As provincial COVID cases rose rapidly, Ontario imposes a new stay-at-home order

By: Alexandra Podkoscielny, Contributor

Despite many people’s illusioned hopes, hanging up a new calendar did not leave the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Only 12 days into the new year, the province of Ontario proclaimed a second provincial emergency.

In a news conference at Queen’s Park on Jan. 12, Premier Doug Ford promulgated both the state of emergency and a stay-at-home order under section 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

“The measures [introduced on Jan. 12] are absolutely necessary to save and protect the lives of Ontarians . . . The number of cases and the number of deaths due to COVID-19 are at the highest levels since the start of the pandemic a year ago,” said Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliot. 

“The measures [introduced on Jan. 12] are absolutely necessary to save and protect the lives of Ontarians . . . The number of cases and the number of deaths due to COVID-19 are at the highest levels since the start of the pandemic a year ago,” said Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliot. 

The number of single-day COVID case increases in Ontario reached a record peak of 4249 on Jan. 8, 2021. “By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives,” said Ford.

Now, since Jan. 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. until at least Feb. 9, 2021, residents of Ontario are required to stay at home. “Remain in their place of residence at all times,” according to the stay-at-home order.

Now, since Jan. 14, 2021 at 12:01 a.m. until at least Feb. 9, 2021, residents of Ontario are required to stay at home.

Residents must stay home with the exception of leaving for purposes that are deemed as essential. These exceptions most notably include groceries, medicine, healthcare services and exercise. Among the many other permitted exceptions outlined by the order, people are also able to leave for essential work. Non-compliance with the order can result in fines.

The order has received some criticism for being unclear.

The order has received some criticism for being unclear. With 29 exceptions, many Ontarians are left puzzled. However, according to Ford, the order is clear. 

“There is no confusion here. It’s very simple. Stay. Home. Stay home. That’s it. If you’re questioning, “should I go out?”, you got the answer: stay home,” said Ford. 

The guidelines of the stay-at-home order layer onto previous rules and restrictions; however, some have become more stringent. During the state of emergency, non-essential businesses can only operate between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. through contactless curbside pick-up and delivery. 

“There is no confusion here. It’s very simple. Stay. Home. Stay home. That’s it. If you’re questioning, “should I go out?”, you got the answer: stay home,” said Ford.

Indoor gatherings between members of different households are now banned, with some exceptions, such as religious rites. Outdoor gatherings cannot exceed a maximum of five people and must comply by social distancing guidelines. Outdoor use of masks is now being advised during instances where social distancing is difficult as well. 

Remote learning in elementary and secondary schools is extended until Feb. 10 in schools that were in grey zones prior to the state of emergency, including Hamilton. Post-secondary institutions must continue to carry out their courses online, aside from mandatory in-person components, such as clinical training.

“[Ontario] should have somewhere around or below 1,000 new cases a day,” said Williams.

In a news conference on Jan. 18, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams explained some general requirements for the lockdown to end. “[Ontario] should have somewhere around or below 1,000 new cases a day,” said Williams.

Since the new measures were imposed, the province has had an average of approximately two-and-a-half times this proposed daily target per day and last had around 1,000 new cases per day in early November.

National Society of Black Engineers increases representation and supports for Black students in academia

Addressing anti-Black racism has been an urgent need for increased equity for Black students and professionals across academia, especially in traditionally white male dominated fields like engineering.

To tackle one of these barriers in education, the National Society of Black Engineers, McMaster Chapter has launched an annual entrance scholarship for Canadian Black students entering the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award. The scholarship will provide each recipient with $2,500, along with a position on the NSBE executive team.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award.

The NSBE is a national student-run organization that aims to increase the number of Black engineers who excel both academically and professionally, while demonstrating valuable leadership to make a difference in their community. The NSBE team also includes other engineering graduates and professionals.

Founded in 1971, the society has over 31,000 members that span over 600 active chapters in Canada, the United States and other countries around the globe. They provide academic excellence programs, social connections, leadership opportunities, additional scholarships and career networking to support Black students in engineering.

