth of the discussions, and by the assurances once again from public health that our College environments have been and continue to be safe. These conversations focused on the low risk for COVID-19 transmission in structured educational settlings like our classrooms, labs, and shops and many of our temporary interactions like passing each other in the halls.

We continue to respect and trust the opinions and directions provided by the experts at the PHO. They have heard our voice and concerns and have provided us guidance relative to our specific environment. As we have seen over the duration of the pandemic, the PHO regularly updates and adapts their guidance based on the available science and public health data. Moreover, we continue to be in regular contact with the medical offices to discuss and advocate about our spaces and how the public health information can be used to continue informing and supporting us in creating a safe environment. Given the PHO’s responsiveness to the evolving nature of the pandemic and concerned stakeholders, I would anticipate that we will continue to see an evolution in health orders over the coming weeks and months.

The recent measures introduced by the PHO include the requirement for masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces, including in lecture theatres, classrooms, shops, and labs. Learning activities are exempt from restrictions on gatherings; this means OC’s small, student-centric teaching spaces do not fall within current health orders. When it comes to non-learning related gatherings and services, limits do apply, and we are making sure that all planned activities and services for the fall adhere to those guidelines.

Starting in September proof of vaccination will apply to Okanagan College in the context of students living in College-provided housing, as well as to some students in health sciences programs. Moreover, students, employees, or members of the public participating in discretionary elements of campus life – such as stopping in for a meal at Infusions, to name one – will need to be vaccinated. We are working with the guidance from earlier this week to compile a list of environments in which the vaccine requirement will apply and will communicate those directly once complete. As we have seen in the broader public, I would anticipate that these limitations will continue to encourage vaccination in members of the OC community.

Following the guidance of the PHO, and consistent with other colleges, we will not be requiring students to be vaccinated to access their on-campus education at this time except where required by PHO orders. Similarly, we will not be requiring vaccinations for employees at this time, except in areas where PHO orders apply.

With that in mind, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated for yourself and those around you. I would encourage you to look visit the Interior Health immunization page, or the Province’s Vax for BC page, to make an appointment or find a community drop-in session near you. 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.

One of the things I would like to stress is that this fall will not be the time to “tough it out” when you are not feeling well. Please complete your personal daily health check before you come to campus. If you are feeling unwell, stay home and get tested. Knowing that we want people to be proactive in keeping our campuses healthy, we are working toward guidelines to support staff and students in having what might be an uncomfortable conversation with a peer or student and the supports need for those who are sick.

Have a read through OC’s Communicable Disease Plan to see the steps we’re taking to keep campus environments healthy and safe, and the steps we can all take to do so. While on campus even in non-public spaces, remember you need to mask up indoors and any time you can’t maintain distance from other people. Practice good hand hygiene. And above all, let’s please remember that this yet again a time when we all must show kindness and grace to one another.

As we welcome back our students to campus, I want to acknowledge once again the dedication and hard work of our OC team members, as well as the ministry and our provincial health partners, in helping us uphold the health and safety of our students and employees so far and going forward. We know pandemic conditions will continue to change and evolve. As PHO guidance changes, rest assured, we’ll follow it. And rest assured we continue to carefully monitor the situation, work closely with Interior Health, the PHO’s office, and the Ministry to adapt as we need to.

With luck, you will find the time and space, where you can, to rest and take care of yourself and those around you over the coming week as we approach the start of September.

Respectfully,

Neil Fassina

President, Okanagan College



Tags: COVID-19, COVID-19 employees, COVID-19 students, Inside OC

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