ANTIGONISH: The Town of Antigonish was given more details surrounding StFX University’s mandatory COVID-19 testing mandate during a special meeting on Aug. 30.
The in-camera meeting with StFX Vice President Finance and Administration Andrew Beckett, provided an opportunity for the university to deliver some clarity to town council and senior staff.
“The meeting was just for council to get some clarification on StFX’s testing mandate policy,” Mayor Laurie Boucher told The Reporter. “StFX has always been very transparent and have communicated very well with council, so we had some questions about their policy, so Andrew Beckett came in and explained their policy to us.”
In a letter to the campus community on Aug. 26, urging individuals to get their shots at the first opportunity, StFX University indicated the health and safety of their communities remain their top priority and the very best way to protect them is to be fully vaccinated, however, they aren’t following suit with other post-secondary institutions in the province and across Canada who’re implementing their own mandatory vaccination policy.
While strongly encouraging regular asymptomatic testing among all members of the community; students, staff and faculty who are fully vaccinated will be exempt from mandatory testing with proper proof of vaccination.
StFX’s release provided key information on the upcoming academic year, and stated administration would share more details with the campus community as they develop the plans in the days ahead.
The mayor suggested from Beckett’s update, council is very happy with the policy.
“We do realize it’s basically the same policy as every other university and school, with the exception of calling it a vaccine mandate, they’re calling it a mandatory testing policy,” Boucher said. “They’ve been very transparent with the community the entire time from making the decision to return to in-person classes last August, and have done what they promised to do.”
She advised there were some concerns for the community, as there wasn’t a vaccine mandate set in place, but once it was explained to them that the basis of the policy was the same, it was just named differently, people understood and were comfortable with the decision.
Boucher advised the town and the StFX community are fully prepared for the upcoming year, and after getting through it once already, she highlighted how the community really stepped up to help out through the process.
“We were very fortunate to come out on the other end without any major incidences,” she said. “I think the past indicates what the future will be, and I think the community has a little bit more trust in StFX than they did last year, because they have proven themselves.”
On Sept. 1, residents of the Town of Antigonish and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish were invited to attend a virtual community information session with StFX President Andy Hakin, Warden Owen McCarron and Boucher.
“It was a time for StFX to introduce their policy face-to-face,” Boucher said. “It was also a time for town and county to support them in their policy, but also thank the community for what they did to get us to this point and to ask the community to continue to do and be welcoming to the students in their year ahead.”
Along with the “very low” number of students who have registered to isolate on campus, which is only 20 students, their neighbours helping neighbours off-campus support program has only two students registered.
But that doesn’t mean that community support is gone, Boucher advised.
“I don’t know we would have gotten through it the way we did without the community’s help, and I want to thank all the volunteers that stepped up to help their neighbours,” she said. “That doesn’t mean neighbours helping neighbours ends there. We want the partnerships that were formed last year to continue in other ways.”
As students return to the community, the mayor advised that sometimes in itself creates some issues, however they want to try to address those issues as well through the program.
“Whether its excessive noise, partying, or disturbing your neighbours, we want to apply the same neighbours helping neighbours concept to some of those challenges as well,” Boucher said. “So this year we’ll be sending leaflets out in the mail, to remind students and reminding our community members that it still is important to be respectful of your neighbours.”
She advised that long with Warden McCarron and President Hakin, the trio would be going door-to-door again this year, reminding students about being mindful of their neighbours.
“We can’t let our guard down, yes we have very high vaccination rate at the university, but we all know that the variant can be carried and transmitted by people that are double vaccinated,” Boucher said. “It’s still important to be diligent.”
Now with the Pfizer vaccine gaining FDA approval, she hopes that may alleviate some of the concerns for students and community members alike, who may have been hesitant to receive a vaccination.
“There are still a number of things that we’re doing in cooperation with StFX to keep our entire community safe,” Boucher said. “We are a little bit worried when Sept. 15 rolls around and we may be going into Phase 5 and a lot of those gathering restrictions are lifted.”
She said as a result, council is taking it day by day and will still push being diligent and vigilant in protecting the community.
“We know that students are allowed to gather in bigger numbers than they were last year,” Boucher said. “We have to realize a lot of these students, especially the freshman coming in, they have been not socializing for almost 18-months during their Grade 12 year, and now they’re coming to Antigonish and some of those social restrictions are being lifted.”
She added they’re anticipating larger gatherings throughout the community but wants residents to know they’re watching, and they have to remember that as restrictions start to be lifted, more activity will occur within the student body.