Coronavirus: How Edmonton post-secondary institutes are responding to the pandemic

Colleges and universities in Edmonton are updating their plans after Alberta’s top doctor issued new, stricter guidelines on public gatherings and travel.

In her daily update on Thursday, chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw called for all events with more than 250 people to be cancelled to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hinshaw also urged cancellation of any event with more than 50 attendees that includes international participants or other high-risk groups like seniors.

Hinshaw said the recommendation to cancel big events does not extend to places of worship, grocery stores, airports or shopping centres. She said schools and daycares can stay open for now but discouraged events like assemblies.

The City of Edmonton also announced it will cancel all mass gatherings, ban employee travel and develop a work-from-home plan. The city says it is also considering closing rec centres.

Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions are taking numerous measures as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the province — as of Thursday, there were 23 cases, and all were travel-related. All of the colleges say that if staff or students are unwell, they should stay home.

Here’s what the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, NAIT, Concordia and NorQuest College are doing:

University of Alberta

While the University of Alberta said it will remain open on Friday, with all services available and all staff at work, classes are being suspended for the day.

This will allow for additional consultation with public health experts, government officials and other post-secondary institutions on appropriate next steps.

An update will be provided no later than Sunday, March 15 on the resumption of the majority of classes on Monday.

“While Alberta Health guidelines do not require the closure of schools, large research institutions are unique in their scale and diversity of experiences and we have heard from many of you that you that you want us to fully assess the situation,” the university said in an update issued early Friday morning.

The U of A said the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge are also taking these measures.

For more on the University of Alberta, click here.

MacEwan University

According to a post dated March 9 on the university’s website — the most recent information available — MacEwan University said it was carefully monitoring the situation and developing a proactive strategy to address any risks associated with COVID-19.

The university said a working group representing areas across the university is developing plans in anticipation of a number of scenarios and to provide guidance for our community.

No updated information on the status of classes or university events was available.

For more on MacEwan University, click here.


In an update Thursday night, NAIT said its emergency operations centre had been activated and is leading its response management.

NAIT said classes will continue as scheduled, but events with more than 250 people are cancelled as per the government’s guidelines, and attendance to business-related events of that size is restricted. NAIT is restricting all business travel outside of Canada.

School events with fewer than 250 people and those that do not have high-risk populations in attendance can proceed, but risk mitigation such as sanitizer stations and distancing between attendees must be in place, the college said.

NAIT is also limiting seating to 225 in its cafeterias. It has ramped up cleaning and is planning for potential disruptions to work as well.

NAIT said it is also providing all employees an additional 10 days of paid leave for COVID-19-related absences. It said it would reassess after 10 days on a case-by-case basis.

For more on NAIT, click here.

Concordia University of Edmonton

Concordia University said on Monday that it would be moving to Level 2 of its emergency plan.

Public events — including music, drama, athletics and other workshops and events — are cancelled.

Select classes are in session, the university said, adding that at the discretion of the instructor, classes may move to distance delivery as possible and appropriate through Moodle and/or other platforms.

Instructors will be responsible for notifying students and providing details and were told to prepare for the possibility of having to deliver the remainder of the semester’s content online if the school moves to Level 3.

All instructors should prepare for the possibility of having to conduct course assessment activities via Moodle and/or other free platforms at very short notice should the school move to Response Level 3, Concordia said.

Students living in residence were also told to prepare for the possibility of evacuation on short notice should the college upgrade its response.

Concordia said international travel is restricted to regions deemed to be at risk levels 1 or 2 of the Canadian government’s travel advisories.

International visitors from regions deemed to be at the Canadian government’s travel advisory risk levels 3 (avoid non-essential travel) or 4 (avoid all travel) — which includes Italy, China and Iran — due to COVID-19 are not permitted on campus.

For more on Concordia, click here.

NorQuest College

All business travel out of the province has been banned, NorQuest College announced on Thursday. The school also said caution should be exercised for all NorQuest business travel to any place inside Alberta with a presumptive case (like Calgary), including non-essential trips to Edmonton for those not working on the Edmonton campus.

Employees should exercise discretion when visiting the main campus and consider using alternative ways of connecting, like teleconference, video conference, Teams and email.

No information about the status of classes was available. NorQuest said it would notify students and the community of any disruptions through email and online.

For more on NorQuest, click here.

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