Rising COVID-19 cases spark concern over in-person exams

‘Think of the long-term costs in terms of your school’s reputation’

Student petitions Queen’s to move exams online.  
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in the Kingston region, with the surge suspected to be linked to the omicron variant. A change.org petition created Dec. 9 is calling on Queen’s to move exams online to prevent further spread of COVID-19. 

Abby McLean, ArtSci ’23, believes the current situation surrounding fall semester exams is “precarious.”

“Proceeding with in-person exams is very dangerous given the current state of COVID-19 in Kingston, especially with the recent student-athlete outbreak,” McLean said in an interview with The Journal

In an email sent to students on Dec. 9, Queen’s announced several actions taken in response to new outbreaks—including moving remaining Fall 2021 classes online, limiting campus retail food locations to takeout-only, and requiring students using Athletics & Recreation (A&R) facilities to wear a mask at all times.

In the same email, Queen’s confirmed in-person exams will “remain as currently scheduled with enhanced precautions in place.”

“Students are reminded not to come to campus for any in-person exam if they feel at all unwell. Known contacts of positive cases should follow public health guidance. Timely academic consideration will be granted in these instances,” the email read.

McLean’s petition has surpassed its goal of 5,000 signatures.

“Queen’s claims that there are protocols in place for exams in person to be done safely. There's a lot of photo and video evidence that I've been sent, and some of it is in the letter I published, showing how that's not being enforced at all,” McLean said. 

McLean is unsure if academic accommodations will be granted fairly and promptly. 

“I have heard from a lot of students that they have tried to explain their situation of needing to be isolated because they are in close contact. They have been told by either the exams office or the academics consideration team that they need a positive COVID-19 test,” McLean alleged. 

“One girl reached out to me—her whole house has COVID-19 so she can’t go back to her house to write her exam. She emailed the exam office to write it online, and they said to stay in a hotel, which is not financially feasible for the majority of students,” she said. 

McLean said she understands why the accommodations approval process is in place, but said she believes it should be more diligent and time-sensitive during the exam season.

While Queen’s recently announced the COVID-19 testing centre has reopened in Student Wellness Services in Mitchell Hall, McLean feels the current rise in cases could have been mitigated if the testing centre had remained open all semester. 

Despite the backlash students received for holding large gatherings during Homecoming and  throughout the term, McLean said students need more support from Queen’s to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“From an epidemiological standpoint, it is important to know how we arrived at a situation like this,” she said. “It shouldn't matter how people got COVID, because the fact is that they have it and there's no going back.”

McLean thinks the University should consider the impact of their decisions on whether or not prospective students choose to attend Queen’s in the future.

“I would urge you to think of the long-term costs in terms of your school's reputation [and] future enrollment,” McLean said.

“Do people want to come to the school that doesn't prioritize the safety and the well-being, not only of students, but of the wider Kingston community?”

Administration acknowledged that Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health has indicated some suspected cases involving the omicron variant could be among the Queen’s community.

“Confirmation of the Variant of Concern is pending,” Julie Brown, media relations officer, wrote on behalf of the University in an email to The Journal.

“The university is continuing to work closely with KFL&A Public Health on measures to address the Queen’s situation as part of an overall rise in COVID-19 cases in the region.”

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