The McMaster chapter is spear-headed by an executive team of McMaster engineering students. The current president is Feyisayo Enuiyin, a chemical engineering student in her final year. The chapter’s aim is to provide Black students with academic support, professional development and networking opportunities.

[/media-credit] NSBE McMaster Chapter President Feyisayo Enuiyin

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin. “This scholarship was created for students who didn’t even know they wanted to study engineering. It creates hope for students to show they are going to a school that supports them.”

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin.

The NSBE McMaster Chapter’s goal is to raise $62,500 for the award. The number of scholarships will be dependent on the funds raised. If they exceed their goal, they will provide more scholarships. They are currently accepting donations, with hopes that this award will inspire and encourage more Black students to apply to McMaster Engineering. 

Enuiyin explained that the scholarship aims to provide more than financial assistance the award will also create a larger scale for representation, further showing Black students that institutions like McMaster actually care about them. 

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

To Enuiyin, this representation within the university at large, especially in academia, is important because it creates confidence.

“It creates a sense of self awareness so that when you step into a place and you see people like you doing what you aspire to do, it gives you encouragement and motivation to know that you can do that too… When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin.

"When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin. 

Enuiyin expressed gratitude towards the Faculty of Engineering for supporting the NSBE McMaster Chapter and said that the scholarship is a step in the right direction.

“[The scholarship] will help us move towards a more inclusive environment where a range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation,” stated Professor Iswhar K. Puri, dean of engineering, in a McMaster Daily News Article. 

Other efforts for inclusion by McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering include the recent launch of The Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships. These fellowships were created in collaboration with faculties at the University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Western University.

These fellowships will provide Indigenous and Black recipients of the award each with $25,000 over the span of four years to support them with their graduate studies and engineering research.

Similar to the NSBE scholarship, the IBET doctoral fellowships were launched with the hope to reduce the financial barriers experienced by Black and Indigenous students. 

These efforts for inclusion are paired with McMaster’s announcement of a new commitment to Black academic excellence, such as the commitment to hire a cohort of up to 12 Black faculty members. This is the first initiative under the new Strategic Equity and Excellence Recruitment and Retention program, which is part of McMaster’s larger equity, diversity and inclusion strategy.

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin. 

Other efforts at McMaster include the development of a yearly bursary of $800 in perpetuity for Black students with financial need in the McMaster Health Sciences program. The bursary organizers include McMaster University and Mohawk College alumni and are currently also fundraising.

When asked what else academic institutions can do to alleviate barriers for Black students, Enuiyin highlighted the importance of outreach programs along with financial assistance. These outreach programs should be delivered in underprivileged communities, especially for high school students.

“When students are already in universities, it is hard to change their perspectives. [By starting in high school], you can start to show them options as to what they have,” explained Enuiyin. 

When discussing how McMaster community members should view this scholarship, Enuiyin highlighted its importance on our society as a whole. 

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin.

Donations for the scholarship funds are currently being accepted on the NSBE McMaster’s iFundMac website. 

Struggling to connect with one another through virtual classes, first-year students found community on social media

After four months of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, McMaster University students can finally say that their first semester of online learning is behind them. Some students, however, have only ever experienced McMaster online.

Since September, first-year students at McMaster have experienced a virtual transition to university. As residence is closed for the majority of first years, most have had to meet their peers virtually. However, the opportunities for socialization are different and more limited in an online classroom setting.

Navya Sheth, a first-year arts and science student from Oakville, Ontario, reflected on her first semester. For her, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen, rather than the new academic challenges.

For Navya Sheth, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen.

In anticipation of the social challenges that come with an entirely remote school year, McMaster tried to foster community among first-year students by adapting orientation to fit the online environment. This orientation involved a virtual Welcome Week and a new program called Archway, which was designed to help students access resources and meet new friends.

Saumyaa Rishi, a first-year life sciences student from Ottawa, Ontario, was grateful for the effort put into Welcome Week. Nonetheless, she found it difficult to connect with other first-years in that setting. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

Sheth expressed a similar sentiment when discussing her experiences with McMaster’s online social events, in particular, the Archway program. While she did enjoy the Zoom events hosted by the Arts and Science program, she found Archway wasn’t a conducive platform for her to make social connections.

