U of T extends pay continuity policy to on-campus workers, in light of COVID-19 pandemic

Workers will be paid until April 5 — little indication of what comes next

U of T extends pay continuity policy to on-campus workers, in light of COVID-19 pandemic

Effective March 14 and ending April 5, U of T will maintain a pay continuity policy, which will ensure that people who work on campus will continue to be paid regular wages. U of T has not revealed whether this policy will extend past April 5, potentially leaving some students who work on campus without a source of income. The Varsity heard from two such students about how these changes have affected them.

The university informed employees on March 14 that it would continue to pay staff in the event of cancellations. The official policy on pay continuity was released on March 18.

This policy includes all employees, whether they work on a term, temporary, or casual basis. The policy instructs workers to take additional paid sick days if they contract COVID-19, regardless of whether they have already used all their preappointed sick days.

Employees who receive salaries from the university will continue to be paid the same amount. Those who are paid hourly will be paid according to either their scheduled shifts or their average weekly wages — whichever is greater. Employees are expected to continue their work remotely, if possible, and otherwise may be assigned new work.

One anonymous student who works at Hart House, along with other on-campus jobs, told The Varsity that she is continuing to be paid for the time being, despite campus buildings being closed. Hart House administration sent an email on March 16 saying that employees would continue to be paid until April 2. She believes that, at the time of the email, U of T expected to reopen facilities soon after that deadline.

Her pay at Hart House and her other on-campus jobs is based on monthly hours that she and other employees decided on before the campus closures began. In the case of her Hart House job, the shifts were decided on Microsoft Teams, and employees will continue to be paid for the hours they signed up for, though they are not required to do any work.

This was not clear to all employees early on. In one case, an employee was unable to attend her shift in person, so she gave it to someone else. Her coworker is now being paid for those hours even though neither of them worked the shift. “I don’t like how no one knows what’s going on,” she said.

Thomas Siddall, a third-year student in international relations and contemporary Asian studies, works as a duty tech at Gerstein Library and a computer access facility assistant at Robarts Library. They are still being paid wages from both jobs, though the university has shut down both Gerstein and Robarts.

As a low-income student, Siddall relies on these jobs to pay bills. They feel that, given the university’s vast resources, U of T should be doing more to help on-campus workers.

The university can and should be refunding students’ tuition, residence fees, [remitting] payments to student casual workers — full-time staff still receive a salary — and [ensuring] that students will be… able to return to university,” said Siddall.

Siddall feels that student employees are being left out of the loop purposefully. For instance, full-time staff members received an email informing them of changes to the hours at Gerstein, while casual workers did not.

Both Siddall and the anonymous Hart House employee have received contracts for work over the summer, though it is unclear whether or not U of T will need its summer workers. 

The university has not yet responded to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Disclosure: Siddall served as a Victoria College Director for the University of Toronto Students’ Union until their resignation earlier this year.

U of T medical students launch Toronto Student COVID-19 Response Team

Students have volunteered more than 400 hours to help health care providers

U of T medical students launch Toronto Student COVID-19 Response Team

A group of students in medicine, nursing, and other health care-related fields at U of T have started a Toronto Student COVID-19 Response Team to help front-line workers fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative offers assistance with child care, grocery shopping, food and coffee delivery, pet-sitting, and running other errands in an effort to alleviate some of the recent pressures that health care providers are facing.

Daniel Lee and Jordi Klein, both U of T medical students, launched the response team by reaching out to classmates to see if they were willing to help.

Lauren Beck, another U of T medical student who serves as a volunteer coordinator and internal communications director for the initiative, described the outpouring of support from fellow students in an email to The Varsity.

“Within an hour there were dozens of responses,” Beck wrote. “All of us helping out are simply people who are trying to help other people through this challenging situation to the best of our abilities.”

Malli Zworth, a nursing student and fellow volunteer coordinator, told The Varsity that If we were in the same predicament that these health care professionals are in, we would want someone to help us.”

