Students and staff are returning to in-person classes at College of the Rockies' campuses across the East Kootenay. Photo courtesy College of the Rockies.

College prepared for return to in-person learning at East Kootenay facilities

Staff and students are preparing to head back to College of the Rockies’ campuses across the East Kootenay for the fall semester starting Sept. 7.

The post-secondary institution requires mask-wearing in all indoor spaces at college facilities, and proof of vaccination is required for living in on-campus residences as well as for non-essential services like participating in inter-collegiate sports, intramural sports, club events or organized social gatherings. Masks must also be worn in the gymnasium or in the cafeteria, but do not need to be worn when working out or when seated to eat, respectively.

In addition to the mask mandate and proof of vaccination, staff and students are also encouraged to conduct daily health checks and stay home if experiencing any symptoms.

Given that the province mandated a return to in-person learning for colleges and universities, the COVID-19 protocols weren’t a surprise, according to Paul Vogt, President and CEO of College of the Rockies.

“They shifted pretty dramatically a week ago,” said Vogt, in an interview with the Townsman. “but I think we anticipated there would be some changes and we were ready to apply them and I think if there are any changes down the road, we’ll be ready to apply those.

“The pandemic is proving to be pretty unpredictable so I think the watch-word has been flexibility and just being very attentive to what the situation is on our campuses.”

Vogt said he doesn’t believe there were any identified transmission of COVID-19 cases on campus facilities since the pandemic began last year, when it was operating with 40 per cent of in-person student capacity.

“We really want people to have confidence and there’s obviously anxiety about the fourth wave,” Vogt said, “but we feel that the campuses, particularly with the precautions we’re taking, it’s a low-risk environment.”

International student enrolment is predictably down in light of international travel restrictions, however domestic student enrolment is stable and tracking similar to last year’s numbers, according to Vogt.

Larger institutions such as the University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University are implementing vaccination disclosure programs or policies and rapid testing protocols for those who are not or choose not to be vaccinated.

Post-secondary institutions are not permitted to deny prospective students an education based on their vaccination status and the College is also currently talking with union representatives about vaccination status amongst staff.

“We are talking to our employees and the union representatives and they’ve not taken a position that there should be a vaccine requirement for employees either,” Vogt said, “so at this point, we’re not anticipating having a requirement, but I have to immediately say, of course we’re encouraging everybody to get vaccinated and we don’t see any reason not to get vaccinated unless you have a doctors note or some kind of health restriction.”

On rapid-testing, the College is following the guidelines from the Public Health Officer (PHO), which doesn’t recommend routine testing as a way to mitigate COVID-19 risk, according to a COTR spokesperson. However, the College is focusing on promoting vaccination as a first line of defence, but is also prepared to implement other safety measures as recommended by the PHO.

To that end, the College is hosting pop-up clinics on Sept. 8-9 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. for anyone in the college community to get a COVID-19 immunization. No appointments are necessary.

Plans for a return to K-12 and post-secondary institutions were unveiled by government cabinet ministers and public health officials last week.

“I know how challenging the past 18 months has been, and I am grateful for the work Dr. Henry and her team are doing to help guide post-secondary institutions as they make their plans for a safe return to in-person learning,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, in a press release. “The pandemic has been difficult on students, faculty and staff at B.C.’s colleges, institutes and universities, and with these added measures we can continue to move forward and come back together safely.”