Ryerson University. (The Canadian Press)

Students at several colleges, universities asked to vacate dorms over COVID-19

Students said they understood why they were advised to move out, but were nonetheless stressed out

Students at several post-secondary institutions were asked or told Wednesday to move out of their dorms in response to COVID-19, forcing many to search for housing or move between cities at a time when Canadians have been advised to stay home.

Some schools, such as the University of Ottawa and Toronto’s Ryerson University, said students living on campus were required to vacate their rooms, and set deadlines for the move to be complete.

Others, including McGill University and Algonquin College, said they were asking or encouraging students to leave voluntarily.

Most institutions said exceptions could be made for international students and those with “exceptional circumstances,” or who needed more time to arrange an out-of-province move.

The decision marks the latest in a series of measures meant to curb the risk and impact of the novel coronavirus on campuses.

In recent days, colleges and universities have largely shut down their buildings and moved classes online, as well as cancelled in-person exams and co-op placements.

Some students said they understood why they were advised to move out, but were nonetheless stressed out by this latest hurdle, which comes amid growing uncertainty about their education and future.

Jason Beharriell, a first-year radio broadcasting student at Hamilton’s Mohawk College, spent several hours worrying he would be forced to move out of his dorm before learning he had been granted an exemption.

Beharriell, 40, said he was concerned about arranging a last-minute move given that he uses a wheelchair and currently has four, each serving a different purpose.

His hometown of Sault Ste Marie, Ont., is a nine-hour drive away and finding housing locally seemed unlikely under the circumstances, he said.

ALSO READ: B.C.’s largest universities move classes online amid coronavirus spread

“It’s sort of difficult because I have all my equipment here. And it would probably be more beneficial just for me to stick it out here and hermit it out and just keep to myself,” he said Wednesday.

He said there initially appeared to be a lot of confusion over whether students were being asked, or told, to leave. Still, he said: “I don’t want to blame anybody. Really, everybody’s in a panic.”

A spokesman for Mohawk College said Wednesday that students who are able to leave their dorms are “strongly encouraged” to do so, but noted supports will be in place for those who can’t.

Landon Nesbitt, a first-year student at Ryerson, said most students living on campus had already left by the time the school told them they had to.

The 19-year-old, who is studying performance acting, said only those from other countries or provinces stuck around after the university classes were cancelled last week.

But many of those are now having to move by Monday afternoon, and Nesbitt said several friends have offered him a place to stay until he can fly home to Edmonton next week.

“Most of us kind of knew was coming because everything else has been shutting down,” he said.

“My plan right now is to kind of put all my stuff in storage somewhere this weekend… That’s kind of my life right now — in my dorm room trying to find somewhere to put all my stuff and not going outside.”

The bigger stressor, Nesbitt said, is wondering if he’ll be able to find a summer job to pay for his next semester given the widespread closure of restaurants and venues.

Most post-secondary institutions were offering pro-rated refunds to students moving out of dorms due to the novel coronavirus.

The University of Ottawa said it believed requiring students to leave by Sunday afternoon to be an appropriate response to the current public health emergency.

“It is another critical step in our necessary efforts to employ social distancing to flatten the infection curve and reduce the impact of the virus,” the school said in a statement.

At the University of Guelph, undergraduates have also been given a Sunday deadline, though graduate students are allowed to stay in their residences in accordance with their tenancy agreement, a spokeswoman said.

Deirdre Healey said that so far, roughly 200 domestic and international students have asked to extend their stay in housing due to extenuating circumstances. Those who do stay may be asked to move into residences with more apartment-like units, she said.

“These units have kitchens and fewer people share a washroom. These units are also more appropriate spaces for individuals who are in self-isolation,” she said in an email.

McGill University, meanwhile, said it has “strongly encouraged” students in residences to consider returning home as soon as possible if they are able to.

“For those who cannot return home at this time, measures have been put in place to facilitate that students in residences adhere to the practice of social distancing and proper hygiene in accordance with the recommendations of public health,” the university said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Algonquin College said the school expects 50 to 75 per cent of students will voluntarily vacate its Ottawa dorm, which has 1,040 beds.

Student residences currently remain open at the University of British Columbia, according to a notice posted on its website Wednesday morning, and at the University of Alberta.

“Given the fluidity of the situation, our operations are under ongoing evaluation to determine the safest options for our students,” University of Alberta spokeswoman Hallie Brodie said in an email.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Dupras family has been regulars at the Babine River and have seen plentiful grizzlies over the years. (Jay Dupras photo/Lakes District News)
A family’s close encounter with a grizzly on Babine River bridge

Photo-enthusiasts let the bear access the bridge for photos putting others at risk

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

(Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory Facebook screenshot)
Ceremony a right at proposed CGL pipeline drill site: BC Union of Indian Chiefs

Indigenous land defenders cannot be criminalized and targeted, argues UBCIC

(File graphic)
Man dies in Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) after being taken into police custody

IIO and BC Corners Service conducting independent investigations

Dan Stuart (Christian Heritage Party - BC photo)
Strong values underpin Christian Heritage Party candidate

He’s also suspicious of the COVID-19 pandemic

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
2 years after huge highway acid spill, Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

Most Read