Stages of reopening are guided by Provincial recommendations and guidelines, but USask may decide to move more conservatively in some areas to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

USask is currently in Stage 4A of reopening.

Overview

Planning

USask's Pandemic Response and Recovery Team (PRT) has developed a Staged Transition to Increased On-Campus Activity Plan which was designed to assist those responsible for planning a transitional return in fall.

This process is made widely available in order to be transparent about important directions being taken and to be clear on key elements involved in returning operations to campuses in a safe manner that is aligned with Public Health and the Province of Saskatchewan. There is other work yet to be done both within academic units and within administrative units that support the teaching, learning and research missions.

As such, full implementation work is yet to emerge and will be developed and communicated throughout the spring and summer so that staff, faculty, students, alumni, stakeholders, elders, knowledge keepers and visitors are fully aware of what is necessary and expected in order to keep everyone safe for in-person activities.

Stages of Recovery Framework

Early in the pandemic, USask developed a framework alongside the Saskatchewan Re-Open Plan to guide the gradual, staged approach to increasing on-campus activity. Since March 2020, USask has progressed through stages 1 to 3 and has now updated the framework to include the final stages of re-opening, in response to the direction provided by provincial and public health guidelines:

  • Stage 4A – leading up to Fall Term 2021 (Current)
  • Stage 4B - transitional Fall Term 2021 (September 2021)
  • Stage 5 – fully open Winter Term (January 2022)

Introduction

With the increase in vaccination and the improved situation related to COVID-19 within the larger community, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) intends to increase operations on our campuses with focused expansion at safe and allowable levels, resulting in enhanced student experience and research activities.

USask is committed to the health and safety of all students, staff and faculty and will continue to ensure this commitment is the foremost consideration for all changes in increased on-campus operations. In order to implement this commitment, a diverse set of safety measures will be employed, taking into account the variety of workplaces and learning environments on campus. The safety measures, as implemented throughout the pandemic, and expanded with the increased return to campus, have been developed in consultation with public health authorities.

USask aligns with the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Canada in its support of COVID-19 vaccination and follows the government recommendation that all people eligible to receive the vaccine are expected to do so. As such, USask will promote vaccination by trusted communication, measures designed to increase vaccine confidence by providing ready access to reliable information, compliance with recent changes to The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations that allow for paid time-off from work for an employee to get vaccinated for COVID-19, and other focused efforts.

As the return to campus evolves, it is likely the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions will be adjusted as well. USask is committed to managing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic as they develop and to enacting proactive and adaptable protocols and processes in order to support the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. As a campus community, we each have responsibility for managing and supporting the health and safety of both ourselves and others. USask is committed to ensuring all campus operations, whether virtual/remote or in-person, are (re)established to be as safe as possible.

As implemented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, USask will continue to provide regular updates to the campus community and to engage with internal and external stakeholders (e.g. unions, government, communities, public health) as circumstances change and protocols, processes and plans develop.

Buildings and campus infrastructure have been assessed, prepared and will re-open based on parameters established to ensure a safe return to campus. A set of USask safe return to campus guidelines is contained within this page (below) and provides an overview of the preparations completed to support an expanded return to campus, to identify requirements and expectations for all members of the USask community and also to provide tools to enable everyone’s commitment and participation in ensuring a safe campus environment.

In order to move forward with a substantial increase of on-campus activity, the following assumptions are made:

  • We will continue to follow and adhere to Public Health Orders as well as any requirements set out by the Province (i.e., Reopen Saskatchewan) and the Ministry of Advanced Education and we assume that our position on Fall will be impacted by these sources.

  • There must be clarity around expectations (e.g., What can faculty, staff and students expect from the university? What is expected of faculty, staff, and students?).

  • At the core of the return to campuses - our risk can be mitigated with widespread vaccination and we will do what is within our power to provide accurate information, encourage confidence, and promote high levels of vaccine uptake of members of the university.

