On January 5th, 2022, students at Memorial University started an online petition for the university to move labs online. They take issue with MUN’s recent decision for all labs to be in-person for the Winter 2022 Semester. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is currently experiencing a COVID-19 Omicron variant surge.
The petition states, “We do not feel safe, or that MUN has our safety in mind with this decision, nor do we feel that MUN is adequately following public health recommendations. Labs have many people in any given lab at any given time, and while we have been told that social distancing and masking will be adequate, many are not comfortable with the idea of going to campus for this purpose.”
Furthermore, “Given that classes are remote, we are asking that MUN make labs remote as well for the time being, with the decision being reassessed the same as remote classes being reassessed before January 31st, 2022. We are asking that the safety and concerns of the students, faculty, and staff members be taken into account, and that we abide by public health’s request to keep our contacts low so that they are able to deal with the current surge of cases without contributing to the problem.”
Becca Chaulk states, “4/5 courses I’m taking this semester have labs. I’m not immunocompromised, but two very important people in my family are, my pop who can’t even get a common cold without risking his life due to health complications and my premature niece. If in-person labs go ahead while cases are extremely high, this means that I would have to go without seeing my family during the whole semester, and probably even the break after exams because I wouldn’t have enough time to isolate and that kills me. We deserve to have a choice in what makes us feel safe.”
Mason Penney says that 3 of the 5 courses they are taking during the semester have labs. Penney states, “I don’t feel comfortable coming in and doing labs. While classes are online, making no sense to me. I live over three hours away, but I am also in res. It doesn’t make sense for me to stay in town for 2-3 when the remaining courses are all online, and I can do at my home. Another factor, a big factor is that my nan is immunocompromised. She has lupus. Right now, my whole family are staying away from all public places. We get sidewalk groceries, and no one is in our home beside our bubble of 5. For me, this isn’t a hard decision to make when it comes to health of my family and myself. We deserve a choice; we need to be safe and put our concerns first.”
Katie Little brings with the issue of transportation to campus. She states, “On top of labs being a risk I am not able to take due to health issues, I don’t even know if I’d be able to make it to (or home from) campus since the buses have lowered capacity and fewer buses running.”
Emily George states, “Newfoundland currently has more active covid cases than we have seen during the entire pandemic. This active case number is also not accurate, as Newfoundland is only testing certain people, not everyone who wants a test, and it takes about a week from the time someone requests a test to the time they get a result back. We also have 3 people currently in hospital, which is a high number given the situation in our hospitals at the moment with low bed numbers and medical staff having to isolate. Many MUN students have also not yet had an opportunity to get the booster vaccination. MUN was completely online last year with very low active case numbers, so they have the ability to offer the same courses this semester with an online option. Studies show that n95 masks are much better than medical masks to prevent the spread of covid, yet we are required to take off n95 masks in lab settings and put on an ill-fitting medical mask. I have been completely isolated with 3 people for 2 weeks, and I planned to continue isolating until the case numbers drop significantly, but if I don’t take courses with labs this semester, I will graduate later than I had planned. I am finding myself faced with choosing between risking mine and my families health, or delaying my graduation date. MUN says that social distancing will take place on campus, but it is simply not possible to stay 6 feet away from others at all times in the hallways and when working on experiments in labs. Having people travel from all over Newfoundland and Labrador, and internationally, to attend labs in person is also greatly increasing students’ exposure risks. If anything, there should be an option to complete labs online this semester, and not force students to show up on campus or not complete their required courses. The Newfoundland Government is asking that everyone work from home where possible. It is possible, and was done just last year, to have labs online, so I feel as though MUN is not following the Newfoundland Government guidelines on this situation.”
A S states, “I feel unsafe walking into a lab and completing it next to strangers. We are all in this together, meaning we must work together to overcome this deadly virus, not worsen the state Newfoundland is already in because of our neglectful mindsets. We are all exhausted, but we must keep working. This virus can spread so easily, and allowing us students to enter labs is basically playing with our lives. We need to continue in a safe and smart way; this is not the way.”
Amy Butler says, “It’s so difficult to distinguish the situation that we’re all in as students right now; I find it crazy how labs are in person as cases are flourishing stupendously within the last two weeks. And there is nothing more I’d want than for labs to be held in person because it is much more valuable – but compromising students and faculty members has been seen to be a common theme at MUN within this pandemic, and I’ve found it extremely disingenuous.”
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.