21 Mar 2020 The Intelligencer (Belleville) BRUCE BELL

This is uncharted territory for Loyalist College CEO and president Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan and her colleagues.

In a phone interview with The Intelligencer Friday, Vaughan outlined the extraordinary effort it’s taking from Loyalist staff to make arrangements to empty the college’s residence buildings.

Approximately 200 students were packing up and heading to local hotels until at least March 31, while another 43 will spend a portion of the weekend in the residence before leaving for alternative accommodations such as home or relatives.

“This is all about social distancing and in our residence buildings it’s not really possible,” she said. “Last week we wrote to our students, explaining the situation and telling them they needed to think about moving and by Monday we only had 12 who had moved out and by Wednesday the number was only about 40. That represents less than five per cent of the more than 600 students in residence.

“What we were made aware of is that in our units with six to 12 students in them — shared space — that is not a good situation should we end up with someone infected with the virus. This is all coming from appropriate health officials, so then the chore was to focus on the students remaining on campus with extenuating circumstances and make appropriate arrangements for them.” Vaughan said the college will now pay for single unit rooms at a number of local hotels until the end of the month. She said all students leaving the residences will be reimbursed their rent, which will help students in the hotel pay for meals.

Vaughan made it clear the move from residence affects both international and domestic students.

“Yes, it’s true that international students face some unique challenges, but we also have domestic students who don’t have an other options right now, so they are being accommodated as well,” she explained. “When we still had more than 500 students here on Wednesday, that was a problem because there isn’t 500 available accommodations in the community. We had to get this down to a manageable number and I know it’s caused a lot of stress and anxiety and it’s really, really unfortunate and I feel terrible about that.”

The March 31 date for housing the students in hotels coincides with the same date most services at the school will be closed until. Vaughan said as the date approaches, college officials will have to alter plans if nothing has changed.

“Keeping the students off site until March 31 will allow us to do a number of things including coming up with a plan as to whether or not we need to keep them in hotels or allow us to clean enough available rooms in residence for us to still allow for social distancing,” she explained. “The problem with the current configuration of 500 and then 300 yesterday — we’re getting that number down, but it did not allow us the ability to move people around to make enough social distancing. With them off site, it allows us to undertake more effective planning in order to take care of them while they’re students off Loyalist.”

Residence assistants will also be moved to the participating hotels to keep communication flowing between the students and the college.

The president expressed concern the public might interpret the move as evidence of the virus at the college.

“I can tell you there is no confirmed case of COVID -19 at Loyalist College — there has been some discussion in the media, but there isn’t,” she said. “It would come out through public health if we did and we’ve been told by medical authorities, now is the time to act. If we were to get a case, that would set us in a very different environment and we could not cope with quarantine in residence — we are just not equipped to do it.”

Student Sonia Later said the college’s actions are understandable.

“The coronavirus is spreading and I think this is for our safety and for the safety of the people,” she said. “But when it comes to the student’s life, it becomes so difficult to find a home in like two days. So it becomes really difficult for us, because we are in tension a lot to find a home. They are saving us from this virus, so I find that good. But it is a sudden change in our plans.”

Amandeep Soni said the college’s move creates some frustration and tension in students’ lives which is compounded by difficulties in finding housing in the Quinte region.

“We are just now going to Brampton. We can’t find any place here because everyone wants you to sign a lease,” she said Friday as she packed her belongings. “Even some people say that they are homeless now, they have no shelter. Some students are in the condition that they have found a home here, but the owners are not accepting them to move in because they have that fear that they are sick.”

Loyalist has suspended classes until the end of the semester, using remote delivery (internet) for remaining course material, with plans to scatter labs so four people could attend instead of 15 or 16.

“As of this week we have suspended everything so that we can flatten the curve and basically get down to very basic operations,” Vaughan said.