  • We anticipate provincial restrictions will be lessened in a number of key areas including:
    • social distancing requirements
    • occupancy limits
    • contact tracing
    • cleaning/disinfecting including a positive case response

  • We will continue masking protocols for activities on our campuses and we will ensure that the type of masks worn optimize protections following up-to-date recommendations.

  • Handwashing, and increased cleaning of high-touch/high-traffic areas will remain in effect in full or part of the fall term.

  • All people returning to campus will continue to require USask Return to Campus Health and Safety online course completion and will be required to retake/renew training at appropriate intervals.

  • We will not be returning to pre-pandemic levels of on-campus activity in the Fall term. The months-long period of Fall term will serve as a transition to get the university to January 2022 at which time we anticipate it will be possible to resume any face-to-face activity desired.

  • Increased in-person academic activity (teaching and research) will remain the priority. In order to ensure appropriate resources to support the increased activity, some activity will need to remain remote and be phased in accordingly.

  • We will make significant gains in in-person academic program delivery.

  • It is likely that we might face some potential risk of outbreak on campus, requiring that we retain a reporting and response plan in support of public health. The requirement for wide-scale closures will diminish with increasing success in vaccination. Our situation can change on short notice, however, and our planning and ability to respond must be flexible. In-person delivery must have short-term contingency plans should the need to respond emerge.

  • It is likely that travel across provinces will get easier but that international travel may remain more complicated into the fall. Active and persistent lobbying has improved the access international students have to study permits but those starting out or returning to campus for fall may still face challenges.

  • We will support international students coming to or returning to USask with careful attention to the provision of needed information and a robust and holistic quarantine strategy. We will also continue to advocate federally and provincially for the needs and circumstances of our international students.

  • Indigenous students and their communities remain top-of-mind as we think through what students will need in the transition back to campus and/or the desired opportunity for continued remote learning.

Expectations for Increased Activity

General Requirements

All members of the USask community who will be on campus or have face-to-face activities must:

  • Follow all government public health guidelines and protocols.
  • Comply with all USask COVID-19 protocols, guidelines and the rules specific to the area or activity.

COVID-19 Testing and Monitoring

Testing, Reporting and Tracking

USask will continue to provide oversight and actively monitor for COVID-19 cases and transmission on campus, in coordination with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

Building Return Process and Parameters

The schedule of return of approved activity will be developed with input from senior leaders with specific attention to the academic calendar. It is anticipated that the scheduled return will ramp up in June and continue through the summer, relying on the academic calendar to determine priority such that programs are ready to commence as scheduled.

Given the principles and assumptions above, Facilities, Safety Resources, and ICT will work in the coming months to ensure that buildings are set up and operational for returned activity. Since the start of the pandemic, although many buildings had reduced activity, or no activity at all, buildings and spaces were continually monitored for system and infrastructure failures that required mitigation. With this said work by these groups will increase in the coming weeks and months to ensure buildings are ready and prepared for return.

In order to facilitate a successful phased/scheduled return for approved activity, will allow for teams to be ready to assess and respond to any unforeseen stresses put on facilities and infrastructure without overloading the system all in one day. The schedule of return of approved activity will be developed with input from senior leaders with specific attention to the academic calendar. It is anticipated that the scheduled return will ramp up in June and continue through the summer, relying on the academic calendar to determine priority such that programs are ready to commence as scheduled.

Facilities SBAs and IT College Coordinators are working with the college leadership to schedule a phased and coordinated return that will allow effective transition back to campus. Administrative unit leaders are asked to develop plans for a phased return with priority placed on the return of staff members that are required to be physically present in order to support teaching, learning and research activities.

Removal of office equipment to facilitate at home working happened in a more gradual/trickle effect during the closure of campus. It is anticipated that it may be the opposite for the return of office equipment. 

With planning parameters set such that there will be a substantive increase in  academic program activities delivered in-person  including labs and tutorials and based on the assumption made of still requiring some restrictions to mitigate infection (increased cleaning and supplies, limiting unnecessary traffic, increased IT demands) actions are required.

