Consider This: What Would a Move to Essential Services Mean for the U of A?

By Andrew Sharman

By Andrew Sharman

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Andrew Sharman, VP (Facilities & Operations) and Executive Lead - Public Health Response Team

Over the past couple of weeks, we have watched provinces and countries around the world take various measures to stem the spread of COVID-19. This week, both Ontario and Quebec moved to shut down all but the most essential services. While Alberta has not taken this step to date, a shut-down of similar magnitude seems possible, if not likely. What would this mean for the University of Alberta?

First, in the event of a closure, we would work closely with the provincial government and public health authorities. We cannot know precisely how the U of A would be impacted in advance, but based on the measures taken in other provinces, we can make some educated guesses about what a closure would look like on campus.

Typically, services considered "essential" are those which, if interrupted, would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public. These services are also necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law and public security. This definition is a starting point - all jurisdictions ultimately decide on what can be categorized as essential in order to best meet their individual needs.

At the U of A, this would likely mean some services would be discontinued completely, a majority of services would move to remote delivery (many already have), and only a small core of essential services would be allowed to continue on our campuses.

The university's emergency response team has been preparing for this scenario should the university need to move to essential services. The complex research, study, working and living environment on our campuses makes for some unique challenges, but the guiding goal would be for no member of the university community to be physically present on campus unless their work was absolutely essential.

Here are some of the activities that could fit that description:

  • Research into the treatment and prevention of COVID-19 - including delivery of critical supplies
  • Laboratory animal services
  • Waste collection, including biohazardous materials from research labs
  • Supports for those students in residence unable to return to their homes
  • Essential building maintenance, i.e. that which protects them from flood and other emergencies
  • Ongoing operation and maintenance of our District Energy System
  • Maintenance of critical servers

Any other activity that could be carried out remotely would be, with few employees permitted on campus. It may be that any employee accessing campus would require individual approval - some jurisdictions have put this measure in place.

Again, I reiterate that Alberta has not yet moved to close non-essential services. Nor has such a move ever been undertaken at the U of A. We continue to work with the provincial government to better understand what services would be considered essential, and what the full impact would be for our university community.

Should the Government of Alberta mandate a closure like those we have seen in Ontario and Quebec, we are prepared to take all required steps, and to maintain those activities that must be sustained while also positioning the university to return to normal operations as quickly as possible once the pandemic is over.

Andrew Sharman
Vice-president (Facilities & Operations)
Executive Lead, Public Health Response Team