Outdated pandemic policies are harmful to student wellbeing

A review of COVID-19 policies is long overdue

Sasha believes the university should reassess strict COVID-19 policies.

Approximately two years ago to the day, our lives were turned upside down. With the onset of the pandemic, much of the university—including recreation clubs—shuttered.

Two years later our risk calculation has changed. However, rapidly enacted policies are still lingering, creating a heavy burden on student clubs on campus.

At this point in the pandemic, Queen’s policies for recreation clubs are having a net negative impact on students.

I returned for my fifth year as president of the Queen’s University Outdoors Club—one of the largest clubs on campus. We were eager to get our club back on its feet. In previous years we had over 300 members offering services people are often unable to find outside of a university environment.

Our club typically runs trips, hosts social events, lends gear, and teaches kayaking in the pool, all for a low annual membership fee. We created a strong community, reduced the high financial barrier to outdoor activities, and improved the mental and physical health of students.

Restrictions put in place on recreation clubs like ours have made it extremely difficult to provide those services and have exacerbated inequities in the student population.

First, no activity for any recreation club was allowed in September and October—the ideal period for outdoor recreation.

In November, any activity we wished to complete required prohibitively long “return to activity” documents. After spending more than 40 hours filling out these documents, it took over six weeks to receive feedback on our plan.

Given the school year only spans eight months, these policies lead to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

It’s important to put this into perspective. Some of the largest outdoor clubs in the country have remained active throughout the pandemic.

The Calgary Outdoors Club is a much larger operation that serves the entire city of Calgary, and their COVID-19 policy is concisely summarized in five pages.

Similarly, the UBC Varsity Outdoors Club’s policy is largely hands-off, trusting student leaders to make well-informed decisions that don’t breach public health restrictions.

In Ontario, McMaster University and the University of Ottawa operate outdoor clubs permitted to run trips and rent out gear with minimal restrictions. Other university clubs in the province are also able to run trips with more streamlined return-to-activity frameworks.

Queen’s has made a cognizant decision to implement strict policies.

Throughout the pandemic, students have been charged a $300 Athletics & Recreation fee. Despite this required fee, the services this money should fund have been shut down or restricted.

This is coupled with the university reaching an unprecedented budget surplus of $144.8 M in the 2020‑21 year. It’s unfair and dishonest that the ARC claims to offer “more than 20 different recreation clubs” on campus when they’re hindered from returning to activity.

A key facet of our club is our gear lending library. As an executive team, we saw this as the most vital aspect of the club to revive this year. With two months left, we have been able to operate this facet, albeit at a limited capacity. Our most popular gear—including tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks—are unable to be lent out because they’re soft, difficult-to-disinfect surfaces.

This is due to the university’s faulty assumption that unsanitized surfaces are a major risk factor. More significant risk factors are students crowding together maskless in downtown bars and being allowed to workout at the ARC without masks on.

Plenty of other incongruencies exist—like the education department being allowed to run an overnight cabin trip in the fall and varsity teams being permitted to return to sport before recreation clubs.

I can’t say running our club doesn’t have its risks. But I think students should be fully informed of the possible risks of these activities and be able to choose to engage with them if they’d like.

When our club joined the ARC a decade ago, we merged in good faith that we could provide access to gear for all students. The total control the University has over access to the equipment room goes against the intention of the agreement we made.

Queen’s has already taken many steps to limit risk through mandating vaccines, implementing Q‑Secure checks, and requiring masks for on-campus activities. Additional restrictions have a marginal reduction in risk, hampering student experiences and leading to several unintended consequences.

Students are becoming resentful. More importantly, they’re creating their own groups unassociated with Queen’s, shifting the liability from the University onto the students.

Shifting COVID-19 risk onto students directly contradicts the University’s goal of “a collaborative approach to ensure our programs and services reflect leading practices.”

The shutdown in March 2020 was justified—we had a poor understanding of how severe this virus could be. Two years later, we have learned to coexist with it, and we can move forward together.

As student club leaders, we’re passionate about what we do. As full-time students, it’s difficult to share that passion when harsh restrictions are put in place without consultation.

I urge Queen’s to review its COVID-19 policies and procedures to make it easier for us to resume our important role on campus.

Sasha is a fifth-year Geological Engineering student.

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