How the response team works

The team is made up of a four-person steering committee, 16 volunteer coordinators, and 416 student volunteers. The student volunteers are in medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, respiratory therapy, and occupational therapy programs. Volunteers from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College also offer chiropractic services, and those from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine offer naturopathic services.

Zworth said that the team has been expanded to include students in education programs across the GTA.

Impact on the community

According to Beck, the initiative has been able to arrange more than 100 successful matches between students and health care practitioners, and they’ve already volunteered over 400 hours.

Zworth added that the response from health care practitioners has been overwhelmingly positive. “Every email that I get back when I make a match for a health care worker… starts with, ‘Thank you so much for this initiative. You don’t understand how grateful we are and how helpful this is for us!’”

Zworth also emphasized the power that small actions can have. “Just changing the litter in their cat box, it’s so small and insignificant, but that’s just one thing that they can cross off their list that they don’t have to think about,” Zworth said. “It just makes you realize how a little thing can really go a long way for someone right now.”

According to Beck, more than 200 health care practitioners have filled out the form to request support, mostly in child care. As a result, the response team is actively recruiting more volunteers who are adept at providing child care support.

Ensuring safety while providing services

Beck stressed the importance of volunteers’ safety. She outlined various precautions the team has put in place, “such as asking volunteers to ensure they meet our stringent requirements about symptoms, risk factors and exposure history.”

“We also have a program design in which each student is only paired with one family for the duration of the program so that students are not meeting multiple families and increasing the risk of exposure,” she continued.

She added that students who live with high-risk populations, such as immunocompromised or elderly individuals, and people who have travelled outside Canada in the past 14 days are ineligible to volunteer.

Zworth and Beck’s role as volunteer coordinators also includes regularly checking in with volunteers to ensure that they don’t have any symptoms or new risk factors, and are still comfortable to continue.

For students who are not volunteers, but want to help, both Zworth and Beck highlighted the importance of following social distancing recommendations from public health officials.

“The health care workers going to the hospitals are trying to work for us every single day,” Zworth said. “The least we can do is just stay home and try to help them in that small way.”

Opinion: Travelling home during a pandemic only adds to the fear and anxiety

The burden of uncertainty faced by international students

Opinion: Travelling home during a pandemic only adds to the fear and anxiety

On March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would close its borders to non-essential travel. He later announced that it would remain open to international students. The sheer scale and suddenness of Trudeau’s announcement meant that anything was possible. 

At that moment, the preventative measure didn’t affect me personally, but it was nevertheless abrupt and unexpected.

Fast forward 24 hours later, and I had packed all of my things and prepared to board a 14-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Bahrain — with a 20-hour layover in Dubai. 

Everything was chaotic. I ended up missing some of my online classes, but that was the least of my concerns. I was primarily worried about getting home. Navigating a pandemic places an additional burden on international students, whose sense of belonging is threatened as the world shuts down.

Trudeau’s announcement created room for greater uncertainty than my family and I had anticipated. After all, wasn’t the situation better in Canada? Wasn’t it less dire than in the US or UK, where my school friends were? Ostensibly, yes. But, what could come next? Shutting down outbound travel? A complete lockdown? 

It is incredibly difficult to make reasoned decisions when your position as a visa-carrying foreign student is at stake and changing by the hour. For those of us who are international students and have no family or relatives in Canada, the prospect of getting stuck by yourself on a different continent for an indefinite length of time is scary. 

This is not so much a question of being safe as it is of being separated.

This precariousness of the situation was apparent on my flight. Right before it took off, the government of Mauritius closed down its borders to all commercial flights. There were a handful of passengers on the aircraft whose final destination was Mauritius, and the crew had to make arrangements to escort them off the plane and locate their luggage. 

The resulting two-hour delay was ample time for me to reflect upon the perilously changing circumstances that we are currently facing — for me to reflect on the fact that those who left the plane could have been acting as fast as they could with the information they had. Yet, they fell prey to circumstance nevertheless — and many international students did too. 

Other than the emotional and situational burden of these uncertain times and having to make swift decisions without knowing the consequences, there is a real financial burden that international students may not be ready for. Booking a flight to the opposite side of the Earth incurs a potentially devastating invoice, especially when travel is both seriously limited and in especially high demand.