Aniruddh Arora, a first-year international student in the computer science program, found that Archway was most beneficial at the start of the semester. “It was helpful for the first one or two weeks,” Arora noted.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” Arora explained. 

Arora then added that he later stopped attending meetings. Not only did he no longer have time in his busy academic schedule to attend Archway meetings, he also didn’t find it necessary anymore.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” he explained. 

Arora is not the only first-year student who has found community on social media. Over the last few months, some first-year students at McMaster have relied on social media to connect and communicate.

“When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

Rishi described social media as being a positive force in her first semester. “When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

According to Rishi, the impact of social media on her first-year experience has been far-reaching. Not only has social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships, as Rishi noted, but it has also helped first-year students to feel connected to the McMaster community in other ways.

Social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships.

Arora, who is attending McMaster from his home in Punjab, India, pointed out the academic benefits of social media on first-year students. As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system.

“It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system. “It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

Social media has helped first-year students get involved with extracurricular activities as well. As an active member of the McMaster Moot Court, Sheth noted that she found out about the majority of extracurricular opportunities through Instagram.

On the impact that social media had on her first semester, Sheth believed Instagram links people to places where they feel connected albeit virtually. However she noted the challenges of a virtual first-year remain significant on students as some feel isolated to figure out how to adapt to online university.

“[Some] upper-years are living together in houses and can see each other, and I’m at home, trying to figure this out on my own,” Sheth said. “And I think that might be something that all first years are struggling with.”

MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré discusses election “what ifs?”, advice and engagement

The McMaster Students Union Elections department announced a one-week extension of the MSU Presidentials nomination period from Jan. 14 to Jan. 21, 2021. The extension was announced the morning of Jan. 13 via social media — one day before nominations were set to close. The reason for the extension was unclear; however, it was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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The nomination period opened on Dec. 2, 2020 and ended at 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2021. The extended nomination period would delay the start of the campaigning period. Campaigning was supposed to be from Jan. 24 and end on Feb. 4 at 4:30pm, while the voting period would be from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4 at 4:30pm. 

However, MSU Elections announced on Jan. 22 that at the end of the nomination period one nomination had been received. Denver Della-Vedova has been acclaimed MSU President-Elect for the 2021/2022 term. 

In an interview with the Silhouette prior to the acclamation, current MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré discussed his experiences with running for MSU president, offered advice to candidates and shared insight on how the campaign period may play out.

"We want students to know about all of our services, all of our offerings and benefits that they have as a part of the MSU. But also we're not trying to contribute to that stress and that Zoom fatigue,” said Da-Ré.

"We want students to know about all of our services, all of our offerings and benefits that they have as a part of the MSU. But also we're not trying to contribute to that stress and that Zoom fatigue,” said Da-Ré.

As the MSU Elections department operates with a degree of impartiality from the MSU elected officials, including the Board of Directors, they made the decision to extend the nomination period. Da-Ré noted that earlier this year, he discussed electoral engagement with his counterparts at student unions across the country and noted that they shared concerns of lowered engagement due to a virtual learning environment. 

“All the options to engage with friends and with MSU services are online. I don't blame students for wanting a break from all that. And so we've naturally had to take that in consideration from the MSU, where obviously we want students to know about all of our services, all of our offerings and benefits that they have as a part of the MSU. But also we're not trying to contribute to that stress and that Zoom fatigue,” said Da-Ré.

However, Da-Ré remained hopeful that even with potentially fewer candidates, the election could see an increase in voter engagement from previous years. When asked what he hoped to see from the candidates, Da-Ré was interested to see how candidates would find new ways to campaign. 

“I think it's up to candidates to ensure that they're creating opportunities to engage with voters and for voters to engage with candidates how those voters will want to engage with candidates,” said Da-Ré. 

An entirely online MSU presidential election has never happened before — a stark contrast to the typical in-person tabling that many candidates do within the McMaster University Student Centre.

Da-Ré was also curious to see candidate ideas for supporting students through the pandemic. He acknowledged that students have been struggling with the pandemic and online learning, while noting how ideal supports differ among students.

He expected that candidates would discuss student supports as a key issue of the campaign, similar to how the Student Choice Initiative was an issue of importance during his run for office in 2020.

