From Susan D in Ottawa Canada: Fall and the return to school

Photo taken 8 September … far too early for trees to change colour.

After an endless Canadian winter and a sweltering summer fraught with COVID-19 , the weather suddenly turned cool rather early this year and cruelly tricked the trees into turning colour.  This glorious change of colour is normally a pleasure to behold, but this year it is just a grim reminder of the winter to come and, given our age, a return to being closed inside. 

In Canada, the Fall is when the education systems gather up their students and instructors and close them inside.  Considering the return – or not – to school requires that I look further than the kitchen, although it does continue to bring forth beautiful breads.  Looking not too far, just across the street, I see an empty house.  Two weeks ago granddaughter the elder returned as planned to her Vermont university with a clearly communicated strict regime of immediate testing and room quarantine after a two week home self-isolation.  The 2,260 students living on and off campus returned in three waves and were tested twice — once on the day they arrived, and again seven days later, with just two returned positive results recorded on the institution’s COVID-19 Reporting Dashboard.  However, a group of students was sent home for not respecting college rules (tuition not refunded).  With this rigour, we are reassured that it is not likely she will be returning to us before the end of term.

While granddaughter the younger had deferred her acceptance from a Quebec university and had intended to stay in Ottawa for the year and look for a job, she changed her mind when she was sent a residence room assignment (an administrative error).  She left after a last minute flurry of preparation, which included her mother flying from Florida to accompany her (after self-isolating for two weeks).  As they drove off together, there were tears, but they were only mine.  The fact that the university had already confirmed her deferral in writing and then assigned her a room in residence is one small indication of the many challenges administrators are facing this year, some minute, some enormous.  At her university there was be no organized testing, and only international students were required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.  We are not as reassured that this institution will remain open.

Looking down the block, I see that our neighbours with school age children have opted to send them back to their schools.  Some schools have reduced the numbers of students in class by staggering presence – three days one week and two days the following week.  And the time in class has been shortened as well, with study in the afternoon to be done at home. Today Ottawa recorded 106 new cases, its highest ever daily increase.  Thirty-one schools are listed as having an outbreak.

Now a neighbour across the street has reported that her son is at home for two weeks – “he is already bouncing off the walls” she added.  And the school year has barely begun.

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