International travel itself is becoming increasingly restricted and unpredictable. Certainly, these measures are necessary in order to curb the spread of the virus, but they place international students, like myself, in a dangerously awkward position. 

After my layover in Dubai, there was some confusion as to whether or not my next flight would actually go to Bahrain. This was based on a rumour, but it sparked a serious dilemma on my part. If Bahrain shut down its borders, I wouldn’t be able to go home, and I wouldn’t have been able to return to Canada. 

The mere fact that I found myself in a position to contemplate this dilemma shows that there are things international students have to consider that are particularly burdensome. I entertained the notion that my passport, which validates my citizenship and existence, might not get me anywhere. In a crisis where everyone is feeling anxious for their health and safety, I was worried about becoming displaced. 

Under ordinary circumstances, I would go to India, where I am a citizen, but on that very day, India announced that it was blocking all international flights for a week. Had I been unable to board that flight to Bahrain, I would be stuck in a limbo of international borders, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. No one wants to be him, but under the dystopian reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems eerily plausible.

Despite how dangerous it was and still is to travel internationally, I had to leave. The fact that myself and other international students still felt the compulsion to get on a plane, in spite of everything, is testament to the essentiality of being at home in a time of global crisis. 

Stuti Roy is a second-year Political Science student at Victoria College.

Opinion: The credit/no credit deadline must be extended across all campuses, not just at UTSG

UTSC and UTM students should be afforded the same accommodation

Opinion: The credit/no credit deadline must be extended across all campuses, not just at UTSG

The impacts of COVID-19 have made all of our school lives more difficult. At the University of Toronto, the credit/no credit (CR/NCR) policy has been key in ameliorating academic difficulties. After all, being able to see your grade before deciding to CR/NCR is a sigh of relief in the face of heavily-weighted — yet now uncertain — finals. 

However, this is not a privilege afforded to all U of T students. In fact, UTSC and UTM students, who face the same difficulties in light of the spread of COVID-19, are making their CR/NCR choices without knowing their final marks.

UTSC and UTM students can only make their decisions until April 25 and April 22 respectively, and “no final grades will be released until after this date” per the UTSC website.

UTSG’s Faculty of Arts & Science was the first to announce its updated CR/NCR policy on March 15. It would have made sense for UTSC and UTM to follow suit, but instead, their announcements came two days after, with different CR/NCR deadlines.

The rationale that was offered for the differences between campuses is what is truly frustrating. 

The UTM website helpfully outlines that “the regulations and procedures that govern these decisions… may vary among the divisions across the University, as is normally the case.” These differences aim to “[maintain] academic standards of degrees and programs.”

In other words, differences in regulations and procedures, academic standards, and more are the cause of differences in policy.

Yet I do not believe that academic standards are so different across the three campuses as to warrant such a substantial variance. 

To be clear, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Rotman School of Management at UTSG have both taken identical positions to the Faculty of Arts & Science. If three widely differing divisions with differing academic regulations and policies can arrive at the same decision downtown, then UTSC and UTM ought to as well.

For students who are dependent on final marks for employment, graduate school, and beyond, the ability to CR/NCR without knowledge of final marks is not sufficient when faced with writing a final that’s worth 40–50 per cent of their grade in an experimental, untested format. UTSG, the University of Waterloo, and Ryerson University all seem to agree on offering students the ability to CR/NCR after viewing their grades.

Fundamentally, this is an equity issue. UTSC and UTM students are U of T students too; they face the same academic standards, graduate with the same degree, and are equally impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Every U of T student deserves the same accommodations in the face of this pandemic.

Perhaps the university needs to listen to the petitions being circulated by those who have been impacted.

George Chen is a fourth-year Management and International Business student at UTSC.

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

Ontario universities should have transitioned to online learning earlier

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

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.

Editorial: In light of COVID-19, giving students a universal pass is the only way forward

Academic accommodations have been uneven and inequitable thus far

Editorial: In light of COVID-19, giving students a universal pass is the only way forward

U of T’s transition to online learning has been rocky, at best. Two weeks of online learning have yielded uneven results, with discrepancies across and within campuses and faculties.

