One year ago today, Queen’s shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 12, 2020, Queen’s has transitioned to online learning, closed campus services, implemented a testing centre on campus, experienced two lockdowns, and reported a total of 115 cases in the student community since the pandemic started.
This week, The Journal sat down with Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor in the Department of Medicine at Queen’s, to examine some of the major pandemic events at Queen’s over the past year.
The COVID-19 pandemic started making global headlines in January, 2020. The pandemic was initially met with denial, Evans said.
“There were a lot of people who were very much ‘oh well, maybe it’s being overplayed and is not a big issue,’” Evans said.
The Journal’s first coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic included stories “Students from Wuhan organize to send medical supplies home,” published Jan. 28, 2020, and former Undergraduate Trustee Tyler Macintyre’s apology for attending the coronavirus themed-party in early February.
“The most common thing I was asked was ‘How long do you think this is going to be here?’” Evans said. “I remember at the time saying if you’re an optimist, maybe three or four months, and if you’re a pessimist, probably six to eight months. Lo and behold, here we are 12 months later.”
March 12, 2020: Campus shuts down
On March 12, 2020, Principal Patrick Deane sent a University-wide email declaring that the following day, all in-person classes would be cancelled, and the remainder of classes would be delivered remotely.
According to Evans, the University faced major concerns of community spread due to the highly concentrated nature of Queen’s campus and the University District.
“The perspective university-wide was the concern that [COVID-19] would take off in the university community because of the nature of the student body, especially with the undergrads and students in residence.”
Following the closure of the University, The Journal reported that Queen’s cancelled spring convocation 2020 on March 19. The University later announced that all diplomas would be mailed to graduates, and that convocation ceremonies would be held virtually. Queen’s gave students the option to declare winter 2020 courses as pass/fail, and on April 2, the first case of COVID-19 was detected at Queen’s.
On May 11, the Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region was declared clear of all cases of COVID-19. The University announced that all classes would be held remotely for the Fall 2020 semester. The AMS reported that plans for several services were up in the air. In July, Queen’s made masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces. In August, The AMS Pub Services (TAPS) announced it would close for the 2020-2021 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revoking several student job offers.
Following a summer period of low case numbers in the Kingston region, community concerns grew when students began to return to campus. According to Evans, the return of students posed an “existential threat” to the community.
“The city itself was very worried about what the impact [of returning students] would have because at that point, Kingston was pretty good. Kingston looked very safe,” Evans said.
“An outbreak that could have occurred that is centred around the university and students would pose a major threat in essence to the surrounding community.”
Amidst community tension regarding students returning to Kingston, The Journal published an editorial urging students to follow public health guidelines. Principal Deane noted that students would be held accountable if they were caught breaching public health policies, with expulsions being options for punishment.
In September, Queen’s opened a COVID-19 testing centre on campus. Homecoming was held virtually, and the Kingston Police thanked the “vast majority” of Queen’s students after only $880 worth of fines were issued. On Sept. 22, Queen’s announced the winter semester would also be online.
When the semester came to a close in November, Queen’s had reported a total of 53 cases of COVID-19 in the student community.
The winter break: a second lockdown
Following the Ontario government’s announcement of a second lockdown going into effect on Dec. 26, Queen’s urged all students to avoid Kingston until the end of January.
On a global scale, reports of a new variant of COVID-19 were mentioned in the U.K.
In early January, Kingston experienced its first and only death due to COVID-19, Queen’s Professor Emeritus Robert Pike. KFL&A announced the first detection of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. in Kingston. On Jan. 12, Ontario entered a state of emergency and a stay-home order ensued.
Following a number of parties on campus in the fall term, the University declined to comment on how students were being held accountable for breaking regulations. After announcing two homecomings would take place in the fall of 2021, the University backtracked on plans to have in-person homecoming celebrations.
On Feb.10, Kingston entered the green zone as the state of emergency and lockdown was lifted. AMS services gradually reopened, while Deane announced at the February Senate meeting that Queen’s was anticipating a full return to campus for the Winter 2022 semester.
COVID-19: The Anniversary
On March 2, Kingston’s vaccination centre opened its doors at the Invista Centre. One year after the pandemic, Queen’s has seen a total of 115 cases in the student community, with the most recent outbreak of the virus occurring on the third floor of Watts Hall.
According to Evans, the vaccine will “change a lot” in relation to COVID-19.
“[The vaccine] will get us back to some degree of normality, in just that there will be a major push on that if you’re not going to die from COVID, you’re not going to get super sick from it, it’s just like a regular respiratory infection.”
When asked about what lessons he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Canadians in the last year, Evans noted that he hopes people are more empathetic toward each other.
“The motto in the spring was ‘we’re all in this together,’ and then as this evolved over the last eight months or so, the attitude has been more like ‘every dog out for himself’ kind of idea. We have to get back to that concept of where we place our values in life.”
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