As Dalhousie University prepares to welcome students back to campus, athletics and recreational activities are expected to look more normal than during the online 2020-2021 school year.
But not everything will be like what campus life was pre-pandemic. Nova Scotia remains in phase four, with restrictions like masking, gathering limits and contact tracing being enforced until Sept. 15, when the provincial government currently plans to move into phase five.
There are lots of factors and grey areas. Some can change quickly and impact how campus life looks when classes resume. Within athletics, campus recreation coordinator, Chris Keough, said he anticipates most activities to be up and running.
“We’re planning everything as per a normal year,” he said in regards to student recreational offerings like intramural and club sports. One part of his job is accounting for contact tracing and other safety measures within activities. “We’ll react to what restrictions are when the time comes but we should be near back to normal by the time we start programming.”
Evolving Public Health measures make planning uncertain
In August, Dal faced a dilemma of uncertainty regarding when phase five will be and what it might consist of.
Nova Scotia has described phase five as “the easing of public health measures” and expanded travel into the province. It’s possible the next phase could contain protocols that athletic activities must adapt to early in the school year. For instance, athletic director Tim Maloney said Dalplex activities that require users to book appointments will remain that way until Dalplex is no longer required to contact trace.
Also, Keough said spectators for sports may be kept out of the stands a bit longer because of contact tracing measures.
“There’s no good way to contact trace spectators. Once we have that removed, spectating is something we could allow again,” he said.
Remaining restrictions’ impact on campus sport and rec
Maloney shared Keough’s approach in preparing for a more normal year. He said almost all pre-pandemic athletics and recreation offerings will be available to students.
“We plan to offer almost a full slate of programming. The big differences would be the capacity of those programs, compared to a quote-on-quote normal year,” Maloney said. These offerings include intramural, club and varsity sports. “Once we get to phase five, the expectation is things will be pretty normal.”
Without the clarity the Tigers would have liked around the province’s reopening plans, they do have some things on their side. Most sports that run early in September are outdoors, meaning larger gathering limits and less risk of COVID-19 transmission. Dal has a few extra weeks to communicate with the province before indoor intramural and club sports ramp up, plus varsity sports like basketball and volleyball, in late September.
State of intramurals
Intramural sports, which draw more students to athletic facilities, don’t begin until a couple of weeks after classes. Those few weeks of timing will be on the intramural team’s side too. Dal athletics launched intramural sign-ups on their website recently.
Whenever phase five comes into effect though, Maloney said he’s confident Dal can hold activities as they were before COVID-19 with precautionary cleaning measures.
“I don’t want to speak for [the university] but it has demonstrated over the last 18 months it’s in pretty good lockstep with the province,” he said, noting the university has the final say on what on-campus restrictions exist when the next phase arrives. “As the province loosens restrictions, so have we for the most part. I expect we’ll remain aligned with the province.”
Registration and other evaluations from this year will be compared to 2019 to aid with planning. As Keough said, the beginning of this school year is already garnering comparison to the last non-COVID-19 one in 2019-2020.
“Our hope is we’re back to something like 2019,” Keough said. “We’re still waiting on health orders to come down but our anticipation is that we’re almost the same as where we were.”