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Opinion: Late class cancellation put commuter students at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak

Ontario universities should have transitioned to online learning earlier
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ADITI PUTCHA AND CORALS ZHENG/THE VARSITY
ADITI PUTCHA AND CORALS ZHENG/THE VARSITY

It is no secret that commuter students, myself included, will jump at the opportunity to tell you about their latest TTC adventure. Truthfully, it’s a fun way to blow off steam and it’s usually a good conversation starter. However, the complaints among commuters have become more serious during the COVID-19 outbreak, as many of us were potentially exposed to the virus on a regular basis. 

Unfortunately, the University of Toronto, along with many other universities, did not adequately address our concerns about this in a timely manner.

According to Toronto Public Health, a person who tested positive for COVID-19 travelled on the TTC on March 2, 3, and 4 — exactly two weeks prior to the university-wide shut down.

Given the rate at which COVID-19 spreads, two weeks is a substantial amount of time for it to spread within the school’s community and the general public. 

We should also note that it takes up to two weeks for symptoms to become present, and not everyone who tests positive develops symptoms. As such, the virus can easily spread without our knowledge.

Many students at the University of Toronto are reliant on the TTC to get to and from campus on a daily basis, meaning that they may have unknowingly come into contact with COVID-19. 

Unlike those in Ontario, some American universities decided to transition to online learning earlier: Stanford University announced its movement to online classes on March 6.

Ontario institutions could have taken preventive measures as early as February 24 if they had listened to Chief Medical Officer of Health Theresa Tam’s warnings, but they chose not to promote social distancing practices.

As a result, many of us commuters had to risk public health just to attend a few lectures.

Personally speaking, this became a point of contention in my household because one of my parents has Crohn’s disease and routinely undergoes immuno-suppressive therapy.

As a result, my fears of getting COVID-19 while on my commute became so serious that I stopped going to classes before they transitioned online. Though this was the right thing to do, it did compromise my education. 

Some of my first-year courses are notoriously known for not posting any lecture material online, and I started to get behind in my coursework. Luckily, I have caring friends who were willing to help, but the university should be the main source of support for students who need academic accommodations — especially in a time like this.

While few crises can rival a pandemic, hopefully the university will treat future ones with urgency sooner than they did with COVID-19.

Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College. She a columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.