TRU hosts virtual town hall with the region’s medical health officer

Dr. Carol Fenton took an hour to answer questions from TRU community on COVID-19

A virtual town hall with the Interior Health Authority’s (IHA) medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton was conducted on Sept 9 to answer questions based on COVID-19 in Kamloops and at Thompson Rivers University.

Fenton is the first medical health in nearly ten years to be based in Kamloops and is currently supporting the response to COVID-19 within the region.

Speaking to the TRU Vice-President, Administration & Finance Matt Milovick, through an online conference, Fenton answered previously posed questions from the TRU community and beyond, many relating to how the pandemic affects operations TRU and life in Kamloops.

A question indeed on many people’s minds as universities across the province shift onto a system of online learning was of face-to-face learning and a return to campus, be it with preventive measures to minimize infection.

“Physical distancing and safety protocols should minimize the risk of infection, but each scenario and each setting has a different risk assessment depending on the layout, the air circulation and the number of people,” Fenton explained.

“Depending on the learning needs, some can, more or less, easily be conducted over distance or remote learning.”

Fenton then gave kudos to TRU for their campus-wide risk assessment, mitigation and implementation of remote learning systems that many students, teachers and faculty have been adjusting to over several months.

The comparison was later made to grade school children returning to classrooms while post-secondary education pivoted online. Fenton pointed out the different governance for decision making at universities and expressed her opinion that the benefits of children continuing their classroom education, which allows parents to return to work, were balanced risks.

“Adult learners are better-abled to be self-directed and actually complete the curriculum and meet their learning needs through distanced learning. The types of things they’re learning and the way they need to learn is different than for children,” Fenton said.

Milovick later added to this point, saying, “Speaking on behalf of TRU, it’s very hard for post-secondary universities to pivot. It takes us months of planning to get our terms together and get people prepared. The last thing we want to do is bring people back starting classes and within a week, have to send everyone home, and then we’re not prepared to deliver in the highest-quality way that we can.”

When asked about the impending flu season, Fenton assured that an increased number of flu vaccines from last year would be delivered to community pharmacies for those seeking out a flu shot.

“That said, it’s really hard for us to predict how many people are going to want a flu shot and accept a flu shot,” Fenton said.

Fenton then cited antidotes from B.C.’s spring season as well as data from the southern hemisphere, which gets an opposite flu season from us, explaining that preventative measures, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing are just as effective measures to slow the spread of influenza as well as COVID-19.

“I do recommend that everyone who can, get a flu shot, but I’m hoping if everyone adheres to all those other preventive measures, we may see virtually no influenza spread this year,” Fenton stated.

One of the conference’s final questions touched on the mental health impacts surrounding the pandemic, specifically on students. Fenton acknowledged the mental health strains and voiced her hope as a previous instructor herself, that instructors and institutions support their students the best way they can through these times.

“I know that the mental health impacts of COVID are enormous. If we don’t at a provincial, societal level take measures to mitigate, could develop into its own public health emergency,” Fenton concluded.