MASU president Jon Ferguson on students returning to campus this weekend

A photo of Jon Ferguson in a mask at Mount Allison University.
Jon Ferguson MASU.
Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 13-08-2020

About 200 students will be arriving this weekend in Sackville, all bound for two-weeks of self-isolation in Mount Allison residences.

They will be followed by several hundred more destined to live off campus, but also required to self-isolate as per New Brunswick’s rules.

Erica Butler speaks with Mount Allison Student Union president Jonathan Ferguson about the plans for the influx.

ERICA BUTLER: This weekend students started arriving, although I've heard that students have already started arriving in Sackville, possibly. Have you been hearing from students?

JONATHAN FERGUSON: No, we haven't been hearing that any students have been arriving. And honestly, as far as we're aware, except for those that have come back earlier in the summer for work, to the best of our knowledge, the real arrival of students coming back is going to be starting off on Friday.

Everyone that's going to be living in residence this semester, needs to arrive on Friday and Saturday specifically, to be able to quarantine for the exact same two week period. Basically, at that point, like if you're not here within that 48 hour window, you're not living in residence.

So that means that everybody else that is living off campus can come outside of that 48 hour window. However, we would believe that most of them will be coming afterwards since those are coming in this window are going to be out of self isolation August 30th. And classes doesn't start till September 8th.

So we believe that basically starting Friday is going to be when the first students start to come back. And and so far we have no indication that anybody has come back that needs to self isolate, except of course for, you know, people who are kind of like traveling around the Maritimes who are already in the bubble.

EB: Do you have any idea about how many people are coming from outside the Atlantic bubble who are coming into residence?

JF: I can tell you that we know over 200 students are going to be arriving on Friday and Saturday and they're going to be going directly to their rooms to self isolate. So everyone's going to be arriving Friday and Saturday. They are going to go directly to their rooms, which is gonna be about 200 of those in residence.

We estimate that there's going to be another several hundred—I think it's fair to say over 200—off campus that are going to be self isolating. However, those numbers are… we're still trying to gather. And then after that, there's going to be several hundred more that are coming in from within the bubble that don’t need to self-isolate.

EB: The folks that will be in residence, their self isolation will be a bit, maybe, easier than most people? Just because there'll be services in place for them, right?

JF: Yeah, I mean, that's a good point like there will be services in place. To be honest, I think it's hard to say who it’s going to be easier for, just because of the exact living arrangements. You know, somebody for example, if they're living off campus, they might have a big backyard. It's going to be different environments. So I think personally, we'd hesitate to call that easier. But you're right, that it will be simpler, at least on our end because Jennings dining hall is going to be providing them their food on a regular basis.

And on top of that, there is going to be scheduled outdoor time. I believe, the current word on that is it's going to be twice daily, although that's still being finalized. And that's going to be kind of monitored and whatnot. And it’s going to be at a specific place on campus, so it's not going to be anywhere near anyone else.

EB: So that self isolation will be pretty heavily monitored, I guess.

JF: Yeah, basically. It will be supervised in certain ways.

EB: And so now with the students who would be arriving, who are off campus, are they able to arrive anytime as long as they have their 14 days of self isolation before classes start?

JF: Yeah, basically. Students that live off campus, their self isolation is sort of up to them. From what I understand, the government of New Brunswick is asking universities to kind of keep track of who's arriving and when, and have kind of self isolation plans for those who are off campus.

EB: So as far as you know, the university will be keeping track, although not supervising that self isolation?

JF: As far as I know there will be documentation. The university will have self isolation plans for those living off campus or at least has been requesting those. And yeah, and then basically once students off campus have finished their 14 day self isolation, they'll be able to come to the Welcome Centre and then basically check in and get a bracelet that indicates that they've been processed through the Welcome Centre.

EB: How do you feel about this coming weekend and about students starting to roll in?

JF: I mean, ultimately, you know, there's been a lot of preparation done. Obviously, like everybody else in the community, we're anxiously waiting to see how it goes. Because this is of course entirely unprecedented and it's natural to be nervous and about this sort of thing. But when it comes to the bigger picture, I'm feeling pretty good about this weekend and about the next few weeks and about the semester we're about to engage in because we're one of, I think, the luckiest universities in Canada in terms of the situation we're in.

We're in a province that has, you know, health guidelines are being followed, and with basically a pretty low prevalence of COVID cases right now. And we have prepared and worked really hard—the entire community, the town, the MASU, the University—in a way that I think is going to pay off. We're really in a good place, you know, relatively speaking, as good as we can be to welcome students back in a safe and inclusive manner.

EB: Now, do you have concerns at all about about issues with the town integrating with students this year in particular? Because of the situation with New Brunswick and these pandemic rules and you know, among any community, everyone's interpreting them a little bit differently sometimes. Some people follow more to the letter of the law than others. Are you concerned about that? Is there anything that you think that MASU can do about that kind of friction that might happen?

JF: I think that there's a couple of different pieces to that. And the first is that I think, you know, through the NBSA, we're going to be reaching out a little bit more to the government. Not necessarily directly through the NBSA, but I think that there's going to be more and more of a push not just on behalf of the MASU, but on behalf of many universities and communities, to have clearer public health guidelines.

This has come up in several conversations. Some of the ideas of you know, having a bubble or having two-household bubbles or having, you know, 10 people to a group. They're great. But then when you throw that into the environment of residences, suddenly those rules seem a little out of context, right? They were designed for when we were all kind of slowly reopening and we were all at home. Now we're under the new normal and things are becoming more normal again. And we have to, I think, continue to push the government of New Brunswick to consistently update and reflect on their guidelines.

And of course, it's unprecedented. It's all trial and error, and nothing's going to be perfect from the start. But it's important that we really engage with the community and speak with the community, on top of pushing the government to be clear with their guidelines.

It’s also important, of course, that when the government comes out with new guidelines, or you know, even just referring to the current guidelines, that we do our part, as a students union, to communicate that to our students and say, listen, you know, here's what you can do, here's what you can't do. And here's what's going to happen depending on the degree to which you're following these guidelines.

But ultimately, I think one of the best things we can do is what we've already done: the community commitment. And promoting the idea that, you know, we're all in this together and these are interconnected bodies, and we need to not just keep that in mind and then go ahead and do what we're planning on doing, but really, you know, engage with the community and hear feedback and hear thoughts. And not just go on, on our own in a silo, as students.

But really speak with our neighbours and the rest of the community. And consider and listen to feedback as we all sort of test the waters and understand what it means to be living together. And to, you know, do what we can to make the most of the ability we do have to meet off campus in small groups, but make sure that that is respected and doesn't get out of control.

So really, another good way of putting it is that this is all a big trial and error. And I think that we need to be receptive to each other's feedback, and adjust the our course going forward. As we continue to, speaking generally as students, as we continue to engage with the community and remember that we're all in this together and the decisions we make affect each other's health. And that also is reciprocal, of course for the entire community, whether it's students, staff, faculty, community members, all of our health is connected in this situation and we all affect each other in that way.

EB: It’s going to be an interesting year.

JF: That's for sure.