"What is your overall reasoning for running for MSU president?" said Da-Ré.

"What is your overall reasoning for running for MSU president?" said Da-Ré.

Da-Ré reflected on his experience running for MSU president. He noted that it was challenging at first but that he ultimately enjoyed the experience, especially interacting with students and understanding their priorities. 

“I had a lot of fun with it, chatting with folks, but you do feel like you are under a microscope for the duration of the campaign period. So it takes a little bit of time to get used to that level of scrutiny and then ideally, if you can kind of get past that a little bit or get used to it, then it starts to be lots of fun,” said Da-Ré.

When asked to offer advice to candidates or those who hoped to run, Da-Ré shared that he sought advice and reflected a lot before his campaign.

“One of the most important things for folks, just when you're thinking about running or when you're building your campaign or your vision, is why you want to run. What is your overall reasoning for running for MSU president? If you can really solidify your vision for campus and your reason for wanting to run for MSU President, ideally have that vision and that reasoning, that “why” is reflected in everything that you’re trying to do,” said Da-Ré.

"That “why” is reflected in everything that you’re trying to do,” said Da-Ré.

Da-Ré also expressed gratitude to the potential candidates for stepping outside of their comfort zones and supporting students. 

“Thank you to all these candidates for committing their time during school and for trying to build a better MSU community for students. Students need a little support right now and we're doing what we can do to try and leave the MSU in a better place than we found it. I want to thank the candidates for looking forward to continuing that work and supporting students during some difficult times of tribulation,” said Da-Ré.

Due to a lack of engagement seen during COVID-19, questions surrounding how many students would run for MSU president arose. If no candidates were to come forward by the end of the campaign period, Da-Ré hesitated to speculate but believed that the nomination period would likely be extended; however, the decision would be up to the MSU Elections department.

If only one candidate ran MSU president, according to Da-Ré, the MSU bylaw states that the candidate would be acclaimed MSU President-Elect.

“3.3.1 If the number of valid nomination forms submitted is fewer than or equal to the number of available positions, the CRO shall declare all nominees duly elected by acclamation.”

“3.3.1 If the number of valid nomination forms submitted is fewer than or equal to the number of available positions, the CRO shall declare all nominees duly elected by acclamation.”

On Jan. 22, the MSU Elections Department announced on social media that one presidential candidate application had been received. Denver Della-Vedova has been acclaimed as MSU President-Elect for the 2021/2022 term. 

 

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Da-Ré took to social media to congratulate Della-Vedova. “Very excited to start the transition process and to watch Denver strengthen the undergraduate experience at McMaster,” wrote Da-Ré.

The Silhouette will be posting more MSU presidential elections 2021 coverage in our annual Presidentials issue on Feb. 1, 2021 available on Issuu.

The development of the Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force

As the McMaster community dives into the second semester of an unprecedented academic year, the newly created Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force has also been gearing up for its launch. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force was created from the recommendations of McMaster’s virtual learning task force. The virtual learning task force, co-chaired by Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri and Dean of Social Sciences Jeremiah Hurley, consisted of over 30 faculty, staff and students that collected feedback from the McMaster community about the virtual learning experience. Feedback included over 3,000 responses from students and instructors to the MacPherson Institute’s Fall 2020 Experience Survey.

The task force’s final report, released in November 2020, provided 21 recommendations to improve the virtual learning experience. Recommendations included immediate actions for the winter 2021 term, especially highlighting the need for stronger supports for mental health and well-being. Although the survey respondents rated their overall learning experience to be fairly positive, many instructors and students shared feelings of being overwhelmed

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together.”

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together,” the report stated. 

The current status of students’ mental health was explained by Connor Blakeborough, health promoter at the Student Wellness Centre. Connor’s role as health promoter at the SWC involves assisting with programming such as mental health services, along with coordinating initiatives like Wellness Book Worms.

Additionally, he is a member of the education and health promotion subcommittee on The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force. The task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which is further split into several other subcommittees. 

"There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular.” 