The university’s pandemic planning was sorely lacking. Despite praise from department members, The Varsity recognizes that U of T has delayed adequately preparing students and faculty for changes in instruction, and notes that multiple universities across Ontario maintain robust emergency pandemic plans, something that U of T is sorely lacking. 

Consequently, the U of T community is still struggling to find its footing amidst the cancellation of in-person classes, campus closures, and transition to online learning — not to mention a host of other financial, health, and housing inequities that students and staff may be personally experiencing.

Students and faculty have been stepping up for the community. A prime example is the Toronto Student COVID-19 Team, which aims to alleviate some of the stress faced by frontline health care workers during this crisis. 

Furthermore, Faculty of Arts & Sciences Dean Melanie Woodin has been regularly updating students in creative and inspiring ways, using social media to boost student morale through messages of empathy and hope. Woodin sets a strong example for her colleagues.

View this post on Instagram

[Transcript at end of caption] . To end the week, I promised to deliver something a little different and lighter. I will say I had a lot of fun putting this TikTok together for you, as did my kids who planned and produced it. It may be the only TikTok I ever do and I hope it brings a smile to your face. . Warm regards, Dean Melanie Woodin . Transcript: . [Music: Buttercup by Jack Stauber] . SCENE 1 . [Text on screen – Study Guide – Welcome U of T ArtSci Students!] . Camera position is outside a house. The camera moves towards the door of the house and the door opens. . Dean Melanie Woodin opens the door. She is smiling and wearing a grey sweater with the U of T logo and blue jeans. . SCENE 2 . Dean Melanie Woodin is standing in front of a red wall. She is wearing a dress. She spins while text appears on the screen. While spinning, her outfit changes. She is now wearing a white sweater and blue jeans. . [Text on screen – Step one: Get into cozy clothes!] . SCENE 3 . [Text on screen – Step two: Get study snacks!] . Dean Melanie Woodin is in a kitchen. She opens the fridge and takes out a bag of baby carrots. . SCENE 4 . Dean Melanie Woodin is sitting on a chair with a laptop and the bag of baby carrots. She looks at the camera smiling. . [Text on screen – Step three: Get to work!] . SCENE 5 . [Text on screen – Good luck students!] . Dean Melanie Woodin is in a foyer. She opens the door and waves at the camera.

A post shared by Faculty of Arts & Science (@uoftartsci) on

The Varsity commends these students and faculty for taking on these responsibilities, and furthermore encourages U of T to look to these actions as examples of what can be done to alleviate the burdens that are being placed upon students and staff during this time. 

While the university’s efforts have largely fallen in line with that of other postsecondary institutions across North America, The Varsity believes that it can and should do better. We must stand for students, faculty, and staff, and make a renewed commitment toward the health and safety of our community. To move forward, we must first revisit the university’s shortcomings.

COVID-19 case response was the first misstep

The Varsity’s editorial board members would like to express our disappointment toward the university’s response to the first confirmed COVID-19 case on campus. It seems that optics were put over the consideration of health and safety. 

While medical confidentiality should absolutely be respected, especially during times of high anxiety and paranoia, the various parts of university administration made missteps concerning when it chose to inform students and which students they chose to inform.

Firstly, the university should not have neglected to initially inform undergraduate students of the case. Since the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies (CrimSL) administration deemed it possible that graduate students had come into contact with the person who had tested positive, there was no reason to keep undergraduate students in the dark. The decision may not have been made in malice, but it gave the appearance of a certain hierarchy of importance.

Secondly, the CrimSL’s response was to immediately resort to secrecy and suppression. Once The Varsity began making inquiries, rather than respond, its administration sent an internal email discouraging students, staff, and faculty from speaking to the media. The Varsity, as a media organization, is disappointed by the administration’s efforts to prevent anyone from speaking to the press. 

Thirdly, when U of T’s central administration did respond, it chose to deny knowledge of the case, though it would have ostensibly been made aware of it through the centre. We understand that it is a very chaotic time, and we have sympathy for everyone who is struggling to keep up with rapidly changing situations. However, the university would have been informed of the case, and furthermore had months to prepare for its possible arrival. 

