The U.S./Canada land border is re-opening: Here’s what that means

Some hopeful travelers say that the opportunity to cross the U.S./Canada land border should have happened a while ago

The world’s longest undefended land border will re-open to fully vaccinated Canadians for non-essential travel on Nov. 8.

The land border between Canada and the United States first closed on March 20, 2020. After 19 months, those with American friends and family or those just looking to get some cross-border shopping done will now be able to cross the land border.

The news was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Breanna Sherman, 23, normally visits her family in Florida once a year for the holidays, but border closures have barred her from doing so.

“This December, it will have been two years since we last saw them,” said Sherman.

Among the family who Sherman has missed is her cousin’s newborn daughter, born in May 2020, which the pandemic has kept her from meeting.

“I hoped I would see her in December of 2020, but that didn’t happen,” said Sherman. “When I eventually meet her now, she’ll be one and a half, not even a baby anymore, which is sad.”

“It will be fun to not only be in Florida for the first time in two years, but also continue that tradition of driving and sitting in the car with my family for two days.”

Michelle Lam, 22, says that although she’s enthusiastic about visiting the U.S. again, the lineups she expects at the border are worrying.

“I feel like it’s going to be chaos at the border,” said Lam. “I’m kind of nervous about it.”

While air travel into the United States has remained open to Canadians with proof of a negative COVID-19 test administered three days before they travel, some feel that driving is a more affordable and easier alternative.

“Not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford to fly. It’s just more accessible to everyone that wants to travel,” said Sherman.

Lam shares Sherman’s sentiment, saying “I feel very safe travelling by land, because it’s me and my car driving across the border as opposed to flying in the States, where I have to go through an airport and sit in a tube with however many people for X amount of hours.”

Before travellers get ready to hop over the border for a weekend, there are a few details to pay attention to.

All travellers, whether coming in by land, sea, or air, must be fully vaccinated in order to enter the United States and are required to show their proof of vaccination.

After speculation, the United States confirmed that travelers with  a combination of either FDA-approved doses, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen, or those approved by the World Health Organization, which include AstraZeneca, are considered fully vaccinated.

Travelers arriving by land or sea — that is by car, bus, boat, ferry or train — from the United States must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours of their expected arrival into Canada.

The news of the re-opening did not come without criticism from hopeful travelers.

“It really makes no sense to me that it’s taken the U.S. this long to open the border,” said Sherman. “Not only are our vaccination rates way higher, but they could have just asked for proof of vaccination and a recently negative Covid test.”

The Canadian government reopened its land border to U.S. travelers in early August. As it currently stands, 74 per cent of Canadians are considered fully vaccinated, compared to 57 per cent of Americans.

Lily Cowper is a dual-citizen of the U.S. and Canada. She has flown to Florida and Virginia twice to visit her family since May 2021. Her travels did not come without complications.

“Everytime I went, there was so much drama,” said Cowper.

Cowper said that the cost and requirements for COVID-19 tests made visiting her family in the U.S. a cyclical headache.

“Every time I went back and forth, I had to pay hundreds of dollars extra and had to change my flight,” Cowper explained.

Cowper and her boyfriend went to visit her family in Virginia in September. After taking multiple tests to ensure they received results in time for their return flight to Canada, the test that did come on time contained a lab error. As a result, they were turned away from their flight.

Cowper says that she and her boyfriend each paid the equivalent of $300 CAD to receive a last-minute airport test to re-enter Canada.

“I’m happy that they’re finally opening up [the land border] and I hope they drop the testing requirement,” said Cowper.

The option to cross the land border into the U.S. without proof of a negative COVID-19 test is a cost-effective decision that Cowper says should have happened a while ago.

“It’s about time. Why are we constantly living in the past if we’re vaccinated?”

For Cowper, the opportunity to get in her car and drive to the U.S. could not come sooner. She says that the re-introduction of a more simplified way of travelling from one country to another is necessary.

“This whole two years has been so complicated, the rules are always changing, they don’t make sense,” Cowper added. “All I want to do is visit my family.”


Graphic by James Fay


Pop-up vaccine clinic at Concordia

The CIUSSS West-Central Montreal is having two pop-up vaccinations clinics on campus

Despite Montreal’s 80 per cent vaccination rate of those who have received one dose, the vaccination effort is still going strong in the city. As part of the efforts, Concordia has partnered with the Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) West-Central Montreal to host two pop-up vaccination clinics.

The first pop-up clinic was held on Sept. 14 in the EV building. According to Barry Morgan, a media relations specialist for the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, over 67 people got either their first or second vaccine shot.