“Just in the communication that we have with students, a lot of students have been feeling lonely, isolated, overwhelmingly bored. There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular,” said Blakeborough. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force will address the recommendations of the virtual learning report and explore ways to support the McMaster community through remote learning. This task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which was developed after McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017. 

The charter was an outcome from the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges and developed by interdisciplinary stakeholders from 45 countries. The charter had two calls of action to educational institutions: to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and to lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. 

The mental health and wellbeing task force comprises 10 representatives of students, faculty and staff and is led by Dr. Catharine Munn, associate clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences. 

"The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Paul O’Byrne, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and chair of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, was quoted in a McMaster Daily News article: “McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017 to help demonstrate our commitment to integrating health and wellbeing into all aspects of life at the university. The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Blakeborough echoed the sentiments of O’Bryne. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic. The task force and the committee will be able to look at the relationships between faculty, students and staff which deal with students on a daily basis and how we can use that relationship and better that relationship to benefit students and their mental health,” said Blakeborough. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic."

Other suggestions outlined from the virtual learning task force revolved around teaching recommendations, such as reducing workload for students, creating easier navigation of course platforms, providing additional flexibility for assignments and increasing opportunities for classroom connection.

When asked what efforts he would like McMaster to make, Blakeborough recommended incorporating discussions of mental health within current courses and programming, specifically on the social determinants of health, including financial insecurity, housing and food insecurity. 

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

“[The task force has] listened to the feedback and factored in the results from various surveys when crafting these recommendations,” said Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” elaborated Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” added Puri.

Resources for mental health and wellness: 

Student Wellness Center
Good2Talk 
Student Assistance Plan 

Ontario researchers increase COVID-19 wastewater sampling

As Ontario heads into a second state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial researchers are expanding the capacity of the province to track and prevent transmission. 

The COVID-19 Wastewater Consortium of Ontario is a provincial initiative that is aimed to develop a wastewater testing infrastructure across Ontario and conduct various tests. The initiative aims to sample wastewater in different municipalities to trace the spread of the virus. This involves collecting and analyzing fecal data, which is more likely to show COVID-19 in asymptomatic individuals than clinical testing. 

Compared to clinical testing, wastewater testing is quicker and more cost-efficient. For example, taking a sample out of a sewage treatment plant from one entire neighbourhood is found to be comparable to the cost of testing one person with a nasal swab.

Furthermore, this testing allows researchers to pinpoint specific neighbourhoods and communities that are being affected through the location of the sewage treatment plant from which samples were taken. This information is extremely crucial in understanding which areas of the city may experience a potential outbreak, allowing officials to employ immediate safety measures within that neighbourhood to prevent further transmission. 

Led by McMaster University’s Gail Krantzberg and Zobia Jawed, both professors at the W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology, this project is run by a collective of professionals from a variety of sectors, including sustainability, technology and policy. 

“While testing the population for the presence of the virus is critically important, some carriers of the illness are asymptomatic and don’t get tested. Others get false negatives. Since those infected shed the virus in their feces, testing wastewater captures the reality of COVID-19 in the community,” Krantzberg explained in a McMaster interview

Testing in Hamilton began in fall 2020 and researchers are now increasing sewage sampling to three times per week. The samples are sent to dozens of other cities and universities to be frozen for future testing, as CWCO will continue to collaborate with its partners to establish testing protocols and methodologies.

The tests will be carried out at approximately 13 locations across the McMaster campus, including academic buildings, residences and the McMaster Children’s Hospital. The city of Hamilton has also started collecting sewage samples, as confirmed by city water director Andrew Grice, although public health officials wait to see whether they truly reflect the city’s local cases. 

Other universities such as the University of Guelph, the Ontario Tech University and the University of Ottawa have been testing sewage samples for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. 

“Wastewater-based epidemiology has been used in recent years to monitor the presence of drugs or disease agents in communities. Across the globe, in countries like the Netherlands, Australia and Italy, researchers are finding signs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in community wastewater samples. These results can augment clinical testing of individuals by public health authorities and potentially serve as an early warning for a second wave of illness,” describes the Canadian Water Network coalition based in Ottawa. 

Although there is the challenge of the wastewater being diluted with rain and other chemicals in the environment, the sampling could be a potential method to tackle the many outbreaks in highly vulnerable populations, such as long-term facilities.

