The Roddick Gates are monumental gates that serve as the main entrance to the McGill University campus are seen on November 14, 2017 in Montreal. Canada’s universities are bracing for an influx of students next month from the United States, where the worsening COVID-19 pandemic is setting fresh records every day for new infections and deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Roddick Gates are monumental gates that serve as the main entrance to the McGill University campus are seen on November 14, 2017 in Montreal. Canada’s universities are bracing for an influx of students next month from the United States, where the worsening COVID-19 pandemic is setting fresh records every day for new infections and deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Anxiety high as Canadian schools prepare for students from COVID-ravaged U.S.

Some U.S. parents are taking comfort in knowing their children are escaping the U.S.

Post-secondary students from the pandemic-riven United States are getting ready to go back to school in Canada — a rite of passage that’s causing more anxiety than usual for parents and front-line university workers alike in the age of COVID-19.

At Montreal’s McGill University, some employees are growing worried the school prepares to welcome foreign students into on-campus residences, even those whose courses are entirely online.

Parents, too, are wrestling with new and unfamiliar concerns: the risk of on-campus infection, the fact border restrictions make in-person visits impossible and the prospect of their kids facing anti-American backlash.

One McGill employee, who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work, said there is concern among the rank and file of another “fiasco” like the outbreak at Quebec’s long-term care homes, which accounted for 80 per cent of the highest provincial total of COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

“I am in the office with, like, four colleagues and we’re all, ‘What’s going to happen?’ In America, it’s blowing up there like crazy, and people are supposed to be coming back in seven weeks,” said the employee, who described the group as front-line workers — many in their 50s or 60s, with elderly parents at home — who are typically in close contact with students.

“There are a lot of family concerns related to health that are connected with this. And, you know, maybe I wouldn’t be thinking about these things if I hadn’t seen America erupt into such a mess.”

READ MORE: Thousands of lives on hold as immigration system remains largely shut down

Others, however, have faith the institution can keep students and staff safe.

“Part of our mandate is to not only educate but nurture and protect these young adults,” said Franco Taddeo, who’s worked in McGill’s library system since the 1990s. ”Honestly, as a father and Canadian, I would much rather have these students here for their safety and well-being than being in present-day America.”

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed 140,000 in the U.S., compared with 109,000 cases and 8,800 deaths in Canada. And it’s not the only thing giving U.S. parents sleepless nights.

They’re well aware of reports of Americans — accused of flouting travel restrictions — facing verbal abuse in Canada.

One mother, a dual citizen who heard tell of U.S. vehicles being vandalized, bought a looseleaf-sized magnet to attach to her car door that reads, “We are Canadian citizens and have completed our 14-day quarantine.”

Since students can complete course work online, one might wonder: why send them at all?

“We need to trust that she’ll make decisions to keep herself safe, either there or here,” said one mother, whose daughter is going into her second year at McGill, and who fears for her if her name is made public. The parents wrestled with whether to let her go.

“I kept saying to her, ‘I would prefer you stay home and wait.’ And she was like, ‘But my life is waiting for me there.’ So we’re letting her make the choice.”

In a statement, McGill would say only that fall courses will be offered “primarily through remote delivery platforms,” but that they are developing on-campus student life and learning activities “which will respect careful safety protocols.”

“We will continue to place the health and safety of our community first by working closely with public health authorities.”

At the University of Calgary, some international students have spent the summer in residence to avoid going back to countries where the virus is rampant or travel restrictions made going home impossible, said Susan Barker, the vice-provost in charge of student experience.

New arrivals will quarantine in residence, while some who lack living arrangements will be sequestered at local hotels, Barker said. Students from the U.S. are not being treated any differently from those from elsewhere, she added.

“Our values as an institution are about fairness and equity,” Barker said. “We haven’t had to make decisions that give students from somewhere preferential treatment over another.”

READ MORE: Long-term psychological impact of COVID-19 a concern for kids and parents, experts say

Some U.S. parents are taking comfort in knowing their children are escaping the U.S., where the newly resurgent virus is shattering daily records for new cases and deaths, fuelled by partisan divisions over face masks, reopening businesses and easing physical distancing requirements.

“It is completely bittersweet,” said the father of a second-year McGill student from a hard-hit southern state, also worried his child might be targeted. The good news, he said, is that his daughter “has made a connection, made a life and found a place in a culture and country that has some sense of the common good.”

At the University of Toronto, where 23,000 international students comprised nearly a quarter of the school’s 93,000-strong student body last year, a detailed and comprehensive plan is in motion to ensure the safety of all students, said Joe Wong, the school’s vice-provost and associate vice-president, international student experience.

Last year, U of T had 722 undergraduates and 514 graduate students from the U.S., and so far 268 new American students have accepted offers of admission, he said.

“All three levels of government are co-ordinating right now — they really are setting the bar high in terms of what is a safe and secure corridor for students and universities across the country,” Wong said.

“I can’t speak for others, but I know that they’re all working very hard to it, and the plan that we put together at U of T … goes above and beyond what most people expected.”

Students from outside Canada will be quarantined on campus for 14 days, regardless of whether they are planning to live on campus or not, Wong said, with daily check-ins with staff, meals delivered to their rooms and “co-curricular” programming to take part in while they ride out the waiting period.

“When they come out the other side of the quarantine, if they are healthy, then they will join the rest of the students who are on campus — of course, physically distanced and according to all the health authority’s regulations.”

James McCarten , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusstudentsUniversities and Colleges

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

On Nov. 16, Saanich council received the 2020 Housing Needs Report which provides a summary of the district’s housing market and the anticipated future needs of the municipality. (District of Saanich)
New report highlights need for diverse, affordable housing in Saanich

Saanich Housing Needs Report shows current supply doesn’t meet community needs

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read