“We decided to establish pop-up clinics in various areas of our territory for the purpose of convenience, making it easier for people to get their vaccines,” said Morgan, explaining that they extended the hours of the majority of pop-up clinics outside of regular business hours, to be more accessible for people. “We go to them instead of them having to come to us.”

According to Morgan, the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal has set up pop-up vaccination clinics at schools, daycares and religious institutions in their area, with more than 10,000 vaccines administered to date.

“Over the past months, we have been actively promoting vaccines to our community,” said Vannina Maestracci, a Concordia University spokesperson. She stated that Concordia is keen to join the CIUSSS West-Central in promoting vaccinations on campus.

According to Santé Montréal, approximately 80 per cent of Montrealers have their first vaccine shot, and 74 per cent are adequately vaccinated. Over 3,194,727 vaccinations have been administered in the city.

In Montreal, 91 per cent of people who are 18-29 years old have their first vaccination, and 79 per cent have both vaccinations. 

In the whole of Quebec, 77 per cent of people have their first dose, with 72 per cent being fully vaccinated — compared to Ontario, where 74 per cent of the population has their first dose, and only 69 per cent are considered fully vaccinated.

According to a press release by the Canadian government in July, Canada is one of the world leaders in vaccinations, with over 80 per cent of the population having received their first vaccination.

The next clinic will be held at Concordia on Sept. 21 at the Loyola Campus in the FC building. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. an appointment is needed, but from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. no appointment is necessary. Concordia students will need their Quebec health card, or photo identification if not from Quebec. 

If students get their first vaccine, an appointment will be automatically made for their second vaccination.


Photo by Catherine Reynolds


Interview with Concordia President Graham Carr: Fall 2021

On the return to in-person classes amid COVID-19, vaccination policy, and more.

President and vice-chancellor of Concordia University, Graham Carr, spoke with The Concordian about the gradual return of in-person instruction, the construction of a new building for the Concordia Student Union (CSU), and the strategy for the university’s success on a global scale.

TC:  With the fall semester just a week away, how ready is Concordia for a gradual return to in-person classes?

GC: I think we’re pretty ready for a gradual return to in-person classes. I think a lot of people in our community are also really looking forward to coming back.

TC: In this hybrid semester, how will the university provide students with the best learning experience while also mitigating the risk of COVID-19?

GC: Those are… the two most important goals for this semester. We want to do our utmost to make sure that students have as great of an experience as possible academically, whether they’re here in person, studying remotely, or doing a mix of in-person and online. And of course, as we have been doing over the last 18 months, we’re very focused on the health and safety of the community.

The deans, led by the Provost, over the course of the summer really took their time to think through the schedule that they wanted to offer students for fall. That meant thinking through which courses they felt could productively be delivered online that may not have been delivered online before, and which courses were going to offer an important in-person component or a hybrid component as well.

One of the things that motivated the decisions in all of the faculties was making sure that there were a significant number of online courses targeted to students who we knew might have difficulties being in Montreal in person, particularly international students. So we did a mapping of which courses had high international student enrollment and were compulsory for programs, and have tried to make sure that we have online components there.

TC: If an international student’s arrival is delayed by the 14-day quarantine (or other issues related to vaccination or travel) — and they have in-person courses — would Concordia be able to accommodate them in any way?

GC: Yes. We’ve been messaging with international students directly for months now, because it’s been a challenging environment for international student travel generally. And the instructions that we were getting from federal and provincial authorities were that students should be planning … to start arriving in Canada in mid/late August, and we know that a number of international students are already arriving.

But others, for the reasons you described, won’t be able to be here at the beginning of the semester. So what we have done is we’ve set a deadline for Nov. 8, which is the add/drop date, and have given students that leeway to arrive in Montreal — which is important for the visa processing that they all need to go through as well. So we’re trying to be as flexible as possible and, in the meantime, provide those students … with a way to begin their semester in an online environment.

TC: Concordia has encouraged both international and local students to get vaccinated as soon as possible. But some Canadian institutions such as the University of Ottawa and Carleton University have gone even further, making vaccination mandatory for all students and staff to continue studying or working on campus. Is Concordia considering using the same approach anytime soon?

GC:  In Quebec, the government has deemed higher education to be an essential service. And we are not … allowed to deny essential services to individuals on medical grounds. … To be quite honest, I think we are, like other universities in the province, reluctant to demand mandatory vaccines when it’s not clear how we would implement that. It’s not clear how we would monitor that, particularly on university campuses, which have many, many, many points of entry.

