As COVID-19 cases rise throughout the province and outbreaks occur at multiple Canadian post-secondary schools, McGill University has by comparison appeared to weather the pandemic relatively well. However, the loss of the social aspects typical of the first-year university experience have impacted incoming students’ decision to live in residence this Fall semester, raising the question of how health and students’ safety can be balanced with Montreal nightlife.
Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Fabrice Labeau sent an email to the student body on Sept. 9 that disclosed McGill’s “whistleblowing policy” and encouraged students to report unsafe activities happening on campus. Despite this measure, students in residence appear not to be complying with the regulations being put forward for their safety. Andrea Bloom, U0 Arts, who lives in New Residence Hall, believes that the university has failed to punish those who violate the health standards that they committed to uphold.
“I was once in an elevator interacting with a fellow student when I asked them where they were from, only to [have them] tell me [that] they were still in quarantine,” Bloom said. “[The student] said he was forced to go down to the cafeteria since the residence attendees failed to deliver the meals to his dorm. There is no logistical process to confirm whether quarantine rules are being met [….] Breaking rules within the residence […] is not even the most outstanding issue. It is mainly students going out in large groups to bars […] and then returning to the dorms.”
Western University has reported 39 COVID-positive students since Sept. 13, while McGill has only reported two positive cases. Emme Smith, U0 Science and resident of La Citadelle, noted the discrepancies between the safety policies between different student residences.
“Security has been rather intense in my building compared to the other residence halls, specifically concerning the number of people in a given room and sanitizing,” Smith said. “They watch over us at the front desk [of La Citadelle] and have confronted students, which is rare in New Residence [Hall]. Washing hands and sanitizing can only work for so long. I think McGill should require every student living in residence to get tested weekly to eliminate the possibility of asymptomatic students spreading COVID-19.”
Monique Lauzon, marketing and communications manager of McGill’s Student and Hospitality Services (SHHS), disagreed that students in residences are being placed in unsafe environments.
“Our self-isolation/quarantine protocol is in place,” Lauzon wrote in an email to the Tribune. “All-in-all, students have respected and followed this protocol. Staff is on site to monitor. Please note that under the protocol, students are permitted to leave their room to pick up food deliveries from the lobby as long as they wear their mask and sanitize their hands prior to taking the elevators.”
She pointed to the increased measures taken by SHHS to prevent COVID-19 cases in residences.
“The safety of our students and staff is our foremost guiding principle,” Lauzon wrote. “Since the start of the pandemic, our residences staff have been working diligently to ensure spaces are cleaned and sanitized to the highest possible standards and that physical distancing measures are in place. Extra staff is deployed on-site to provide extra support and security for students.”
Students like Bloom attested to the lack of concrete enforcement measures, though Lauzon denied that those living in residence were violating rules without being punished.
“Extra staff is on site to monitor the situation,” Lauzon wrote. “[They will] intervene if or when necessary.”