'Between staying safe and getting an education': McGill COVID-19 protocols denounced by students, administrator

“A lack of distancing in classrooms, faculty removing masks, no testing, no vaccine mandate and ignoring calls from students and faculty experts do not represent my beliefs as an administrator.”

These are the words of Nathan C. Hall, an associate dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies at McGill University, who took to Twitter Saturday to express his dissatisfaction with the university’s COVID regulations.

I want to unequivocally state that the harmful decisions of senior @mcgillu admin re: a lack of distancing in classrooms, faculty removing masks, no testing, no vaccine mandate, and ignoring calls from students and faculty experts do not represent my beliefs as an administrator.

— Nathan C. Hall (@prof_nch) September 4, 2021

"I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Integrity, transparency and immediacy in communication [are] critical to leadership," he wrote.

He used the hashtag #McGill200, which was originally created by the university to celebrate its bicentennial.

It has since been co-opted by numerous students — and in this case, faculty — to protest the school’s COVID safety protocols.

ENOUGH. @McGill What will it take to listen to your own experts, students, faculty, alum? We want to be part of the solution!
To avoid 15,000 daily COVID-19 cases next month, Canada urged to vax rates, uphold public health measures #McGill200 https://t.co/CcajPH6WTK pic.twitter.com/HOjgo6Ywpu

— Dr Susan Bartlett (@Susanbartlett12) September 4, 2021

Part of what infuriates me about the @mcgillu lack of vaccine response is that we need to make sure spread doesn't happen. McGill could have chosen to lead with moral courage, and push for a safer campus--and safer Milton-Parc and St Anne. Such a lost opportunity.#McGill200

— Rine (should probably be writing or editing tbh) (@rinewithoutacat) September 4, 2021

The protocols in question were outlined in August.

According to McGill spokesperson Cynthia Lee, these include “the exclusion of symptomatic individuals, procedural mask requirements, distancing in non-classroom environments, contact tracing, optimizing ventilation and other means.”

Most classes will be in person and social distancing will not be required; although masks will be mandatory for students, professors will have the option to remove them.

Many students are concerned that these regulations aren't stringent enough.

On Sept. 1 — the first day of classes — students and members of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) gathered outside in protest of the university's safety plan.

One of those students was Emily Black.

"It's terrifying, honestly, and it sucks that I have to pick between staying safe and getting an education that I've paid for," she said.

Black is immunocompromised, meaning she is at a higher risk of serious health issues if she contracts COVID-19.

Uneasy about returning to in-person classes, she says she approached the administration to voice her concerns. She alleges the university recommended she take a leave of absence.

"Their answer just seems to be to drop out. And for myself, I am on financial aid and if I take a year off I'll lose my funding and likely not be able to come back to school," she said.

However, not all students are apprehensive about the situation.

CTV News spoke to another McGill student on campus who said he was relieved to have any restrictions in place at all.

"I'm from Connecticut [...] and I think McGill's protocols are safer than the protocols in the States," he said.

More info on registering vaccines to come and apologies to those turned away.

Prior to today's clinic, 85% of our student/staff population are fully vaccinated. Great to see so many out today! The vax clinic runs to 7 pm this evening.

— McGill University (@mcgillu) September 3, 2021

On Tuesday, McGill announced that 85 per cent of its student population is fully vaccinated.

"But they haven't been able to say where they've got that from. They're still maintaining that it's illegal to ask for vaccine status and so we're saying, 'what's going on here?'" said Claire Downie, vice-president of student affairs at the SSMU and an organizer behind the Sept. 1 protest.

On Twitter, McGill says it received its vaccination data from the Quebec health ministry, but did not clarify whether international students were factored into the equation or if the statistic applied to Quebec university students in general or McGill students in particular.

"At this point in time, our view is that unless the government mandates vaccination, in the Quebec context we cannot legally require it," Lee said.

Currently, 67 per cent of Quebecers aged 18 to 24 are fully vaccinated.

Nathan C. Hall declined CTV News' request for comment.

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