By understanding which facilities may potentially experience an outbreak, officials can tailor their efforts to those specific communities with stronger safety measures and isolation procedures that prevent further transmission.

“A broad wastewater testing system allows us to constantly monitor, test and accurately report on the spread of disease within communities, which would include nursing homes, schools and universities, to address the crucial need not only for the current pandemic but for future outbreaks,” said Krantzberg in a McMaster article. 

If proven to be effective, Ontario’s wastewater sampling could act as an early detection signal of COVID-19, especially in vulnerable communities. Early detection would aid public health experts in implementing quicker safety measures such as isolation, while also informing future reopening plans.

With swift procedures in place, communities will be able to prepare better for a possible outbreak and prevent even further transmission.

A guide to staying connected during these trying times

As Hamilton moves into the heart of the winter months and a stricter lockdown removes the option to have socially-distant visits or other outdoor activities, many are looking for new ways to stay connected with loved ones.

Over the break, my siblings and I spent a lot of time thinking about other ways we could safely spend with our loved ones, beyond the typical Zoom call. Below are a few fun activities that we came up with that will hopefully help us all get through these next few difficult weeks.

BOOK CLUBS AND EXCHANGES

Many book clubs have moved online over the last few months, while new ones have also been popping up. If you don’t want to join an established book club, you could also start your own with your family or friends, giving you both something to do and talk about the next time you chat.

Similarly, you could also participate in a book exchange with a loved one. You each send the other a book that you’ve enjoyed recently. To make it more personal, you could maybe include some notes inside sharing well wishes or your thoughts on the story. 

Additionally, this kind of exchange could work for almost anything else that you and your loved ones enjoy as well, such as music, podcasts and recipes. 

GAMES

Online games, such as Among Us and Codenames, have become incredibly popular over the last year. Implementing a game night, or even perhaps a tournament can be a nice alternative to the typical Zoom call as well as something a bit more light-hearted and fun.

Trivia nights can be fun as well. There also a number of trivia games that you could play over Zoom, or you could create your own tailored to the interests of you and your loved ones!

LEARN SOMETHING NEW

Many have used their new-found time during the pandemic to learn new skills, but why not do this with a loved one? Maybe your friend is excellent at coding, or your grandmother is an amazing knitter and you’ve always wanted to learn. You could each teach one another something or learn something entirely new together! 

Many local libraries offer resources for learning a variety of skills. Depending on the skill in question there are also a number of specific resources readily available online. Some local crafting businesses, such as Handknit Yarn Studio offer resources and tutorials on their websites as well.

Language learning especially can be a great option as it requires minimal tools and you’re able to practice together.

PEN PALS

Change up the method of staying in touch! Zoom calls can become draining after a while and most everyone loves to receive letters.

Or instead of sending letters, send postcards either through a service such as Postcards From Anywhere or by creating your own using online templates. While the former can make a great talking point, the latter can be especially nice for grandparents and far away relatives who may not have any recent photos of you. 

SHARE A MEAL

Order some food, potentially from the same restaurant, and eat together. As well, some local businesses, like Tea Amo, offer small platters or “lunchboxes” that can be ordered ahead of time and then enjoyed together during a call.

You could also cook or bake something together over a call. You could each make your favourite dishes or exchange recipes. Maybe try teaching a friend to make one of your favourite desserts or ask your grandmother to teach you some family recipes.

Regardless, whatever ways you find to keep connections with loved ones, be creative and considerate. Just as much as you think about things that you enjoyed together before the pandemic, try to think about new things as well. It won’t necessarily be the same as before but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be something good.

Vie Division blends mainstream and old school hip-hop in online concept videos

Established in 2014, Vie Division is bringing old school hip-hop to a student audience. The semi-professional dance crew, which consists entirely of McMaster University students, hopes to create a community through dance in the Hamilton area.

As ‘vie’ means to strive towards a goal, their name signifies the group’s continuous progression towards their goals, whether they be in terms of personal growth or in dance. 

 

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“We've always strived for helping each other towards goal setting. Early on in our term, we would set goals for each other, both as a person and as a dancer and we always try to work towards that,” said Addi San Juan, a Vie Division director and multimedia student.