Therefore, the unclear messaging and denials only worsened the situation by effectively discrediting the university’s authority on the matter. We at The Varsity do not know the internal mechanisms at play, of course, but the matter was publically handled in a way to make it seem that the university wanted to suppress any news of this case.

This was made worse by the fact that after the article was published, it took six days before the centre sent a vaguely worded email to undergraduate criminology students which appeared to confirm the case. The centre wrote that there was “a very low risk that that undergraduate students in our program were exposed to anyone at CrimSL who tested positive for COVID-19.”

If the risk on campus was serious enough to warn CrimSL faculty, graduate students, and staff to be alert if they had visited certain areas, it is unclear to us why this information was expressly kept from the public.

This irresponsible reaction undermines student trust at a dangerous time, given the severity of the circumstances. All students and staff at the university should have been notified, given the shared nature of campus spaces. CrimSL graduate students and staff were notified on March 15, just two days after the cancellation of in-person classes was announced.

The central university administration should have notified the wider community, and The Varsity urges U of T to do so immediately.

Pass or panic

The Varsity recognizes the efforts of the administration to continue offering regular accessibility services, including one-on-one appointments, peer note-taking, and accommodations for tests and assignments. An effort to keep services as close to ‘normal’ as possible, however, is not sufficient for the situation at hand. 

The pandemic has created higher levels of stress for almost everyone, and the university should be prepared to offer support to a higher number of students who may be dealing with new or worsening mental health conditions as a result.

Students and staff with limited access to wi-fi and technology are unable to maintain the same level of communication as their peers. The Varsity hopes that the university addresses these concerns as soon as possible. Libraries, both on- and off-campus, are closed, and community members are left with no access to digital resources in the case of internet or other technological difficulties.

In addition, out-of-province and international students have had to deal with the stress of moving, new times zones, and growing anxieties over displacement, on top of keeping up with their school work. The university’s decentralized response puts them at a disadvantage. 

In light of the decision to continue academic evaluations until the end of the term, and the inconsistent levels of support depending on campus, program, and professor, the university should take more initiative to support students who are now working in a vastly different capacity than they were a few weeks ago — while still facing the relatively similar academic expectations.

The university’s failure to provide students and faculty with a transition period has been harmful, with many professors failing to adapt to online systems. While some took responsibility for these potential changes early on in the year, it’s irresponsible for the university to expect professors and lecturers to do so in a matter of days with little to no guidance.

Some faculties have failed to make significant adjustments to course assessments, transitioning tests into online formats within a week of the cancellation of in-person classes. Doing so is inequitable, considering the uneven distribution of emotional, financial, and academic tolls of COVID-19 measures. The fact that this has continued is an extreme oversight by the administration and an unfortunate indication of a lack of compassion and consideration by faculty members.

Furthermore, while many lecturers have stepped up to these new challenges, a concerning number of lectures have been cancelled entirely, without adequate alternative delivery methods due to an inability to adapt to the demands of online learning.

This is not the fault of our teaching staff. The Varsity would like to thank those lecturers who have adjusted to the demands of this crisis and would like to recognize the lengths that they have gone to ensure that students continue to be taught. 

Those who have decided to cancel lectures are doing so because they are understandably underprepared. The fault falls at the hands of the administration who failed to adequately plan and inform teaching staff and teaching assistants of these potential circumstances.

As a result, academic pressure remains high. Students still must pass their courses, or else face financial and academic consequences, potentially needing to repeat courses in the future.

For those hoping to enter programs or apply for graduate studies, or who are on academic probation, the credit/no credit (CR/NCR) system does not present a realistic option. Without clarification from the university, first-year students are in limbo as they need to maintain averages in order to enter into some of their desired programs.

Furthermore, students at UTM and UTSC are not being afforded the same consideration as those at UTSG, who are able to drop and CR/NCR courses after they have received their marks. 

The Varsity reminds the university of its commitment to students of all three of its campuses. 