Specifically, it will be important to assess the type of activities happening in buildings in order to ensure these activities can continue to ramp up over the fall and support services can meet the increased demand. As part of the initial return, work that does not directly support academic delivery and research activity and can continue to be done remotely should continue to be. Unrestricted capacity for other work can be anticipated by the winter term.

During this time, it may be prudent for leaders to consider what staff and operations may be optimal for both the unit or individual on a long-term remote or hybrid-remote arrangement. Long term remote and hybrid work may present opportunities for increased employee engagement and productivity, as well as potential to reduce, condense and convert overall space to realize financial savings, additional space for research and opportunities to address fit-for-use challenges.

What to Expect Upon Return

A Shared Responsibility to Stay Safe

The largest success factor in mitigating infection is working within established building guidelines, exercising both diligence and personal responsibility.

Personal responsibility for disinfection of our workspaces has evolved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty, staff and students will be asked to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer each time they enter campus buildings and working areas. All faculty, staff and students are responsible for ensuring they have a clean area/personal space for their activities and may be required to disinfect their space and the equipment they contact before and after use.

Please note: keyboards and other electronics are cleaned by the users and/or hand hygiene must be utilized.

While proper handwashing is the recommended method for cleaning and disinfecting hands, sanitizer dispensers will supplement hand washing facilities.

  • Hand sanitizer dispensers will be located at primary building entrances and other high traffic locations throughout campus. Facilities is responsible for the placement and refilling of these hand sanitizer dispensers.
  • For personal offices, shared offices, open workspaces, meeting rooms, and lunch spaces, the department should encourage handwashing or supply pump-style hand sanitizer bottles. Procurement of additional dispensing units is discouraged due to potential issues with supply, mounting, and refilling the units.
  • All faculty, staff, and students are expected to clean their own equipment such as keyboards, office equipment, lab equipment, and kitchen equipment.

USask’s Facilities’ Custodial Operations is responsible for the cleaning protocols for authorized public spaces and is following enhanced cleaning protocols in response to COVID-19. The team is consistently adjusting cleaning/disinfecting protocols, schedules, and routines as activity changes and new information is available.

The ventilation systems installed in campus buildings have varying capabilities. Where applicable and possible, the following measures will be implemented:

  • Maximize or increase the intake of fresh air into buildings. Opening windows (where able) during warmer months will assist with air exchange.
  • Set ventilation schedules to optimize fan run times before and after primary building occupied hours.
  • Prioritize ventilation system preventative maintenance including regular filter changes.
  • Discourage the use of personal desk fans, window air conditioners, and similar devices which may create high velocity air flow within an open or shared space.

ICT is auditing and refreshing classroom and meeting room technology and equipment. The physical in-room help documentation will be refreshed, and electronic help documentation updated with the rooms’ capabilities over the Spring/Summer Term in preparation for fall.

Wi-Fi signage and services will be increased in the classrooms and common spaces to accommodate the increased need that students and instructors have for Wi-Fi enabled classrooms and other gathering spaces across campus.

Shared printers will be serviced and refreshed. Specialized cleaning supplies and directions on safe printer use will be posted and available. Use of the PaperCut Mobile Phone app will be promoted to avoid unnecessarily touching the printer.

Signage will be adjusted to focus more on personal hygiene, personal responsibility for cleaning, and masking, and encouragement to vacate spaces when scheduled activity is completed.

Return to Office Activities

Each workplace must assess its pre-COVID-19 workplace norms and behaviours and adjust these to minimize the transmission and risks of COVID-19.

Committing to Safety

Reporting Hazards and Non-Adherence to Guidelines and Protocols

The university is fundamentally committed to the safety and wellness of all who work and study here. As such, it is critical that students, staff and faculty feel confident in staying away when sick, reporting illness to their supervisor, faculty member or instructor, and reporting hazards and non-adherence to USask guidelines and protocols. This means that all faculty, staff and students must feel confident that adjustments can be made if they are away for illness-related reasons.