Welcoming students from a variety of dance backgrounds, Vie Division focuses on a fusion of hip-hop and contemporary styles. Taking advantage of team members’ unique skill sets, the group has created a style that is uniquely their own.

“What we’re basically trying to do is just create an open community where you can share your ideas through dance. After high school, I was accepted onto Vie Division and I’ve just been growing and seeing and learning from there with my post-secondary community,” said Azia Naguit, a Vie Division director and fourth-year life sciences student.

“What we’re basically trying to do is just create an open community where you can share your ideas through dance."

Typically, the team plans their semester around regional hip-hop and urban dance competitions. Early in the fall semester, they select songs as a group and rehearse choreography until early spring. Working up to performances, they bring in Vie Division alumni to help with their creative process.

Due to COVID, Vie Division has recently shifted their focus from competition to video production and concept videos. The videos showcase Vie Division’s student choreography and experimentation with different styles of dance. In a recent concept video entitled Vie Throws It Back, the group experimented with house, waacking, vogue, dancehall, litefeet and traditional hip-hop techniques.

 

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As the group has adapted to the pandemic they’ve become more skilled with their filmography and video editing. In their most recent video, dancers unable to attend due to COVID protocols were inserted into the video seamlessly through videography by the group’s photographer and videographer Jacob Arcas.

For students looking to participate in dance classes, Vie Division has several free and paid online videos and workshops available. The group recently held their auditions for the winter semester and hope to hold a virtual showcase in the near future.

“We're super accommodating and welcoming to anyone who is interested in pursuing dance and giving them a light to see how it is possible [to balance dance and school] . . . As much as we are a dance team, we're also just a bunch of students trying to survive university, so we're definitely a huge support to each other as students and as people outside of dance,” explained Emma Powell, the Vie Division captain and fourth-year mechanical engineering and management student.

"As much as we are a dance team, we're also just a bunch of students trying to survive university, so we're definitely a huge support to each other as students and as people outside of dance,”

By watching and participating in what Vie Division has to offer, students get to explore dance culture through the ages.

Alexandra Kitty’s new books encourage students to explore new perspectives and experiences

Many have taken advantage of the past year to start new businesses and tackle new projects, including McMaster University alumna Alexandra Kitty, who penned a number of books. This past year she published four: The Art of Kintsugi: Learning the Japanese Craft of Beautiful Repair, The Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in Theatre, The Mind Under Siege: Mechanisms of War Propaganda and A New Approach to Journalism.

Kitty graduated in 1994 with an honours bachelor of arts in psychology, after which she went on to pursue a career in journalism and education. She has described her time at McMaster as having been hugely influential on her writing because it taught her about perspective and the ways in which our perspectives inform our reality.

“I think it was the biggest influence in my writing because I realized how much of our perceptions were not reality. Psychology is the study of how not just the brain works, but how the mind works and how we can be deceived . . . I think that was probably one of the greatest helps for me. I think it totally set my trajectory with what I studied and what my career was afterwards. Just not in the traditional way,” said Kitty.

 

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Though her books explore a vast variety of subjects, the idea of perspective is one of the linking threads across all of them. The Art of Kintsugi explores how broken bits can be repaired, restored and even embraced, while The Dramatic Moment of Fate discusses Sherlock Holmes' different incarnations on the stage over time. The Mind Under and A New Approach to Journalism both explore the journalistic importance of perspective and asking questions.

“[T]he unifying theme is that there's multiple perspectives, even within us. There isn't a single one right answer . . . So if we're a little more understanding, and we understand plurality and diversity, we can see we get more information. The more perspectives and filters we use, the more different information we can see,” explained Kitty.

“[T]he unifying theme is that there's multiple perspectives, even within us. There isn't a single one right answer . . . So if we're a little more understanding, and we understand plurality and diversity, we can see we get more information. The more perspectives and filters we use, the more different information we can see,” explained Kitty.

This awareness of perspective and its importance is something she hopes individuals will take away from her books. For students especially, she hopes it will help them understand and connect different perspectives, particularly the analytical and emotional.

