Residence still open, but many students have left due to COVID-19

Residence at Durham College and Ontario Tech University. Photo credit: Courtesy of Durham College

Residence remains open at Durham College (DC) and Ontario Tech University for a select group of students despite campus closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students who were able to return home were asked to do so by the residence. According to Chris Haze, director of residence operations, about 300 students remain in residence while 850 have moved out.

Leaders from both schools officially closed the shared campus on March 24.

DC Paralegal student Dan Chang was asked to move out of his residence the weekend before the full closure.

Chang, 19, from Scarborough, says COVID-19 is impacting his personal life.

“Well, I moved into residence to be away from my family,” says Chang. “So, with COVID-19 shutting everything down, I had to move back a month earlier and that’s kind of putting a damper on my plans.”

He says before moving out, a lot changed in the residence.

“We’ve we had a lot of events in the building before the outbreak,” says Chang. “And after the outbreak, those events were gone. We used to have movie nights and seminars.”

Haze says the cancellations of those events were necessary measures.

“We have focused our cleaning efforts on all common areas, ensuring that all touch points are cleaned and sanitized through the day,” says Haze. “So, we had to cancel all student events and gatherings, as well as close all common areas to promote social distancing.”

Haze adds despite the cancellation of events, residence is still taking care of its students.

“We continue to connect students to the appropriate resources at Durham or Ontario Tech,” he says. “Both institutions have done a great job in ensuring that all resources that students rely on day-to-day are still being offered online.”

He says residence staff is also prepared to handle the needs of students still living on campus.

“The residence has a pandemic plan which we engage during times like these. In addition, we conduct annual emergency training for all residence life and professional staff,” says Haze. “This training covers a variety of topics, directed at ensuring staff have the tools they need to respond in an emergency.”

Haze adds the decrease in students on residence has not meant staff layoffs.

“We have been able to reassign folks to other jobs to keep everyone working,” he says.

Chang says while he appreciates the college looking out for his safety, he is worried about going home where there is a higher number of COVID-19 cases.

“Scarborough is a part of Toronto, and Toronto, unlike Oshawa, has a much higher infection rate per capita,” says Chang. “It’s completely ironic that they were telling me to leave residence for my own safety when it would be a risk to my safety to go to an area that was not as healthy as Oshawa.”

As of March 26, Durham has 43 cases, according to Durham Region’s public health department, and Toronto, according to Toronto Public Health, has reported 339 cases.

Durham College president Don Lovisa echoes the sentiments of Haze. He says student safety is the number one priority.

“We continue to manage [residence] carefully,” Lovisa says. “We are still providing services to them because [students] have to be fed and we still need to provide a safe, secure environment for them as well.”

Haze says he wants students to know they aren’t alone.

“Just hang in there and know that we are here for you,” he says. “We have a plan to continue to provide service to our residence students who are unable to return home, and we appreciate the co-operation and understanding of all our residents who we have asked to return home.”