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

Kootenay West Candidates (L to R) Glen Byle (Conservative), Katrine Conroy (NDP), Andrew Duncan (Green), Corbin Kelley (Liberal), Fletcher Quince (Independent, Ed Varney (Independent).
Q&A with Kootenay West candidates: Opioid crisis

Seventh in a series of Q&As with the candidates, look for a new set each morning.

IRIS coordinator Sandi McCreight and one of the program’s volunteers have been preparing meals for more than 100 local seniors. Photo: submitted
IRIS offering flu clinic, COVID info session for Castlegar seniors

Castlegar’s IRIS Project is continuing to offer supports for local seniors

Touchstones Museum has opened up Nelson’s Cold War bunker to the public. The unique exhibit includes artifacts from the 1950s and 60s. Photo: Tyler Harper
Take cover! Cold War bunker opens to public in Nelson

The shelter was built in 1964 in case of nuclear fallout

Nelson’s Brian Boyes has been awarded a provincial honour for coaching junior golfers. Photo: Submitted
Nelson golf coach wins provincial honour

Bryan Boyes was honoured for his work with young golfers

Kootenay West Candidates (L to R) Glen Byle (Conservative), Katrine Conroy (NDP), Andrew Duncan (Green), Corbin Kelley (Liberal), Fletcher Quince (Independent, Ed Varney (Independent).
Q&A with Kootenay West candidates: Child care

Sixth in a series of Q&As with the candidates, look for a new set each morning.

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Volunteer registered nurse Stephanie Hamilton recieves a swab from a driver as she works at a Covid-19 testing site in the parking lot at Everett Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
13 more COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

There are 624 cases in the region since the start of the pandemic

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Most Read