Two weeks after announcing that students, faculty and staff at Dalhousie University would either have to be fully vaccinated or tested twice-weekly to access campus, the university provided students with a way to do so.
Dalhousie’s online Campus Check program –– provided by Thrive Health, a Vancouver-based healthcare software company –– was launched on Sept. 8. In the announcement, the university said students, faculty and staff who do not provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 13 will begin to receive instructions for twice-weekly testing.
Verification of vaccine proof and negative tests will be handled by the university, not Thrive Health, the company CEO David Helliwell said in an interview with the Gazette.
When Dalhousie announced their vaccine mandate on Aug. 25, it came only days after both the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) and Dalhousie’s Health Law Institute wrote open letters to university President Deep Saini demanding a mandate.
At the time of the announcement, details regarding when and how Dal community members would provide proof of vaccination were absent. With those details now public, DFA President Tara Perrot said the full plan is “the best that can be done.”
Perrot said faculty remain concerned with the same detail they have been since August: the mandate offers an alternative to full vaccination.
“The whole point here is that we’re trying, Dal is trying to keep everybody safe,” Perrot said. “The best way to do that is, you know, to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated.”
Dalhousie was unable to provide someone for the Dalhousie Gazette to interview for this story prior to the publication deadline.
Faculty concerned about unmasked and unvaccinated students
At the time of writing, Nova Scotia is scheduled to move into phase five of its pandemic reopening plan on Sept. 15, meaning an end to the province-wide mask mandate. Dalhousie will be continuing what it calls a “mask directive” until Sept. 30, at which point it will be reconsidered, according to the university’s website.
This raises concerns, as professors will not have access to any of their class’s vaccination information, Perrot said. According to Dal’s Campus Check frequently asked questions page, only “a small number of individuals centrally assigned to monitor the system” will have access to students’ information.
This means that professors will be unaware if an unvaccinated and unmasked student is in their class. The DFA is pushing for Dalhousie to keep masking in place until the end of the year, Perrot said.
While this poses obvious concerns for the health and safety of vaccinated students, faculty and staff, as well as their children under 12 who are unable to be vaccinated, Perrot said faculty also remained concerned about in-class outbreaks.
Dal has repeatedly told faculty that they will not be asked to teach a course both online and in-person if an outbreak occurs in a class and a substantial number of students are infected with COVID-19, Perrot said. Despite these assurances, Dal has failed to properly explain to faculty what will happen in the event of an outbreak, she said. This leaves cause for concern.
“The concern is that there’s an outbreak that takes out a good chunk of a class,” Perrot said. “Because there might be [university] pressure to accommodate that chunk of people by moving the class online, but still continuing with face-to-face with the rest of the class.”
Dal still won’t let DFA have a seat at the table
When establishing the university’s reopening plan, Dalhousie formed a return to campus committee. The DFA was not represented in this committee and it had been disbanded over the summer, according to Perrot.
In the Gazette’s previous issue, Perrot told the Gazette that Dalhousie was planning to reconvene the committee and the DFA would be demanding a seat on it.
As of this writing, that hasn’t worked. Dal has reconvened the committee under a new name, it is now the academic transition advisory group, but the DFA has not been offered a seat, Perrot said.
Perrot said the reasoning from Dal on this decision has been “really unclear.” She said it’s now time for the DFA to look at other ways they can influence Dalhousie’s decision. Perrot said she couldn’t provide specific details on these new ways. But the DFA will meet over the following weeks to figure out the best way forward, she said.
Thrive Health’s commitment to privacy
According to Helliwell, students shouldn’t be concerned about sharing their information with Thrive Health software.
To operate as a health care software company in Canada, Thrive has already been rigorously evaluated on their data protection efforts, Helliwell said.
“[Using Thrive] is going to be safer than arguably anything else that students do online,” he said.