In USask’s interdependent safety culture, everyone is responsible for the safety of themselves and others. If a hazard or non-adherence to a protocol is observed, address and rectify it (if able) or report it to your supervisor. However, issues can also be reported via Safety Resources’ Hazard Report Form.

Failure to follow safety protocols and procedures outlined for return to office work will lead in the first instance to an offer of assistance followed, when necessary, by the intervention of the Dean/Director (or designate). Continued non-adherence to safety protocols and procedures may, when necessary, be subject to coaching, performance management and/or progressive discipline processes as per respective collective agreements, USask policies, and provincial legislation.

Failure to follow safety protocols and procedures may result (where possible) in the offer of assistance and a reminder about the need to adhere to requirements. Continued disregard for safety protocols will be identified and escalated as necessary and guidance will be sought from the Department Head and/or Associate Dean Academic/Students within the college. Disciplinary action may be pursued under the Standard of Student Conduct in Non-Academic Matters and Procedures for Resolution of Complaints and Appeals.

Committing to Wellness

We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to the workplace may be stressful for our employees and their families.

The COVID-19 pandemic can be stressful for many people and have a significant impact on mental health. USask has wellness resources available for faculty and staff and their families and for students during this difficult time.

Addressing Concerns about Returning to Campus for Work

Safe Return Workplace Assessment – A process for faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students employed at the university.

As we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, our priority will remain focused on helping our students, faculty and staff maintain their health, safety and dignity. There are several reasons why a student worker, faculty or staff member may be hesitant about or unable to return to work. To address concerns, USask utilizes an inclusive and communicative approach, known as the Safe Return Workplace Assessment.

Led by Safety Resources, the Safe Return Workplace Assessment brings together the faculty, staff, or student worker, employee, supervisor/management, Human Resources, Safety Resources and/or other key stakeholders (i.e. Union, Labour Relations, Faculty Relations, Wellness Resources) to openly discuss and assess the risks and concerns of the faculty, staff, or student worker as they prepare to return to the campus workplace. Each case is discussed and evaluated for hazards and risks based upon its unique requirements and details. These requirements and details will facilitate a decision by the area’s Dean/Director (or designate) regarding the return to workplace and adaptations or controls that are required.

Any faculty, staff or student worker employee who would like to initiate a Safe Return Workplace Assessment should speak with their supervisor. The supervisor will contact Safety Resources to initiate the process and bring relevant stakeholders together for discussion and evaluation of the details in order to facilitate a decision by the Dean/Director (or designate). Please initiate the process three weeks in advance of the return date to allow for stakeholder scheduling.

Among the many opportunities of facilitated solutions, there may be the opportunity, when there are reasonable grounds to believe the work is “unusually dangerous,” for faculty, staff and student workers to participate in a work refusal process as described in Section 3-31 of The Saskatchewan Employment Act. Should a claim of “unusually dangerous” work be made, please contact Safety Resources for support to the process and to those people involved in the claim.

A visual summary of the Safe Return Workplace Assessment, including contact information for initiating the assessment, is provided in the Safe Return Workplace Assessment.

We recognize that some people with health concerns and chronic illnesses may be concerned about the potential impact of the COVID-19 virus. If you have been advised to work from home by your doctor please do the following:

  1. Talk to your supervisor, advising them of your situation, and explore a work-from-home accommodation. If you are able to work remotely, no further steps may be required.
  2. If your duties cannot be performed remotely, and/or reasonable workplace accommodations cannot be provided (in full or in part), you may qualify to access disability/sick leave benefits under the disability plan to which you are covered. However, alternate options and/or reasonable accommodations are to be explored with your supervisor, HR Strategic Business Advisor (SBA) and/or union (if applicable).