So instead, what we will be doing is taking advantage of something that’s unique in Quebec, which is the vaccine passport. What we are looking at is how we can apply the vaccine passports for non-essential activities that happen on the campus: things like going to the gym for recreational purposes, going to Reggies, going to cafeteria and other food places, or attending cinema events that are not academic. If we can implement those measures on campus, our feeling is that will further encourage and incentivize unvaccinated people (whether they’re faculty, staff or students) to get vaccinated.

We will have vaccination sites on both campuses, which we’re mounting in collaboration with public health and the city of Montreal, and we’ll have mobile vaccination units as well. Now there’s also a kiosk at the Trudeau Airport which allows international students … to get vaccinated once they arrive, if they are not fully vaccinated at that point.

So I think when you put together the ensemble of those measures, over the already-high vaccination rate that students in Quebec have achieved*, I feel that there’s quite a good range of measures that are in place … to help us ensure a safe experience for everyone.

* In Quebec, over 82 per cent of university and CEGEP students are either fully vaccinated or have booked their second dose appointment, thus exceeding the provincial government’s original target of 75 per cent.

TC: If Santé Québec ends the provincial mask mandate later this fall, which would apply to university classrooms as well, will Concordia follow suit and make masks optional on campus then?

GC: Well, I’m not going to forecast what may or may not happen. Obviously, that would be a major decision on the part of Santé Québec. You may remember that it was McGill and Concordia that insisted upon mandatory masking (including in classes) with procedural masks, not face coverings. And subsequently, that became policy for the higher education sector as a whole, as we see, as of [Aug. 24] for certain elementary and secondary school districts as well. The public health situation has been evolving.

If we’ve learned one thing over the course of the last 17 months or so, it’s the challenge of predicting where the next bend in the COVID-19 road will occur. And I think our track record has been pretty good in terms of adapting to those changes in ways that maintain the health and safety of our community. Obviously, we work very closely with public health authorities, and we would certainly cross that bridge when we get to it — I think is the best answer at this point.

TC: Earlier in March, the CSU held a referendum on a variety of issues, including the construction of a new building for the CSU, and nearly 85 per cent of all students who participated voted in favour of the project. With the CSU saying that it will provide a new “space for events, social gatherings and new services,” does the Concordia administration support this project? And if so, how would you collaborate with the CSU to make this plan a reality?

GC: In 2019-20, the then-head of the Concordia Student Union began meeting with me and more importantly with Roger Côté, who was the vice president of services at that time, to discuss exactly how we would collaborate on creating the student union building.

Those conversations obviously got interrupted because of COVID. There was a change in the CSU with the elections for the 2020-21 team, but conversation resumed late in the 2021 mandate — probably around the time when the referendum was taken — between the CSU and our facilities management people, led by Michael Di Grappa, who is now the vice president for services and sustainability. So the university has been very open to that.

There’s been talk at Concordia for decades, frankly, about having a Concordia Student Union building on the downtown campus. Equally importantly, we want to make sure that in the coming years, we improve student services on the Loyola campus as well. I know that’s something that the current CSU leadership is also interested in. There’s a report which is due on the animation and future of the Loyola campus, which had student representation over the last year and a half. I’m looking forward to seeing that report. So for us, how we can, as a university, improve student services, including places for students is important, but not just on the downtown campus — on both campuses.

TC: Last year, Concordia was ranked first in Canada of all universities under 50 years old. Going forward, what will be your strategy to not only maintain Concordia’s reputation among Canadian universities, but also to increase its prestige on an international level?

GC: That’s an important priority for us, because we know that one of the things which is hugely motivating for students in selecting a university are the rankings.

I would say that looking forward, … one of the areas where we’re really focusing is on sustainability, and particularly the work that we’re doing to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So there is the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which measure how universities are performing against the 17 UN SDGs. By performance, they’re measuring not only their academic and research activity, but also what’s called the stewardship of the goals: how the institution advances the goals through its own operational practices, its external partnerships, etc.

And earlier this spring, … Concordia was ranked 62nd in the world, for the work that we’re doing on advancing the SDGs. And in three categories, we were actually ranked in the top 25 in the world; in one of those categories, which was reducing inequalities, we were ranked number one in Canada.

This will not only improve the impact that Concordia is making as a university for the community and society at large, but it will bring recognition internationally for us. … We announced in the spring that we wanted to undertake a map of voluntary university review, to map how we are performing against each of the UN sustainable development goals — that process has begun. And I think it’s something that’s very exciting, very mobilizing for the community as a whole, and has a great opportunity to position Concordia as a leader internationally.

TC: Is there anything you would like to say personally to all Concordia students ahead of the new academic year?

GC: I want to wish everybody good luck! I have to say it will be nice to see more people on campus in the fall.

