This message was originally sent to employees by Vivek Goel, President and Vice-Chancellor, and James W.E. Rush, Vice-President, Academic and Provost.
Earlier this week, we asked you to make some changes to the way that we work at Waterloo considering the Omicron variant of COVID-19. We asked you to:
- cancel all in-person end-of-year gatherings and all non-essential meetings on campus, and
- work from home whenever possible.
We have endeavoured to ensure students can complete requirements for the current term. The last in-person exams are scheduled for Friday, December 17, with the remaining exams next week scheduled to be online.
This week we have continued to discuss plans for the winter term with public health officials. While we remain hopeful that we can get back to in-person experiences, the introduction of the Omicron variant has altered the trajectory of the pandemic.
While much remains to be learned about this new variant, it is clear that it is spreading at a much faster rate than previous variants, and there is a decreased immune protection to disease transmission from both previous infection and immunization. There is evidence that two doses of vaccine provide a degree of protection from severe disease. A third dose provides greater protection for disease transmission and severe disease. Data is still emerging on the severity of disease caused by this variant, but even if it is less severe, with the rapid transmission even in highly immunized populations, there will once again be risks of overwhelming our already stretched health care system. Furthermore, with the high transmissibility of Omicron, there may be very high levels of absenteeism as large numbers of people are required to go into isolation.
We will need to do our part to reduce levels of contacts in the community to flatten the curve and ensure time for people to receive third doses of a vaccine.
This means we need to make some short-term changes to our plans based on the guidance we have received from public health officials.
Learning and working will happen primarily online prior to January 24
When the new academic term begins on January 5, we will start teaching and learning online. We expect to return to in-person experiences as of January 24, as public health conditions allow. We are extremely grateful that so many instructors have made plans for this eventuality.
- We know that some learning must continue to happen in person. Some courses and learning activities, including clinical programs and some lab-based experiences, will continue in person. Students in these courses can expect to hear about academic plans from their program or faculty.
- Our residences will remain open for those students living there. Our residence community can expect to hear more from Campus Housing over the next few days.
- Access to campus will remain available for employees with essential work to complete or continue, and instructors who need to make preparations for the winter term.
- Food Services and Athletics facilities will continue to operate in line with provincial guidelines and we will continue to make some study spaces available on campus. In all public places, you must continue to wear a mask and physically distance from others.
- Research activities will also continue in person, and researchers can expect to hear more from the Vice-President, Research and International if any changes are required to current research activities.
From today, employees who can work from home should continue do so until January 24. Academic buildings will remain open, except for holiday closures during which access can be arranged where necessary for essential academic and research purposes.
We will let you know about any changes to these temporary plans in early January
These changes are designed to promote safety, to give us all certainty in another period of change, and to give us all time to get booster shots when we become eligible. We remain hopeful that taking these actions now we can get back to our plan to expand in person experiences for everyone this winter.
We will continue to work closely with public health officials over the winter break and if these temporary measures for the winter term need to change or be extended, we will let you know as soon as possible in the new year.
We know changing plans at this point in the year is difficult and creates extra stresses for many of you. We also acknowledge that the current situation requires you all to dig deep into your reserves of energy and passion for the University that have been drained over the last two years. We are extremely grateful and proud of the resilience this community has shown throughout the pandemic. Despite these late changes the new variant is forcing, we hope you are able to stay safe and rest over the winter break.
Please keep watch on your email, our social media channels, and the COVID-19 website for more help and information.