There is no reason that UTM and UTSC should not be able to have the same extended drop date, and the continued inequitable treatment of students from satellite campuses during this pandemic is unacceptable.

For graduating students, the CR/NCR option does little to alleviate growing academic and financial pressures. For those enrolled in challenging upper-year courses, a failure to pass may require students to repeat a semester or even year of study. Graduating students are also in an increasingly precarious position as they have to enter an unstable job market.

What unites students across faculties, years of study, and campuses is the burden of academic pressure, which could be alleviated if the university chooses to put its students’ health first. Academic performance during this time is not a reflection of a students’ ability to successfully function as students.

These circumstances are novel, like the virus itself, and the extent to which we mediate growing anxieties and pressures must adequately reflect the severity of this pandemic, as it has affected every level of life, from diet to academics to housing.

A universal pass is necessary

Students across North America are petitioning colleges and universities to institute a no-fail system. While many universities have adopted some variation of the CR/NCR system, this is simply not enough.

The Varsity urges the university to consider a universal pass for all students, regardless of final grades. We believe this would be the most compassionate option for students and educators who have been thrust into this exceedingly difficult situation through no fault of their own. 

In this scenario, students would still have their exceptional work during the year reflected in their grades, but no student would have to worry about failing classes due to mitigating circumstances such as insecure housing situations, lack of reliable internet access, or stressful home environments. 

Simply offering students the option to drop a course if they do not pass will potentially force many students to spend more money re-taking courses to finish their degree. During a time when unemployment is set to rise drastically, this is unacceptable, particularly for graduating students who are certain to feel the impact of a shrinking job market.

The Varsity has already urged the university to adopt equity as a guiding force behind its implementation of preventative measures. A universal pass is the only way to ensure that students and faculty are able to focus on their physical and mental health during a time that is undeniably stressful for everyone. 

The Varsitys editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

COVID-19 blues: Toronto athletes shifting gears following Tokyo 2020 Games delay

Postponement of summer Olympics impacts Varsity Blues

COVID-19 blues: Toronto athletes shifting gears following Tokyo 2020 Games delay

On March 22, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee announced that they would not be sending athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Less than 48 hours after Canada pulled its athletes from the games — the first member country to do so — the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo organizing committee officially postponed the games until 2021.

In the midst of international shutdowns, health crises, and waves of social distancing, it was not a matter of whether or not the games would be postponed or cancelled, but when. Numerous other athletic events,  including the U SPORTS men and women’s hockey and volleyball championships, had already been cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

The ramifications of this decision will impact a significant number of athletes who were vying for the games. Though the IOC has announced that athletes who had already qualified for 2020 would keep their spots into 2021, questions now arise for when and how qualification processes will take place. 

Other questions have yet to be answered, such as the age restriction in women’s artistic gymnastics, which states that gymnasts must be turning 16 in the Olympic competition year. Will gymnasts turning the eligible age in 2021 now be included? Will they be excluded from the Olympics, yet allowed to enter other competitions? It’s also uncertain how this delay will affect the Code of Points, which is the rulebook that indicates the scoring system for each level of competition.

The Toronto Varsity Blues have a large handful of athletes whose qualification plans have been put on hold.

Varsity Blues men’s swimming alum Matt Dans had made the qualifying Canadian Olympic Trials in the 100-metre butterfly event. 

Runner Lucia Stafford, who had a stunning cross country and track field season, was looking to contend for a games berth next to Gabriela Debues-Stafford, her older sister and holder of multiple Canadian records.

Swimmer and Olympic Bronze medallist Kylie Masse was all but a shoo-in for her second straight games, and Rosie MacLennan was vying for a third consecutive gold medal in the women’s trampoline event.

Erica Gavel had already helped qualify the Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team to a Paralympic berth.

This list also doesn’t include the other Blues — past, present, and future — who have either made qualifying times for trials, or who would have been attending the games as a staff member.

So, how are the Blues handling the COVID-19 blues?

