Hamilton entered the grey lockdown zone on Monday, Dec. 21 and the provincial government has announced a four-week lockdown for Ontario from Dec. 26 through Jan. 23, 2021 to help contain the spread of COVID-19. There are few additional changes at the university as a result of the provincial lockdown. 

Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, has issued the following update on the situation for the Faculty:

The university reopens Jan. 4, and the Faculty of Health Sciences health professional programs and most graduate programs are back that week. 

Several programs, including the Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours (BHSc); Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences (iBioMed); Honours Biology and Pharmacology Co-op; Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization (BDC), and some joint graduate programs with other Faculties will start online classes the week of Jan. 11 as previously planned. If you have any questions regarding the start dates, please check with your program.

We have confirmed that the province has given an exemption for clinical training, so placements and clinical skills requiring in-person attendance may continue as scheduled. Of course, all pandemic precautions must be followed. We are having ongoing talks, including throughout the holiday break, with our hospital and clinical site partners about the arrangements as their capacity is changing with outbreaks. At this time they are all committed to keeping health professional learners in clinical training as long as it can be done safely.

Accommodations continue to be available for graduate students whose research or fieldwork is significantly delayed by the pandemic restrictions. Students should discuss their situations with their supervisors and then contact their program leaders, as appropriate.

The Health Sciences Library’s services are unchanged. Online reference and research help, and document scanning and interlibrary loan services continue to Dec. 24, halt for the university shutdown and begin again on Jan. 4 as planned. The bookable space has been closed as there was low demand. Reopening will be considered after the lockdown. 

New directives regarding research have been circulated. We have moved back into a modified Phase I where research is allowed on campus if the activity cannot be performed at home.  The lockdown has caused restriction of three activities:

1. Research involving human participants:  Under the current phase of the lockdown, all research involving human participants is suspended.  The only exceptions are studies directly related to COVID-19 or studies where the health of the study subjects will be compromised by suspension of the trial.  This includes both campus-based research and fieldwork.

2. Hands-on training:  New researchers are still allowed to come to campus as long as the training can be accomplished with appropriate physical distancing.  Hands-on training that requires close interaction between trainer and trainee (that is, less than two meters apart) is not allowed.

3. Visitors to campus:  Service people can come to campus to perform repairs and install equipment.  All other visitors are prohibited.

Going forward, all previously approved research applications and standard operating procedures (SOPs) remain valid for research that does not involve human subjects; there is no need to submit new requests to perform research not involving human subjects if you already have approval.  Anyone contemplating new research activity on campus must get approval from the Faculty’s vice-dean, research before starting up.   

If your research involves human subjects, your plan will now be marked “denied.” You will receive an email to confirm this updated status.  If your research with human participants meet the essential research criteria, this email will include instructions on obtaining written approval to continue; that is, have your plan reverted to “approved,” and there should be no interruption to your work as we switch to the lockdown environment.

The hospitals have not modified their conditions for performing research. If you have any questions regarding hospital-based research, please contact the hospital’s research office. As always, if you have any questions, you may reach out to the Vice-Dean Research Jonathan Bramson at bramsonj@mcmaster.ca.

Please remember the Ontario government recommends travel outside your region should be limited to only essential purposes. The Canadian government requires anyone who travels outside of the country to self-isolate at home for two weeks upon return.

The university keeps changes and other information regarding its response to the pandemic on its covid19.mcmaster.ca website.

I would like, once again, to thank everyone for your commitment, flexibility and creativity during this ever-changing situation. 

I will write again as circumstances warrant but, in the meantime, I do hope that you have a restful and safe holiday season.