With the announcement of a hybrid term – of both in-person and online classes – this fall, Waterloo Residences has decided to open up all residences to incoming domestic and international first-year students. When thousands from all over the world flock to one small city, the probability of them contracting COVID-19 during their travel is high, and so is the possibility of the virus’ proliferation. The students’ arrival is not something citizens of the region of Waterloo would look forward to because of the constantly declining number of COVID-19 cases in the area. While this increases exposure risk, it is important to acknowledge that students gathering here is inevitable, considering the existence of two renowned universities in the area.
Having said that, Waterloo Residences has taken the prospect of ‘virus proliferation’ into consideration and has implemented a myriad of safety measures. Only 40 people will be allowed into the in-residence cafeteria at a time, and self-serving counters will be closed to reduce physical contact. Touchless faucets have been introduced in most public washrooms, disinfectant wipe dispensers have been installed at convenient locations across campus, and plexiglass shields have been installed at the front desk of each residence. Each residence room is to be a single room with reduced furniture to encourage social distancing, while doors and elevators throughout campus have been made foot-operated using levers and buttons to reduce physical contact while attending classes. Study areas have also been separated using plexiglass.
The hybrid system implies fewer in-person classes. This could allow for schedules where different sections of a class can be called in to class in unbounded groups to ensure social distancing in classrooms and labs.
I believe that while there will be an inflow of new students, the risk only really exists for a couple of weeks after they arrive. If students self-isolate on campus, sanitary measures put in place by UW reassures me that the spreading of the virus will be contained. The incoming students are neither putting themselves nor others at risk by choosing to stay in Waterloo Residences.