To overcome the pandemic, Alberta needs to do more

Extending online school will do very little to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially if it's the only measure being taken.

Bill Flanagan, University of Alberta president and vice-chancellor, announced on January 14 that online schooling will extend until February 28. This announcement comes after the province’s increasing cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. While a general work-from-home order is in place for many employees, universities are the only learning environment where students are being required to stay home. This is despite the fact that many have asked the provincial government to do more so that we can flatten the curve and return to school; if COVID-19 numbers are going to decrease to safe levels, Alberta needs to do more to end the pandemic.

The pandemic has frustrated and scared people. People are scared that they aren’t doing enough to stop the spread, and frustrated that others are doing so little. It feels like the situation hasn’t changed at all since the pandemic started. The pandemic upended my normal life. Myself and countless other Albertans have sacrificed so much just so thousands of people could ignore disaster and carry on as if nothing happened. 

Even now, the pattern stays the same. As so many times before, all the headlines say the same thing — Alberta had previously been hitting record COVID-19 cases daily, with a dip happening only at the end of January while hospitalization numbers remain high. Governments at every level are asking people to stay home and get the vaccine to protect themselves and others. And just like every other time, part of the province agrees while the other part doesn’t. However, this specific time has students feeling more frustrated than ever.

University students are online until February 28, while most other Albertans live with very limited restrictions and the province has plan to lift even those at the end of the month. Even though I can’t go to my classes, I can still do virtually anything. Want to go out for dinner tonight? You betcha. Wanna go to the gym? You got it. I can even drop my younger siblings off at their schools but I can’t go to mine.

While I agree that universities should be online for now, one group staying home won’t slow the spread of COVID-19. Even though I’m not getting sick from the university specifically, there are dozens of places I can still contract this virus from. 

Closing universities in Alberta until the end of February is a band-aid solution for a much bigger problem. Albertan universities have done what they can to end the pandemic but our provincial government isn’t pulling their weight. Only select people are eligible to get tested for COVID-19 in Alberta. If you manage to find a pharmacy that has tests, you have to be asymptomatic. And good luck if you want to buy a rapid test kit: most Albertan pharmacies don’t have any

Although we’ve gone online before, it feels as though the University of Alberta barely has a plan. Countless students feel unheard and constrained by the lack of options. A survey conducted by the University of Alberta Students’ Union showed that students are divided on when on-campus learning should resume. Some members of the community were angrily tweeting Students’ Union President Rowan Ley, asking why they couldn’t choose. One thing is clear — there is no one answer for every student. 

As much as I hate online learning, no other option exists for us. On the other hand, just moving university students online will not solve all of Alberta’s problems. With much of our population not able to get tested, Alberta Health Services (AHS) reports a 34.7 per cent positivity rate. Our health-care system is crumbling, barely able to support COVID-19 patients, let alone people who are sick with other diseases. Many fear that surgery postponements will happen again.

University students are risking their education and mental wellbeing to protect themselves and their fellow Albertans — the province is not reciprocating. I feel like I’m going crazy. Especially with so many contradictions circling around.

Post-secondary students and professors continue to act in good conscience. The provincial government is awash in hypocrisy and ambiguity. Jason Kenney proudly tweets that Alberta says no to vaccine mandates while the provincial government asks people to vaccinate. While many Albertans listen to AHS suggestions, Kenney rewards those who have held out. As hundreds of Albertans protest, Kenney encourages them by tweeting that Quebec taxing the unvaccinated is “un-Canadian.”

A united front will best protect Alberta against COVID-19. Either all Albertans stay home or nothing will change. As the pandemic continues, one thing is certain: those who are sacrificing the most are being screwed over more than anyone else.

Katie Teeling

Katie Teeling is the 2023-24 Editor-in-Chief at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2022-23 Opinion Editor. She’s in her fifth year, studying anthropology and history. She is obsessed with all things horror, Adam Driver, and Lord of the Rings. When she isn’t crying in Tory about human evolution, Katie can be found drinking iced capps and reading romance novels.

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