Concerns about rising COVID-19 cases in the province are prompting some Ontario universities to change online classes for the start of the winter term.

York University and McMaster University announced that the winter term will begin as planned on January 10, but classes will be online, rather than in person. Other universities are also adjusting plans and are expected to release details.

York University in Toronto It says that in-person courses and most activities on campus will resume on January 24. Until then, all classes will be taught remotely, unless in-person is essential.

Meanwhile in McMaster in Hamilton, classes will take place virtually during the first week, and in-person learning is scheduled to resume on January 17th.

News of these changes comes as Ontario struggles with a growing number of COVID cases, fueled by the highly communicable Omicron variant. On Wednesday, the province reported 1,808 cases, with 357 people in the hospital and 154 in the intensive care unit.

“The pandemic continues to evolve at a rapid rate,” wrote McMaster University President David Farrar and Principal Susan Tighe in a letter to the school community Tuesday.

“While concerns are mounting, there are still many unanswered questions about the overall impact of the COVID Omicron variant.”

They said McMaster is being “proactive in improving safety and providing as much certainty as possible as we move into the holidays and the beginning of the winter period.”

Similarly, York University President Rhonda Lenton said: “While the rapid spread of Omicron is overwhelming, more information is expected over the next two weeks on this variant regarding its likely trajectory.”

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“We will be monitoring these developments closely during the break and will continue to inform community members of any impacts on the university’s operations,” he wrote to the school community.

Effective immediately, universities across the province urge staff to work from home when possible and avoid in-person meetings and gatherings.

“We are canceling all non-essential end-of-the-year meetings and face-to-face meetings on campus,” he wrote. University of Waterloo President Vivek Goel and Vice President James WE Rush to staff and students Tuesday. “We also strongly encourage you to cancel all off-campus work-related end-of-the-year meetings.”

Working from home “will help us keep our contacts low as we increase the levels of vaccines and booster shots,” they said.

Universities, which have mandatory vaccination policies for staff and students, are making other adjustments as well. On Sunday, Queen’s University in Kingston stopped in-person exams for the fall term, after the number of cases among students began to rise and students expressed concern that some exam rooms were filled with hundreds of people. Queen’s students who test positive for COVID, or who are high-risk contacts, are required to self-isolate in place for 10 days, which means some may not be able to go home during the holidays.

On Tuesday, Western university in London, he said exams scheduled for Dec. 17-22 will move online, except for practical and clinical assessments that may have to be completed in person. Exams scheduled for December 15 and 16 will continue in person unless students are notified by teaching staff.

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“The decision to change the online exams was made to ensure that students and employees can enjoy the vacation by limiting in-person contact for the remainder of the term,” Western President Alan Shepard said in a statement.

“We recognize that this decision may be detrimental to some, but the health and safety of the Western community is our top priority.”

In Trent University In-person exams continue as scheduled – the average in-person exam has 89 students at the Peterborough campus and 47 students at the Durham GTA campus.

In a message to his community on Tuesday, Trent said he is monitoring COVID-19 activity on campus “and if the situation calls for it, we will not hesitate to adapt plans, working with public health to guide our decisions.”

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