Dear members of our Faculty community,
Our world has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet we have persevered to continue to offer world-class education and conduct leading research. Indeed, I am immensely proud of our contributions.
In the fight against SARS-CoV-2, members across our faculty, including learners, have directly contributed to patient care, while our scientists have made important contributions. The rapid development of effective vaccines against a previously unknown pathogen – a scientific triumph built on years of basic research, including McGill research – means we can look forward with cautious optimism. But, we must temper our hope by acknowledging those who have suffered in our community, and in India, Latin America and other regions where the pandemic continues unabated.
Despite continuing concerns, in Quebec, and at McGill, we have begun planning for a “new normal,” with the hope we will come back better, not only as an institution and a Faculty, but as a society. Once again, I would like to say how very thankful I am for all you have done throughout the last many months, academically and administratively, and for your ongoing support as we prepare for the next phase.
Over the last weeks, the University has held Town Halls and sent updates about its preparations for the summer and fall semesters. The most recent presentation, by Fabrice Labeau, McGill Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), is summarized here. McGill is planning for five possible scenarios, with the anticipation that, by fall, we will be in the “Realistic” or “Realistic plus” category. The central team is continuously monitoring provincial and national data with respect to vaccine efficiency and rollout, case trends and other criteria, consulting with our own Faculty experts in the process.
In both the Realistic and Realistic plus scenarios:
- A sizable percentage of the population is expected to have received the first vaccination dose.
- Public health guidelines will include wearing masks and keeping one metre apart.
- The University will schedule as many on-campus academic activities as possible, including labs and lectures with fewer than 150 people.
- We will see a transitional return of administrative and support staff of approximately 30%.
The University aims to complete its planning this month. From that point, together with McGill’s Emergency Operations Centre, we will begin the operationalization phase, including development of directives, guidelines, approval processes, etc. These will be introduced by mid-summer.
The University will provide guidelines on distancing, numbers allowed in a specified space and other factors, regardless of the scenario. Each Faculty and its individual units are expected to finalize local plans based on their academic and operational needs and space.
- Academic planning:
- Academic planning for the fall is well underway:
- Schools have submitted fall scheduling requirements for in-person teaching activities and the space allocations for these teaching requests are currently in progress.
- Some Schools are proposing a blended approach, with online lectures complemented by in-person activities (e.g., small group teaching, laboratory sessions, workshops).
- As part of the planning, Schools will be asked to confirm space needs for in-person assessments/exams, particularly if outside of class time, after which exam hubs and other spaces will be allocated accordingly.
- Each School will communicate its plans locally once completed.
- Academic planning for the fall is well underway:
- We anticipate the Faculty’s current level of research activity to continue through the summer and into the fall, subject to public health directives.
- Any changes will be communicated through our usual research channels and on the Faculty’s Research Office website.
- Administration and Operations:
- We have initiated a special working group, led by Executive Director Demetra Kafantaris, to review best practices and different approaches to working from home, to support our transitional return and inform us in our planning going forward.
- Working closely with McGill’s Central HR team and University leadership, our goal is to respond to the need for flexibility expressed by administrative and support staff, based on the positive experience and lessons learned in our Faculty over the past 15 months.
- Faculty buildings:
- The Faculty’s Building Director Office is working with the University and local planning teams to identify rooms required for in-person teaching activities (teaching, eating, study space, etc.), as well as the capacity of each, based on the one-metre distancing.
- The Office continues to support ongoing return-to-campus activities via its website, providing accesses and liaising with various groups to ensure safety and sanitary protocols are in place.
- Extracurricular activities and in-person social events:
- Importantly, extracurricular activities and in-person social events are currently not permitted; looking ahead to the fall, those that comply with all directives will be considered on an exceptional basis.
A measured and appropriate transition
We expect the return to campus to be gradual, metred by government directives, academic imperatives, and the specific needs of our schools and units. In recent Faculty leadership and Faculty Council & Town Hall meetings, we heard from you that guidelines, communication and mental health are key. We understand that, in these uncertain times, regular communication is critical:
- As we cross major milestones in our planning, I will update you regularly by email.
- On Tuesday, May 18, we will provide an update at the regularly scheduled Faculty Council (FC) & Town Hall meeting, at 4:30 p.m.
- We will hold additional Faculty and Administrative and Operations Town Hall meetings in June, again to update you and ensure you have the opportunity to ask questions; we will hold additional ones before fall, if needed.
- We will publish updates in the Faculty’s Health e-News every two weeks; even if there is no major news, we will touch base all the same.
- Updates and links also will be available in the coming weeks on the Faculty’s COVID-19 page and other local websites, such as our Research site.
- As mentioned earlier, University updates are available on the McGill Coronavirus webpage.
We understand that the situation remains very stressful for many, and the prospect of a return to campus unnerving. In the event you are feeling anxious or distressed, you may find helpful suggestions reading How to Manage Return Anxiety As the Lockdown Lifts. McGill and the Faculty are also there to support you. Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the Employee and Family Assistance Program, or other resources available to staff and faculty. Learners may avail themselves of resources available through the WELL Office, via Student Services or keep.meSAFE. For clinical faculty, you can additionally make use of resources available to you via your health care institution or through the PAMQ.
I would like to underscore the importance and significance of the work currently being done to ensure a safe return on-campus by the fall, and more specifically what our own Faculty is also doing in collaboration with McGill’s Emergency Operations Centre.
While it may be too soon to appreciate what we have learned over the past 15 months as a result of this health crisis, I believe the knowledge we are gaining will help to make us stronger for the future.
Thank you, everyone, for all you are doing in support of our academic mission. Stay well.
Dr. David Eidelman
Vice-Principal (Health Affairs)
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences