McGill must do more to protect students in residence

McGill welcomed hundreds of new students to its campus residences this fall, despite delivering classes remotely. McGill Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) must now balance students’ urge to socialize while protecting the community’s health and safety amid the pandemic. As the number of daily cases continue to increase in Quebec, residence staff must be prepared to implement containment measures as necessary. Although SHHS claims to prioritize students’ health and safety, their lax approach is insufficient to stop a potential outbreak. Even though public health officials warned of a second wave well in advance, SHHS failed to draft more stringent protocols to protect the physical health of students in residence and the surrounding community. Now, with Montreal in a red zone, poor communication and limited enforcement will only exacerbate the risk of an outbreak within residences.

When Quebec Premier François Legault announced the new red zone restrictions on Sept. 28, SHHS made quick adaptations in order to comply. The closure of common areas and a ban on any indoor gatherings seemed sudden, given that SHHS made no adjustments weeks prior. Additionally, the COVID-19 tracker does not specify where on campus transmissions occurred, fueling rampant speculation. The information currently posted online offers a protocol for students who have symptoms, but it is unclear what measures will be put into place if there is an outbreak. SHHS must prioritize implementing thorough guidelines and structure for any attempt to stop the spread of COVID to be effective.

Those who enter New Residence Hall are greeted by a handwashing station and someone enforcing mask ordinances. Although handwashing is an important sanitary measure, SHHS must extend their enforcement to address violations of occupancy limits. Frequent gatherings in individual rooms pose a greater risk for transmission. It is naïve to assume that first years will limit their social interactions to a select group of people, which is recommended by health officials. Students in residences have reported inconsistent enforcement and rule defiance. It is not uncommon to hear loud gatherings persist throughout the night, undisturbed. To reduce the risk of transmission, SHHS must increase its enforcement beyond areas under public view. 

With poor communication and flawed safety measures in place, the lack of disciplinary enforcement is no surprise. Whereas other Canadian universities have garnered attention for making stern statements and imposing stricter guidelines after students violated restrictions, McGill’s approach is passive and weak in comparison. SHHS implemented a strike system for those who violate the rules, but the informal parties that occur every weekend continue to persist. With no serious consequences for those violating the rules, the SHHS is only tolerating students hosting gatherings. While students must play their part in keeping those around them safe, SHHS must do a better job setting a precedent for what constitutes irresponsible behavior.  

One may claim that McGill cannot control what students do off-campus, but it is still responsible for the safety of the hundreds of students that it welcomed into their residences and subsequently into the community. Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin attributed the second wave of infection, which led the city to impose stricter restrictions, to social gatherings organized primarily by young people. Given the demographic that they serve, SHHS must show a greater will to break up social gatherings and implement better measures to track and reduce the virus’s spread. 

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