I recognize fully that there’s a spectrum of opinions, attitudes and concerns about the return to campus, and I appreciate that some students and some faculty, staff and administrators have misgivings about returning because of the public health situation. But I think we have to be feeling so much better than we felt a year ago at this time.

There’s still uncertainty, but the situation 12 months later is that we can offer a rich mix of in-person and online activities. Our online courses continue to improve because of what we’ve learned over the course of the last 17 months. And more importantly, we’re able to bring society to reopen in part because of the success of the vaccination program, which was not the case a year ago.

I fully expect that everybody coming on the campus should be vaccinated at this point, unless they have a valid medical or religious reason not to be. And if there are students, faculty or staff who still are not fully vaccinated, my message to them is:

Please, get fully vaccinated. Not only for your sake, above all, but also for the health and safety of the community as a whole.


Photo courtesy of Concordia University


Interview with Concordia University President Graham Carr

On this unprecedented year, and a hint on what students can expect going forward

Concordia University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Graham Carr virtually sat down with The Concordian to talk about this past year and the university’s plans moving forwards.

TC: How did Concordia handle the changes brought on by the pandemic?

GC: I’m pretty pleased with how the whole university community responded. I think that faculty members, by and large, really made a great effort … to develop courses in the online environment that were stimulating for students and that allowed them to develop the competencies that they needed.

Not to say that [students] enjoyed the situation, nobody enjoyed the fact that we were not able to access campus — but … we had [the] largest graduating class we’ve ever had last June. We had the largest summer enrollment that we ever had. And interestingly, in January, we had the lowest dropout rate from courses that we’ve ever had.

So to me what that says is that students, although it was a challenging year, were making adaptations to try and to cope with the situation.

TC: Can you provide an update on what students can expect for the upcoming year?

GC: We anticipate and we hope that our fall [2021] will include a much greater number of in-person courses. Our senses [are] that students who are not currently in Montreal*… would prefer to be in Montreal, even if some of their courses continue to be delivered online.

Our goal with this is that by May, we can actually tell students, this is what the schedule is going to look like.

*On March 29, Concordia sent a letter encouraging international students to make plans to move back to Montreal for the fall semester. More information can be found here.

TC: Will Concordia consider providing vaccinations for students on campus?

GC: So that’s a discussion point that universities are having with public health. We’ve indicated that we would be prepared to [be a] site for vaccination for members of our own community.

But the decision around the rollout of vaccinations is … a decision of public health authorities. For the moment, they’re focused on an age based vaccination process … and we are part of those conversations with public health, about [the] potential strategies with regard to our own community, including students.

TC: A lot of students have complained that the quality of education has not remained the same. Can you speak on that?

GC: In March and April of last year when we really had to switch on a dime, from in-person teaching to remote teaching … that was an emergency situation and I think faculty members adapted as best they could.

Since that time … many faculty members have continued to modify their approach to teaching in an online environment. So I think that the quality of what is available — I won’t say in every single case — generally, online, has significantly improved.

TC: How are you hearing back from students without the teacher evaluations?

GC: We’ve done a number of surveys with students over the course of the last year. I … meet regularly with both the heads of [the] CSU and the Graduate Student Association. When we were at the height of the closures, we were meeting once or twice a week.

Also we had the COVID-19 hotline and web based interaction where we literally received thousands of questions and comments from students.

TC: Students were asking for a pass/fail option this past year, and the university granted the option for one class after much deliberation. Could you speak on that decision?

GC: Under the context of COVID we were trying to make accommodations which will reduce tension and stress on the student population. If I have any regret about the fall, [it] was that we didn’t come to that decision and announce that decision a few weeks earlier.

I think the ideal framework in which to approach a pass/fail option is not something that’s across the board, but something that’s very selective and which has a positive intention of allowing and encouraging students to experiment. This is something that we want to look at with [the] senate as a potential permanent change to the universities approach going forward.

TC: There have been calls to reduce tuition. What are your thoughts on that movement?

GC: Tuition for the overwhelming majority of students is set by the Government of Quebec. When students are paying tuition they’re paying for the competency that comes with the credits that they get for the course. And whether that’s delivered in an online environment or an in-person environment, the competencies are still the same.

I’m comfortable that the tuition that students pay is to allow them to achieve those objectives.


Courtesy of Concordia University


New study shows COVID-19 could become as common as a seasonal cold

Scientists explain that Coronavirus is likely here to stay

“It’s important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” said Dr. Michael Ryan during a press conference held by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 13 of 2020.

It is just shy of one year later and it still doesn’t seem like there is an end in sight for COVID-19. However, a new study published in the Science journal shows that the virus is likely here to stay.