Academic Planning

The academic program planning we need for Fall 2021 is different than where we have been before – Fall 2020, Winter 2021. Indeed, in our last two core terms we announced a “primarily hybrid” approach and then commenced planning to selectively identify what needed to be done in-person in order to achieve learning objectives.

This section was developed in the first instance to provide a guide for academic administrators who, in turn, worked with faculty colleagues to determine a path forward within each college. Earlier versions of an academic planning guide were used from January onward to seek input from groups of senior leaders, students, faculty and staff that have been engaged in advising the PRT throughout the pandemic.

Planning Parameters

Academic Planning for Fall 2021 included the development of parameters related to space usage and on-going safety protocols. These parameters were developed following an extensive analysis of on-campus spaces and in consultation with the Medical Health Officer. Planning parameters included:

  1. a maximum in-person class size of 120 (with a few exceptions made for classes of 150);
  2. directions regarding the proportional use of each classroom such that 100% of seats can be used in a classroom; and
  3. optimization of the timetable with in-person classes being spread out across available timeslots to the greatest extent possible such that a maximum of 50% of in-person classes are scheduled between primetime of 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (Monday to Friday).

Given that at good number of our students are likely to have both in-person and remote classes this Fall, we will need to take into consideration a likely need students will have for study space on campus required specifically in instances when a remote class is scheduled in-between in-person activities.

The transitional return to greater in-person program delivery in Fall comes with significant logistical complexity. Key topics around safety protocols and operational considerations are included in other parts of this page. As has been contemplated elsewhere in the Framework materials, the return of students will introduce the requirement for at least some student support staff members to be present on campus in support of service delivery. With proper balance as a guiding principle, staff colleagues will be added back in a phased manner when their in-person presence is required and when it is safe to do so. The need to restart activities to support student needs includes consideration and planning by USSU and GSA student leadership and their respective areas of operation.

Areas of Academic Planning Focus

Additional areas of academic planning focus include:

1. Delivery models

In planning for Fall, colleges, schools and departments have given consideration to various models of delivery. At one end of a continuum, much experience has been gained this year in the use of remote models – including fully online asynchronous and fully online with synchronous.

Fully Online — Fully online, asynchronous means that 100% of instructional hours are done online without any scheduled contact for the class as a whole. In some cases, our colleagues have used the model of fully online with synchronous – all instruction is online with some combination of synchronous and asynchronous. For example, focused synchronous periods of the class being together (e.g., tutorials, seminars, office hours, discussions) and all else in an asynchronous mode. Along the continuum, the next model would be hybrid delivery.

Hybrid — In a hybrid model there is a cohort of students who join each class in-person and a second cohort that is online in a synchronous manner for the scheduled class. These two cohorts are instructed at the same time – one in the physical teaching space and one joining synchronously online.

Blended — Moving closer to being more fully in-person, there is a model of delivery called “blended” where the entire class would be engaged in-person for portions of the instructional time (e.g., active learning/collaboration) and a portion of the instructional time that would occur on-line (e.g., transmission of content). Using a blended model, colleagues might, for example, use the Monday and Wednesday timeslots for in-person delivery and use the Friday timeslot as an opportunity for students to work independently with posted materials. The difference between hybrid and blended is about whether there are two streams/cohorts of students each engaged in a different type of delivery model for the course (hybrid) or one stream/cohort of students engaged with the instructor in different modes of delivery (sometimes in-person and sometimes on-line).

In-person — Finally, colleagues are well versed in the fully online approach where 100% of the instructional hours are done in-person. Even in fully in-person delivery, many of our colleagues use the learning management system (i.e., Canvas) for supplemental online activities. It is expected that in Fall 2021, courses will be offered using the full range of delivery models.

2. Students returning to campus

Unlike our typical start-of-year planning, Fall 2021 represents a transition period for the vast majority of our students – whether they are beginning their university studies for the first time, coming onto campus for the first time, or returning to campus after a year away. Given the unique nature of this fall, significant efforts are being put into planning to ensure that students will be well positioned to move back onto campus. Following our planning assumptions, we will pay careful attention to the return of our Indigenous students. In addition, international students will require special focus, particularly those who are joining or returning from their home country. We are well positioned in terms of people and supports available from the university and the relationships we have with other stakeholders who are equally committed to the success of our diverse groups of students.

