As students and their families make hard decisions about gathering and travelling safely this holiday season, many are increasingly alarmed by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. A new petition within the University of Alberta community lays out the most recent evidence from this developing situation.

Consistent with our ongoing advocacy on keeping students safe from COVID-19, the University of Alberta Students' Union supports the petition's four core asks:

-The University should be prepared to temporarily shift online for no more than two weeks at the start of Winter 2022, just as other universities are planning based on the most recent COVID-19 data. Once the University establishes strong safety measures with a better understanding of Omicron, in-person classes need to resume as soon as possible. We hope to get more information from the government as soon as possible. Whatever measures the government and the University choose, students need to be fully informed before the Christmas holidays.

-The University needs to take aggressive action to make rapid testing prominent and easily accessible on all campuses, and make the data available to the public.

-Since Omicron is known for its rapid aerosol spread in crowded indoor venues, the University needs to update its masking recommendations and provide as many N95 masks as possible.

-Since the federal government has now recognized the crucial role of ventilation in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the University needs to perform ventilation audits, particularly on classrooms.

Other Canadian universities are delaying in-person classes to buy crucial time for rapid testing, third doses of vaccines, and updating of mask recommendations. For example, last week the University of Toronto shifted most in-person classes online until January 31 due to the aggressiveness of the Omicron variant. Meanwhile, public institutions across Qu├ębec are moving toward free take-home rapid testing kits, remote operation, and a delayed return to in-person instruction.

As the Omicron situation develops, it is becoming clear that the University of Alberta needs to make these decisions immediately. Students need this information before the Christmas holidays as they try to ensure they can safely return to school.

If you or a loved one need access to vaccines and COVID-19 testing, see the Government of Alberta's rapid testing and vaccine distribution programs. For more information on mental and physical health support, see UASUCares, an interactive wellness resource designed to connect you with the services you need.