As a matter of fact, four of the six types of coronaviruses that are known to affect humans are already endemic, according to a study in the journal Trends in Microbiology. These four viruses circulate freely and are just about as disruptive as a common cold.

But what does it mean when a virus is endemic and how does it get to be that way?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, “Endemic refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.”

Diseases that are usually present in a community — without causing disruption — are referred to as endemic or “baseline.” A disease can continue to circulate at this “baseline” level indefinitely, and continues to be considered endemic so long as its level of prevalence does not get any higher.

“Our model, incorporating these components of immunity … suggests that once the endemic phase is reached and primary exposure is in childhood, CoV-2 may be no more virulent than the common cold,” states the abstract in the Science study.

That is to say, COVID-19 will still be contagious but won’t cause people to get as sick over time, eventually becoming just another viral infection, as a result of herd immunity.

According to pharmaceutical company and developers of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer, this type of immunity takes place when a greater part of the population becomes immune to a disease as a result of either vaccinations or immunity developed as a consequence of having contracted the disease.

However, according to a 2020 article published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in order for herd immunity to be effective, approximately 50 to 90 per cent of the population must be immune.

That being said, with only 2.22 per cent of the Canadian population having been vaccinated with the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and over 770,000 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of Jan. 30, there is still a long way to go until herd immunity is achieved.

Graphic by Taylor Reddam. @5ecret


COVID-19 vaccine: what Canadians should expect in 2021

With over 100,000 Quebecers vaccinated, the province prepares for mass immunization

Two days before Christmas, Agnes Wong walked into the Berkley Care Centre in North Vancouver to begin her usual shift as a cook. Having worked at the senior home for 15 years, she was feeling particularly nervous that day. It was on Dec. 23 when Wong received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

As a staff member of a long-term care centre, Wong became part of the first phase of Canada’s mass vaccination plan. This phase also includes residents of such care centres, as well as seniors aged 70 and over, frontline healthcare workers, and adults living in Indigenous communities.

Before the procedure, Wong was concerned about the vaccine’s potential side effects, as it was developed in less than a year. Pfizer and Moderna, the only companies whose vaccines have been approved by the Canadian government thus far, have both warned that patients may experience fatigue, headaches, chills, muscle pain, or fever after getting the vaccine.

However, Wong told The Concordian that she only felt slight pain in her left arm, in the area where the vaccine was administered.

“The pain disappeared two days later, so I don’t feel that discomfort anymore. I’m ready to receive the second dose of this vaccine, which should happen in about two weeks,” said Wong.

The World Health Organization recommends people take the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine within 21-28 days. It is expected to cause stronger side effects than the first dose, with 16 per cent of vaccinees aged 18 to 55 having experienced fever after its injection, as well as 11 per cent of those aged 56 and above.

The highest-priority groups are recommended to receive the vaccine before the rest of the population in every province and territory by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). However, each province, including Quebec, is responsible for its own vaccination plan.

Over 115,000 Quebecers have been vaccinated as of Jan. 15, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé. The province has already received 162,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and this number is expected to reach 250,000 next month.

As of now, Canada has vaccinated 1.1 per cent of its population and thus occupies the 13th position worldwide in terms of the COVID-19 vaccination rate. The current world leader is Israel, where a whopping 25 per cent of the population already received the COVID vaccine.

The estimated cost of Canada’s vaccination process remains unknown. However, it will be fully covered by the federal government, meaning all vaccine doses will be free of charge for Canadians.

Going forward, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that the country is “on track to have every Canadian who wants a vaccine receive one by September.” This year, the government expects to receive a total of 80 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna.

At the same time, Trudeau made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for the general public. The Prime Minister also reassured Canadians that there is no plan to develop a system of COVID-19 vaccine passports, which would act as official proof of one’s vaccination, as he believes it would create a divisive impact on the country.

According to an Ipsos/Radio-Canada poll conducted in late November, 16 per cent of Canadians definitely oppose taking the vaccine, while 64 per cent would be willing to get vaccinated. However, just 41 per cent of Canadians believe that vaccination should be mandatory for all, a poll from the Association for Canadian Studies reveals.

Wong also believes that mass vaccination will help Canada get through such a challenging period and move in a positive direction. She added, “I believe the vaccine should be widely administered because — just like a flu shot — it would give people a sense of security.”

There is no guarantee that all pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted as soon as the vaccine becomes available to the general public. However, mass vaccination is a major step towards returning to ordinary life in Canada.

The quicker everyone gets vaccinated, the quicker we’re going to be able to get back to a semblance of normality,” stated Trudeau.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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