 

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“A lot of times when we're doing academia, we think that we are not supposed to put emotion in it. We just need to build up our emotional literacy. Sometimes you're feeling uncomfortable, and you don't know why and [my] books show you to trust your instinct, to trust your judgment, to trust your feelings and to be able to trust your perceptions of reality to be able to see the truth because basically that's what we need to do — see the reality in order to find the truth,” said Kitty.

Another thread that connects Kitty’s books is the benefit and influence of first-hand experience on one’s perspective. Kitty felt it was essential for her to have experience with the subjects she wrote about. She began all her books by exploring the subjects personally and gaining experience with them.

 

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“If I was writing about Sherlock Holmes in the theatre, I would go watch the plays. If I was writing about kintsugi, I was doing the actual kintsugi. I went into journalism to study journalism. You can't know about something unless you've walked through it and had skin in the game and you've done it yourself,” explained Kitty.

"...You can't know about something unless you've walked through it and had skin in the game and you've done it yourself,” explained Kitty.

She also hopes her work will inspire students to do the same.

“So if you're interested about a problem in something, go to the eye of the storm, I think that's the main message. If you want to know the truth, you absolutely have to go and look at what's the mechanics, where are the failings?” encouraged Kitty.

Understanding other perspectives and seeking out new experiences are important to students not just in their academic lives, but also in relationships and personal interests. Kitty’s work shows that no matter what students go on to do after their time at McMaster, there are certain ideas and skills that will always be important.

Hamilton photographer demonstrates the importance of exploration through photos

On Jan. 1, 2020, lifestyle and boudoir photographer Iryna Kostichin posted her first photo of Hamilton to her then-new Instagram page, 365 Days Of Hamont. The photo of the residential street was the first step in a project intended to showcase all that Hamilton has to offer.

Although Kostichin was born and raised in Hamilton, she didn’t truly start exploring the city until after she graduated from McMaster University in 2017 with a degree in social psychology. She moved out for the first time and was figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. It was in the period of self-discovery after graduation that she began exploring the city.

 

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During this time, she also returned to photography, a passion of hers from childhood that she had put aside as a viable career choice.  

“A few years ago, I was in a really rough spot. I was graduated and I had a degree and I was in a job that I really didn't like . . . and I was like “I really don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I need to find something where I work for myself and I'm responsible for everything, job-wise”. So I ended up getting a social media coordinator job and then that year I was exploring portrait photography," said Kostichin.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont. To gather the photos for the page, she goes on a few weekly adventure walks, taking pictures of places and objects she passes. Her goal is to show various representations of Hamilton, from the buildings to nature to food.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont.

The project began as a commitment to posting daily in 2020, but over the year, this plan changed as Kostichin found the daily commitment challenging. Now over a year after the project began, Kostichin is a little over halfway through her original 365 days. 

 

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The pandemic also limited how much she was able to explore the city because she doesn’t have a car. It has also been difficult to explore new destinations when lockdowns have closed many places in Hamilton. However, despite these challenges, Kostichin is looking forward to diving back into the project this year.

“So definitely next steps are continuing on this journey and not putting so much pressure on myself to do it every single day . . . I started out thinking I was going to post every day and get all this engagement and get to the end of 365 days, right? But realistically I haven't reached that and exploring Hamilton really isn't only a 365-day project. So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city,” said Kostichin.

"So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city."

For students in Hamilton that are looking to explore, Kostichin suggests taking it one neighbourhood at a time. Especially during COVID, she suggests picking a neighbourhood and just walking around it.

As her exploration of the city is tied to her self-exploration, the latter is also very important to Kostichin. Through her boudoir photography business, she is encouraging individuals to explore new parts of themselves. Her own journey from social psychology major to full-time photographer and business owner is proof of the importance of self-discovery.

 

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“I use psychology in my day-to-day life. Even in a social media job, a lot of it is psychology. Then being in a social media job also using photography and really discovering that aspect of myself and bringing it back and now I'm actually going to be like a full-time photographer this year and start my own business. So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself,” said Kostichin

"So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself."

Kostichin’s story shows that with hard work and a little exploration, students might be able to turn their time at McMaster into the life of their dreams.

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