Update on wildfires in the region; COVID-19/Return to Campus
Watch a video message from OC President Neil Fassina, or read the full message below.
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.
I can only hope that this finds you and your loved ones safe and well given the distressing activity in wildfires across the region over the weekend. I know that this has been a lengthy and stressful fire season for many students and employees. The last couple of days and weeks have been particularly trying. As you likely already know, there was rapid and aggressive growth in the Mount Law, White Rock, and Nk’Mip Creek fires – triggering further evacuation orders and alerts. We know that OC students and employees are being impacted by these fires – and in some cases, dramatically. If you have been impacted by an evacuation alert or order, please let your supervisor know. We are here to support you however we can.
Over the last number of months, I have been humbled by the compassion and consideration everyone has shown to each other and our students. It is a true testament to our community’s resilience and strength to come together and support each other. As we band together, remember to take care of yourself and remind your colleagues to do the same. Do not forget that you are able to access supports through the College’s employee and family assistance program. For our students, they are able to access counselling supports through counselling services or the hear2talk.ca website.
I am aware that the increased fire activity in the region comes at the same time as we are seeing the impacts of the COVID Delta variant in our community.
In recent days, we have heard from students and employees who are concerned about the increase in cases in our region, particularly in the Central Okanagan. Please know we hear and truly appreciate your concerns, questions and feedback on the situation. We continue to share your feedback, seek guidance, and remain in frequent and ongoing communication with Interior Health, the Province and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training as the situation continues to evolve.
As you know, the health and safety of our students and employees remains our first priority and has been since the beginning of COVID-19. It continues to be the key consideration in every aspect of our planning for a safe and healthy return to campus this September. As we continue to navigate the uncertainty before us, I am impressed by the adaptability and resiliency of our team members as they continue to adjust in creating locally relevant solutions for OC. These efforts have been ongoing throughout the pandemic and our teams continue to explore how best we can maintain and ensure our systems meet the expectations of Provincial Health Office, WorkSafeBC, the BC Centre for Disease Control and other industry standards.
I know that some of you may be wondering or have asked whether the College will introduce mandatory masking rules or vaccine protocols. As you can likely see in the media, this is a topic that is currently being discussed at institutions across the province. For Okanagan College, our planning related to safety measures for September have been and continue to be guided by the Go Forward Guidelines, Provincial guidance, and health orders – both provincial and local.
We understand from Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recent townhall on Aug. 12 and other information available to us that the PHO and Go Forward Committee are in discussions regarding these topics. We expect to receive further guidance this week. When that guidance comes, rest assured we will continue to rapidly and yet carefully adapt our plans – and keep you informed of any changes. As hard as it is with September on the near horizon, we are waiting for further clarity with respect to updated guidelines before taking a coordinated action as a college. In the meantime, masks are required indoors at our Kelowna campus and they remain strongly recommended at all of our other facilities.
On that note, I wanted to take a moment to say how proud I am of the work that has been completed to date by the various transition teams in planning for a safe start to our fall semester, and to express my gratitude to the OC team members who are making those plans come to life. These transition teams have certainly benefited from many examples during the pandemic of how members of the college’s team were able to effectively deliver exceptional learning experiences as well as support services both in-person and remotely - safely. I know that these plans are often adapting and changing – sometimes even by the day. This is a testament to how responsive our teams can be. Thank you for the dedication, understanding, compassion and grace you continue to show. As we have throughout the pandemic, I know the people of OC will continue to work together to address the challenges that come our way.
Similar to many voices in the region, the College continues to share and promote the guidance regarding the importance of vaccinations. We continue to strongly recommend that all members of the OC community who are able to be vaccinated visit the provincial and regional IH vaccination information pages to register, learn how to access drop-in and other community vaccination efforts, and review information through these sources to make an informed decision about vaccination. As part of this effort, we are working toward having vaccination clinics on all campuses in early September – dates, times and locations for these will be shared on our COVID-19 / Return to Campus page as soon as they are finalized this week.
It is not lost on me that a number of our students and employees have family that are under 12 who as of yet cannot be vaccinated, and that we all share concern for the health and well-being of those vulnerable individuals in our lives. Dr. Henry did have some positive news regarding vaccinations for this age group during her Aug. 12 town hall, and we’ll look for and share any updates on that front as they arrive.
While each of our situations and concerns will be unique, know that you are not alone during this time - and know that the College will do everything we can to support you.
Thank you for your patience and understanding while we continue to update and adapt our planning.
As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to your supervisor or other members of the leadership team at the college. We want to ensure that you have the information you need to be successful as we continue to navigate some uncertain times.
President, Okanagan College
Tags: COVID-19, COVID-19 employees, COVID-19 students
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