Dans wrote to The Varsity that, without access to a pool, he is focusing on ‘dryland’ training. This refers to training done outside of the pool, such as weight lifting, running, or cycling. His training plans have shifted significantly due to the delay, as swimming usually operates on a quadrennial cycle that aims to have athletes in peak shape for the Olympics.

Now, instead of focusing on stroke techniques, Dans is focusing more on building a strong base of fitness for 2021.

However, he’s also using this extra time and self-isolation to focus on other things; he wrote to The Varsity that his go-to relaxation activity is testing out new baking ideas.

From Netflix Party to Zoom: how to handle COVID-19-related social distancing

Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation, according to U of T psychiatry professor

From Netflix Party to Zoom: how to handle COVID-19-related social distancing

Social distancing and self-isolation measures have become the new norm for the foreseeable future in Toronto. These measures will help ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of COVID-19, and can save lives by not overburdening Canada’s health care system.

Canadians have been taking their studies and work to their homes. However, social distancing and its potential toll on people’s emotional well-being is a subject of concern for mental health experts. 

Dr. Suze Berkhout, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a clinician investigator at the University Health Network, explained how weakened emotional stability can be a typical effect of isolation in an email to The Varsity.

In the context of COVID-19, we might also expect other feelings to become prominent: fear relating to infection, guilt, [and] confusion around the reasons for decreasing proximity with others when someone has no symptoms of infection, as well as irritability, sadness, or even anger at the situation in general,” she wrote.

Awareness of the negative impact of social media

With newfound time at home, spending hours on end scrolling through seemingly eternal COVID-19 news feeds can be overwhelming. Jessica Valenti, an American feminist writer, asked her followers on Twitter if anyone else had “been waking up in the middle of the night to have a nice big panic attack.” One of the responders commented that she had just had her “first Coronavirus cry.”

Berkhout mentioned that although it is important to stay well informed about the situation and public health recommendations, people must balance the different kinds of COVID-19 media they consume. 

“That might mean giving yourself a schedule – only going on to certain sites with reliable information and [limiting] how often that is during the day.” Finding examples online of communities pulling together can also foster feelings of hopefulness and resiliency. 

Social connection through remote communication

It is important to remember that physical isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Dr. Heidi Kar, a clinical psychologist at the Education Development Centre advocates for the importance of a solid support system for good mental health. Similarly, according to Jonathan Kanter, the director of University of Washington Center for the Science of Social Connection, people are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after natural disasters when they have family support. 

However, only socializing through text messages lacks “the non-verbal aspects of communication that we respond to and use to understand one another,” as Berkhout pointed out. 

Setting up video calls to converse, with programs like Skype and Zoom, along with doing activities like playing music, games, or watching movies with friends and family can all reduce this disconnect.

Google Chrome even has an extension called Netflix Party that allows you to watch TV shows and movies in sync with others remotely — with a real-time sidebar chat to share your reactions and comments on whatever you’ve decided to binge-watch. 

Berkhout reminds us that “[we] also need to try to adapt and not expect everything to feel the way it would have – it’s a new ‘normal’ and one that we can embrace.” 

Solitary tasks to boost one’s mood

If you are home alone, there are solitary tasks you can do during the day that may help prevent negative thought patterns. For example, start reading the books that you’ve been wanting to read for months, journal your thoughts and experiences, and follow an at-home fitness routine to get endorphins flowing through your body.

Self-care practices like these are great methods for stress relief, emotional release, self-discovery, and building self-esteem. You might come to terms with any negative stressors that have been lingering throughout the escalating panic of COVID-19 and be able to better process them.

It can be discouraging without the normal incentive to leave our houses for tasks such as work, school, and other extracurricular activities, as our usual markers of productivity and achievement are no longer there. Berkhout emphasized the importance of maintaining a routine “so that the day itself has more certainty.” 

Ensuring that “each day has elements of relaxation… enjoyment, social connection, and feelings of accomplishment” through practices like mindfulness, physical activity, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule are all ways to decrease anxiety and improve our moods. 

“One way to help with the challenge of social distancing is to reframe the practice as part of a larger collective effort in which we are helping to protect our communities, especially our most vulnerable members,” wrote Berkhout.