EDMONTON — Alberta’s three major research universities are expanding online learning as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly.
The University of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge say virtual classes will continue for another six weeks.
Students who have been online since returning from vacation must return to their campus on February 28.
Schools say data shows Omicron cases continue to rise and will not peak until later this month or early February, making it prudent to extend online classes.
“So far, this variant has resulted in fewer hospitalizations than previous variants, but it is highly contagious,” University of Calgary President Ed McCauley said in a statement posted Friday on the University of Calgary website. school.
“Our decision to temporarily suspend the return to in-person teaching and learning will allow the University of Calgary to play its part in reducing the spread.”
All three universities will remain open, but with physical distancing and other COVID-related health rules in place.
“Fewer people on our campuses mean more physical space for those who need to complete in-person work and learning activities,” University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan said in a statement.
“It also means fewer close points of contact, which ensures that we keep the community as safe as possible while maintaining key in-person courses as well as critical operations and services.
“Our announcement today is a commitment to return to campus, at the right time.”
The Opposition NDP says Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government must take responsibility for not providing the resources needed for all schools to prepare for Omicron, including high-quality N95 masks, rapid tests , air quality audits and upgrades.
“The burden of making these important health decisions continues to fall on schools after the UCP cut its budgets by $690 million,” said NDP Higher Education Critic David Eggen.
“UCP refuses to support these universities, colleges and polytechnics during the pandemic, and it is the students, staff and faculty who are paying the price for UCP’s neglect.”
Alberta had just over 64,000 active cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest on record during the pandemic.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says the true number is likely 10 times that number, given that testing can no longer keep up with the volume of COVID-19 cases. The test positivity rate in Alberta was nearly 41%.
There were 822 people in hospital with the disease, up from 786 a day earlier, including 81 in intensive care.
Hinshaw said data shows those who are immune are less likely to need intensive care, but warned Omicron still has the potential to flood hospitals with patients and shut down the healthcare system.
K-12 students across Alberta returned to in-person learning this week after a week-long winter break extension to prepare for Omicron.
Schools are getting extra masks and rapid test kits, but Kenney said Thursday shipments of millions of federal government tests are being delayed with no new delivery date set.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 14, 2022.