Activity in downtown Kingston typically ramps up in the first week of September as post-secondary students arrive for their fall term. This year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s University is coordinating a different approach to intake approximately 2000 students to on-campus residence.
“This class of 2024 is a bit of a special class,” said Ann Tierney, Queen’s University Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “I hope this really unique start is going to bond them together.”
In order to limit the usual crowds, street closures and parking demands on campus, the University has scheduled first-year residence intake over five days. Students, accompanied by up to two family members, are asked to arrive within a designated two-hour time-frame during the week.
Rather than allowing students to drive directly to their new buildings to register, staff have established a drive-through queuing location at Richardson Stadium. Families wait, masked, in their vehicles to pick up room keys, before they are dispatched downtown to an available parking spot at their building.
By 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1, Tierney said approximately 120 students had arrived. Queen’s is planning to manage up to 450 student arrivals in a day, she said.
“We have little over 1800 first year students in residence, then we have one hundred dons, who are upper year student staff living in residence,” she said. “Our normal capacity is 4500, so this is less than 50 percent.”
Fewer students in the buildings will help facilitate physical distancing measures she said, and all double rooms have been converted to singles.
All first-year residence requests fulfilled
“We were able to accommodate every student who chose to live in residence this year,” Tierney said. “Some first-year students have chosen to live in the community, as is always the case, and others have chosen to stay home for this semester.”
Students living in residence are being encouraged to remain in ‘households’ for the first two weeks, eating and interacting with a closd group of people as much as possible.
She said if demand for residence accommodation increases come January, the University will devise a plan to fulfill it safely. “We’re not there yet,” she added.
COVID-19 precautions for arriving students
As part of ongoing efforts to limit cases of COVID-19 in the Kingston region, Queen’s and Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health are asking that students follow a number of precautions before arriving to Kingston.
“We’ve had a lot of virtual communication with them before they’ve arrived,” Tierney said.
Students travelling from cities within Canada with COVID-19 outbreaks or active community transmission have been encouraged to get tested at their local testing centre, even if they have no symptoms.
The University is also recommending that students traveling domestically limit contact with anyone outside their household for 14 days upon arrival in Kingston.
The University noted that students travelling from international locations must follow federal regulations set out under the Quarantine Act, and quarantine for 14 days without contact upon their arrival. In accordance with these regulations, international travellers must create a travel and quarantine plan before arriving, and present it at the border. Queen’s said they are reaching out to all international students regularly.
COVID-19 numbers have slowly but steadily crept up across Canada over the past six weeks, with many experts including Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam imploring younger Canadians to continue being cautious. Tierney said that students, like all citizens, have an important role to play in limiting further transmission of the virus.
“We’re talking to our students about being responsible, the same way the public health unit is talking to all of us about being responsible. We all have a role to play,” she said.
She said that encouraging communication between students about the risks of COVID-19 is an important part of the University’s strategy.
“We are using our peer leaders, because we know that peer to peer communication is so important. Our student leaders in the Alma Mater Society (AMS), and [other groups] have also communicated that message, and we’re making sure that its part of orientation as well,” she said. “I think that is an important part – that students talk to each other as well as hearing it from the University.”
Balancing hopes for the new year with pandemic risks will be an on-going challenge this year, Tierney said. “We want students to be safe, but we really want them to be excited about their university experience… That’s a challenge but it’s also a great opportunity.”