While the COVID-19 pandemic remains far from over globally, the situation on the ground across McGill University’s three campuses looks significantly different than it has in some time. The University is beginning to resemble its usual state as a vehicle of learning, scholarship and intellectually stimulating discussion, with 85 per cent of classes being held in person in the Fall 2021 session. Although there has been a significant increase in the number of people on site there have been no classroom outbreaks and, since the beginning of October, there have been no more than four positive COVID-19 cases on campus each week.
Directives adopted by the University to ensure a safe return to campus, including the requiring of procedural masks and distancing in indoor spaces outside of classrooms and labs, are certainly contributing factors to this success. As is the recent news that approximately 95 per cent of McGill students are considered adequately protected against COVID-19, according to data provided by the Government of Quebec on October 18.
“The safe evolution of the Fall semester so far is a tribute to the fact that McGillians are invested, not only in their own individual health, but in the health of the community at-large,” says Prof. Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) and Planning Lead on the University’s Emergency Operations Centre since the pandemic’s outset. “It is reassuring to see the results that can be achieved working in a deliberate, consultative and fact-driven manner, always keeping our community’s health and safety at the fore. With the high vaccination rate of our community, the likelihood of transmission on campus is greatly diminished.”
To help drive up the vaccination rate, Prof. Labeau has been encouraging vaccinations since they became available as part of his weekly communications with faculty, students and staff, noting that they provide the best path for us to get beyond the pandemic. The University has led initiatives to facilitate vaccinations as well as registration of vaccinations from outside the province, working for example with clinical partners to hold several on-site clinics, with another two set for the downtown campus on October 21 and 27, as well as for the Macdonald campus, also on October 27.
“While what we are seeing across our campuses is encouraging, it does not mean that it is time to pat ourselves on the back and become complacent,” adds Labeau. “New initiatives continue to be rolled out to ensure we monitor the situation as it evolves and that we are prepared in the event the situation should take a turn for the worse.”
Ensuring individual cases are contained
Another important factor in keeping the situation under control has been the work of McGill’s COVID-19 Case Management Group (CMG), established in October 2020 as per a requirement from the Quebec Government via the Direction régionale de santé publique (DRSP) for post-secondary institutions to conduct COVID-19 case management and contact tracing within their campus communities.
The CMG has evolved from having one dedicated full-time Case Management Coordinator in October 2020 to a team of four full-time and one part-time daytime Case Management Coordinators, five on-call coordinators for after hours and a full-time CMG Supervisor.
The core team of Case Management Coordinators receives and manages all reports of symptomatic or positive individuals who have been on campus during their contagion period (the 48 hours preceding symptoms or a positive result, as defined by Montreal Public Health and the US Centre for Disease Control), determines the need for disinfection and/or contact tracing.
By working with an Assessment Group comprised of subject matter experts from Environmental Health and Safety, the Office of the Dean of Students, and HR Disability Management, the CMG ensures the required actions are completed and reported back to the DRSP as needed. An Outbreak Response Group can also be convened as needed to provide coordinated response in the event of an outbreak or widespread community transmission on campus.
Responding to an ever-evolving situation
As the CMG has grown, along with the number and complexity of calls handled due to the changing COVID situation, so have the training requirements. To be able to respond to the needs, additional resources were hired, receiving extensive training covering basic CMG protocols, setup and testing of the different technology platforms used, as well as shadowing more experienced coordinators for call intake and case management.
“All CMG processes are based on the guidance and protocols provided by DRSP and we defer to them when needed,” explains Sarah Delisle, Senior Advisor, Emergency Management and Preparedness at McGill and Coordinator of the Emergency Operations Centre. “As I like to say, our Case Management Coordinators are not health professionals, so when in doubt we direct staff and students back to Montreal Public Health for guidance. As per DRSP reporting requirements we also share all reports of positive cases within the McGill community. DRSP case managers will also call McGill’s CMG to follow-up on cases as needed.”
Between October 26, 2020, and August 5, 2021, the CMG handled 256 reports of symptoms or positive test results for members of the McGill community that were on-campus during their contagion period. This only includes cases where the CMG was required to take action, a fairly quiet period compared to the 364 calls since the start of the Fall 2021 semester, with the increased number of students and staff on campus.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the health and safety of our university community,” adds Delisle. “Timely and efficient case management is a cornerstone of the University’s COVID-19 safety measures, and it requires ongoing support and commitment not just from CMG members, but also from students and staff who need to follow the protocols that are in place. This means self-isolating and not coming to campus when they experience COVID-19 symptoms or get a positive test result, regardless of their vaccination/protection status, AND reporting to the CMG if they’ve been on-campus in the 48 hours prior to their symptoms appearing or, if asymptomatic, in the 48 hours prior to the date of their positive test.”