The Roddick Gates are monumental gates that serve as the main entrance to the McGill University campus are seen on November 14, 2017 in Montreal. Canada’s universities are bracing for an influx of students next month from the United States, where the worsening COVID-19 pandemic is setting fresh records every day for new infections and deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Roddick Gates are monumental gates that serve as the main entrance to the McGill University campus are seen on November 14, 2017 in Montreal. Canada’s universities are bracing for an influx of students next month from the United States, where the worsening COVID-19 pandemic is setting fresh records every day for new infections and deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Anxiety high as Canadian schools prepare for students from COVID-ravaged U.S.

Some U.S. parents are taking comfort in knowing their children are escaping the U.S.

Post-secondary students from the pandemic-riven United States are getting ready to go back to school in Canada — a rite of passage that’s causing more anxiety than usual for parents and front-line university workers alike in the age of COVID-19.

At Montreal’s McGill University, some employees are growing worried the school prepares to welcome foreign students into on-campus residences, even those whose courses are entirely online.

Parents, too, are wrestling with new and unfamiliar concerns: the risk of on-campus infection, the fact border restrictions make in-person visits impossible and the prospect of their kids facing anti-American backlash.

One McGill employee, who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work, said there is concern among the rank and file of another “fiasco” like the outbreak at Quebec’s long-term care homes, which accounted for 80 per cent of the highest provincial total of COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

“I am in the office with, like, four colleagues and we’re all, ‘What’s going to happen?’ In America, it’s blowing up there like crazy, and people are supposed to be coming back in seven weeks,” said the employee, who described the group as front-line workers — many in their 50s or 60s, with elderly parents at home — who are typically in close contact with students.

“There are a lot of family concerns related to health that are connected with this. And, you know, maybe I wouldn’t be thinking about these things if I hadn’t seen America erupt into such a mess.”

READ MORE: Thousands of lives on hold as immigration system remains largely shut down

Others, however, have faith the institution can keep students and staff safe.

“Part of our mandate is to not only educate but nurture and protect these young adults,” said Franco Taddeo, who’s worked in McGill’s library system since the 1990s. ”Honestly, as a father and Canadian, I would much rather have these students here for their safety and well-being than being in present-day America.”

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 3.6 million people and killed 140,000 in the U.S., compared with 109,000 cases and 8,800 deaths in Canada. And it’s not the only thing giving U.S. parents sleepless nights.

They’re well aware of reports of Americans — accused of flouting travel restrictions — facing verbal abuse in Canada.

One mother, a dual citizen who heard tell of U.S. vehicles being vandalized, bought a looseleaf-sized magnet to attach to her car door that reads, “We are Canadian citizens and have completed our 14-day quarantine.”

Since students can complete course work online, one might wonder: why send them at all?

“We need to trust that she’ll make decisions to keep herself safe, either there or here,” said one mother, whose daughter is going into her second year at McGill, and who fears for her if her name is made public. The parents wrestled with whether to let her go.

“I kept saying to her, ‘I would prefer you stay home and wait.’ And she was like, ‘But my life is waiting for me there.’ So we’re letting her make the choice.”

In a statement, McGill would say only that fall courses will be offered “primarily through remote delivery platforms,” but that they are developing on-campus student life and learning activities “which will respect careful safety protocols.”

“We will continue to place the health and safety of our community first by working closely with public health authorities.”

At the University of Calgary, some international students have spent the summer in residence to avoid going back to countries where the virus is rampant or travel restrictions made going home impossible, said Susan Barker, the vice-provost in charge of student experience.

New arrivals will quarantine in residence, while some who lack living arrangements will be sequestered at local hotels, Barker said. Students from the U.S. are not being treated any differently from those from elsewhere, she added.

“Our values as an institution are about fairness and equity,” Barker said. “We haven’t had to make decisions that give students from somewhere preferential treatment over another.”

READ MORE: Long-term psychological impact of COVID-19 a concern for kids and parents, experts say

Some U.S. parents are taking comfort in knowing their children are escaping the U.S., where the newly resurgent virus is shattering daily records for new cases and deaths, fuelled by partisan divisions over face masks, reopening businesses and easing physical distancing requirements.

“It is completely bittersweet,” said the father of a second-year McGill student from a hard-hit southern state, also worried his child might be targeted. The good news, he said, is that his daughter “has made a connection, made a life and found a place in a culture and country that has some sense of the common good.”

At the University of Toronto, where 23,000 international students comprised nearly a quarter of the school’s 93,000-strong student body last year, a detailed and comprehensive plan is in motion to ensure the safety of all students, said Joe Wong, the school’s vice-provost and associate vice-president, international student experience.

Last year, U of T had 722 undergraduates and 514 graduate students from the U.S., and so far 268 new American students have accepted offers of admission, he said.

“All three levels of government are co-ordinating right now — they really are setting the bar high in terms of what is a safe and secure corridor for students and universities across the country,” Wong said.

“I can’t speak for others, but I know that they’re all working very hard to it, and the plan that we put together at U of T … goes above and beyond what most people expected.”

Students from outside Canada will be quarantined on campus for 14 days, regardless of whether they are planning to live on campus or not, Wong said, with daily check-ins with staff, meals delivered to their rooms and “co-curricular” programming to take part in while they ride out the waiting period.

“When they come out the other side of the quarantine, if they are healthy, then they will join the rest of the students who are on campus — of course, physically distanced and according to all the health authority’s regulations.”

James McCarten , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusStudentsUniversities and Colleges

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

Agassiz Agricultural Hall hosts COVID-19 vaccination clinics every Wednesday. District officials reported more than 300 doses are administered per week. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Agassiz-Harrison averaging 36 cases per month in 2021: BCCDC

2020’s average was about eight cases per month

JANGO the police dog helped track down a suspect on Luckakuck Way in Chilliwack. (RCMP photo)
Alleged thief in Chilliwack can’t fool the nose of JANGO the police dog

An Edmonton man who allegedly broke into a storage container on Luckakuck Way was arrested

Chilliwack RCMP nab two alleged thieves targeting bait vehicle

A man from Port Coquitlam and a woman from Delta were stopped and arrested at Eagle Landing Parkway

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Most Read