An element in this transition planning has to do with helpful and clear communication of key messages at the right time so that students have the information they need to make their academic program choices and to develop a robust understanding of what is expected of them – particularly in terms of safety protocols – should they be returning to study on one of our campuses. For the purposes of consistent communication and provision of support, if and when needed, we will ensure that faculty and instructors know where to direct students to find information what is expected of students returning to our campuses.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, students have wanted and needed different things from the university when it comes to program delivery. This varied set of needs is unlikely to change in Fall 2021. A good proportion of students are eager to return to campus; while many others will continue to want access to remote learning opportunities and will not want to return to campus. It’s also the case that a good number of students, particularly in the health sciences, spent the 2020-21 academic year doing at least some in-person academic study and as such, these students will have greater experience of safety protocols involved.

The registration system became viewable on May 7th and students are being encouraged to check the system regularly as they plan their studies for Fall. Registration windows begin to open in June. Students in some colleges will be required to be in-person for Fall to progress their degrees whereas students in other colleges will have access to courses that are to be delivered remotely and courses that are to be delivered in-person. Students who are not comfortable returning to campus in Fall will need to select remotely offered courses.

3. Accommodations

It is anticipated that in a small number of situations, there may be an officially documented reason why a student would not be able to be on-campus in Fall. In those instances, students are encouraged to contact Access and Equity Services (AES) and will be required to go through the standard processes involved in registration with AES. AES will examine the situation and the requirements of the student and the course on a case by case basis to determine if an accommodation is necessary. Please contact Access and Equity Services for assistance at aes@usask.ca or 306-966-7273.

4. COVID-19 Contingency Plan for Potential In-Person Course Interruption.

Fall 2021 will be unique as a “transitional” term for the institution. The return of many programs, classes and labs to in-person delivery will call us to be ready to deal with the challenges this term might bring. Accordingly, the document Creating a COVID-19 Contingency Plan for Potential In-Person Course Interruption mapping possible contingency plans has been developed with suggestions to both prepare for and to manage unexpected circumstances around students or instructors needing to be away for periods of time due to COVID.

It is well known and entirely understandable that faculty and instructors have a discomfort or a sensitivity around the disruption caused by any need to pivot from in-person to remote (short period) and back to in-person. As such, the suggestions for contingency planning are designed to build in some easy and well known preparatory steps to minimize distress.

5. Investments into Classroom Spaces

Following data gathering regarding the classroom inventory and discussions with colleges, plans are being confirmed in early May about modifications that will be made to some of our classrooms on the Saskatoon campus with a view to improving furniture or layout, upgrading multi-media equipment, and/or increasing WI-FI access. Alterations and additions to these spaces are being done with a view to improving the functionality of these spaces for program delivery in the Fall 2021 and in the years ahead.

Research Planning

Throughout 2020, the university worked to facilitate as much on-campus and field research activity as possible. Approval processes moved from having multiple stages in the spring and summer, to being almost exclusively the responsibility of Deans or Associate Deans of Research. This approach will continue into Fall 2021, with researchers wanting to work on campus or in the field seeking approvals from their colleges, schools or centres and with central support units (e.g., Safety Resources, Facilities, Maintenance and Custodial, Procurement, Connection Point, Animal Care, etc.) working to facilitate that activity to the greatest extent possible.

For those researchers who researched remotely in earlier stages to make room for those who could not do their research in a remote fashion, we anticipate that expanded activity in the fall will allow more of them who wish to resume on-campus research to safely do so.

Research-related travel will be expected to adhere to direction and guidelines from the federal government. Any exceptional circumstances will require approval of the relevant Dean or Associate Dean of Research, as well as the Pandemic Response Team.