Faculty and staff — return to campus update

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Following the UBC Broadcast on May 17, I would like to provide further details on planning that is underway to support faculty and staff returning to campus.

With the start of the 2021/22 academic year just three months away, we are excited to welcome back our students, faculty and staff. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank those faculty and staff who have been on campus throughout the pandemic, providing key aspects of UBC teaching, learning, research and operations. Together we will bring vibrancy to our campuses, as we see the increased resumption of in-person teaching, learning, and research activity this fall.

This planning update reflects recent guidance from Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Regional Health Authorities and the BC Centre for Disease Control, in the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer and the provincial government’s recently published BC’s Restart plan. The plan details a phased approach to restarting social connections, businesses, and activities. You can read more at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/info/restart.

Dr. Henry has been clear that public health leaders are confident in the safe resumption of on-campus activities by post-secondary institutions. With the progression of the provincial vaccination program and ongoing public health measures, BC is now seeing corresponding reductions in COVID-19 case counts and declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, including in critical care. It is also important to note that the period to receive a second vaccination dose has been reduced from 16 weeks to 8 weeks, with a forecast to have second vaccination doses administered to all by the end of August.

It is vital that all UBC faculty and staff participate in the provincial COVID-19 vaccination program. Every adult in BC is eligible to be vaccinated; now is the time to support each other and raise the rate of immunization. If you haven’t yet received your vaccine, please register and encourage your families and friends to join the ‘This is our shot’ campaign https://thisisourshot.ca.

BC’s Restart plan details a return to normal social contact from September 7, provided more than 70% of the 18+ population has received an initial vaccine dose, along with low case counts and low COVID-19 hospitalizations. In alignment withBC’s Restart plan, and with the health and safety of the UBC community as our first priority, we are taking a phased approach to facilitate a return to in-person teaching, learning, research and other on-campus activities.

At the same time, we recognize faculty and staff may have concerns on different aspects of returning to campus, and on COVID-19 and its variants. We continue to monitor the course of the pandemic, working closely with public health officials and will adjust our approach as required.

The phased approach we are taking reflects listening sessions with faculty and staff on both campuses and other feedback from our community. These listening sessions will be followed by another session on June 15 with Faculties on the Vancouver campus to respond in more detail to questions that have been raised. For staff in our central units, division heads are being supported by Senior HR Leaders in holding discussions over the next few weeks on their return to campus. Student sessions are also being held to provide information and respond to students’ questions.

As faculty and staff return to campus in preparation for the 2021/22 Winter Session, the process for returning will vary according to different parts of the university. This phased approach will allow for the operational needs of each Faculty and administrative unit. Deans, Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-Presidents, department heads, directors and supervisors will be provided with further details to support their decisions on timing for faculty and staff to return to campus. Note that all units will need to have an approved COVID-19 Safety Plan in place and are asked to continue using their current approved safety plans at this point.

Return to campus — phased approach:

  • Phase #1 (June-July): Faculty and staff who are required on campus to support instructional and operational planning or preparation for the 2021/22 Winter Session will be advised of their return date. Deans, Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-Presidents, department heads, directors, and supervisors will determine which employees are required to return to campus during this phase.
  • Phase #2 (July-August): Faculty and staff who are required on campus to prepare for direct, in-person teaching, learning, student support and other activities for the 2021/22 Winter Session will begin to transition back to campus. Deans, Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-Presidents, department heads, directors and supervisors will determine those employees who are required to return to campus during this phase.
  • Employees who are not required to return to campus as part of Phase #1 or #2 — but who wish to return earlier — should discuss this with their Deans, Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-Presidents, department heads, directors and supervisors, who will be responsible for making these decisions.

For those employees associated with UBC’s research activity, decisions around a return to campus will be made in line with respective Faculty and/or administrative unit planning.

Resources will be made available by mid-June to assist Deans, Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-President, department heads, directors and supervisors in determining who will need to return to campus within each of the transition phases. More information on UBC’s Remote Work approach will also be shared later this month. As a reminder, useful FAQs can be found at https://covid19.ubc.ca and https://ok.ubc.ca/covid19.

With safety as a priority, a revised COVID-19 Safety Planning Framework is being developed to align with the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer and BC’s Restart plan. This revised framework and accompanying guidance documents will allow us to maintain a safe learning and working environment, reduce administrative burden, and ensure compliance with Provincial Health Officer Orders and WorkSafeBC regulations. As noted, all units are asked to continue using their approved safety plans. The framework will be available for implementation by July 1, following updated guidelines from the provincial government. If you have questions regarding your safety plan or require a new or revised plan, please email ready.ubc@ubc.ca at UBC Vancouver or ready.ok@ubc.ca at UBC Okanagan.

In recent listening sessions, we heard feedback from faculty and staff around areas of concern as we return to campus. One example is building ventilation. A heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) working group is currently assessing building ventilation systems and forming recommendations based on information from the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, WorkSafeBC, and the BC Centre for Disease Control to ensure a high standard of safety and to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We will continue to update you on progress around this topic, as well as other areas that are raised within the listening sessions.

While our campuses are safe for our return, in alignment with public health guidelines, there may be some members of our community who have medical conditions affecting their transition back to campus. There are existing processes to address these concerns, and we will continue to support faculty and staff who are affected by these situations. In addition, those faculty and staff who may be experiencing anxiety can access support for mental health and wellbeing at https://hr.ubc.ca/health-and-wellbeing/mental-health/faculty-and-staff-mental-health-resources.

For more than a year now, faculty and staff have stepped up to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Thank you for your ongoing patience and adaptability, and for continuing to provide the high quality of teaching, learning, and research that UBC is known for. We look ahead to the fall with a continued commitment to the health and safety of our community, and with hope and excitement for welcoming back our students.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor

This message was sent to faculty and staff in Vancouver and the Okanagan.

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