The University of New Brunswick has established a COVID-19 response team in order to support students in self-isolation, with about 50 individuals working with students arriving from outside Canada and New Brunswick.
The program was mandated by the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, a government body requiring all students to have a university approved self-isolation plan or to confirm with the university that they have not left the province.
The plans require approval from UNB response team staff who email students to gather details about their living arrangements and isolation plans. The goal of the program is to assess the wellness of students while monitoring them for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
In addition, the team coordinates rides for students to testing sites and assists with errands such as groceries for those unable to get them.
Dr. Kathy Wilson is in charge of the response team. When asked if students would be better served by giving them an opportunity to opt-in to the program, Dr. Wilson mentioned that it is possible, but they do not have such discretion given the department mandate.
“I know it is inconvenient, but COVID is inconvenient,” Dr. Wilson said in response to concerns that students are receiving too many phone calls.
Many students have found the daily phone calls to be annoying when they are also receiving daily robo-calls from the government. While the robo-calls can be answered by pressing numbers on a cell phone, the UNB calls require a conversation with a live response team member.
Students complain that the live team members do not have access to the student schedule and often call during class time. This has the effect of interrupting class, and the student will receive continuous follow-ups until they answer.
Dr. Wilson stated that students would not be allowed into New Brunswick by border agents if they did not fill out the university approved isolation plan. Many students have challenged this, stating that this is incorrect and that border agents are not asking about UNB isolation plans and require their own, separate details.
The details required by the government are much less intrusive than those required by UNB.
The UNB response team is rigorous in their follow-up with plans lacking required details. Rather than continuously email with UNB response staff until they approve the student’s isolation plan, many students have opted to not fill out the UNB isolation form at all.
Dr. Wilson sees filling out the response forms as “a commitment to the community to be responsible,” but many students disagree.
These students fail to see the reason for the persistence when the government is performing the same function. This feeling is compounded by the fact that most UNB students will have their entire semester online, never setting foot on the UNB campus.
The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour responded to a request for comment by reiterating the government policy for travel into New Brunswick. They pointed to the government registration forms required of anyone entering the province.
These forms along with the government website do not mention anything in relation to the isolation plans required by UNB, and such a university approved plan is not required to enter the province.
There appears to be no repercussions for students who fail to complete isolation plans despite UNB pitching this initiative as mandatory.