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

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Joyce Cooper (left) said she had to set an example for Tsilhqot’in communities by sharing her COVID-19 positive results. (Photo submitted)
Tsideldel off-reserve member documents experience of COVID-19

We should all be supporting one another and not judging each other, says Joyce Cooper

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Nuxalk Public Health Nurse Sophie Mack is all smiles as she vaccinates her dad, hereditary chief James Mack Sr., with his first dose of the Moderna vaccine (photo submitted)
Cases drop as vaccine continues to roll out in Bella Coola

Seniors at Mountain View Lodge, Nuxalk elders, hospital staff and long-term care residents have all started to receive their vaccines so far

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19:

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
2 years after his riderless horse was found, police believe Merritt cowboy was killed

Two years after he went missing, Ben Tyner’s family makes video plea for information

A ground worker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 unloads lobsters from a WestJet Airlines flight at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Trudeau teases stricter travel measures; Canadians flying to U.S. now need COVID test

Prime minister says measures need to not hurt imports and essential trade

Most Read