This blog was posted on March 20, 2020 and has since been updated. For the most up-to-date information on relief measures for income and expenses please click here.
COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has affected every aspect of our daily lives. In this time of uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances, we want to help keep you in the loop of announcements, changes, and issues impacting students and young adults.
The Big Picture
The most important thing for all British Columbians to do is to heed the advice of Minister of Health Adrian Dix and BC’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Henry. For now that means a few key actions: don’t gather in groups of more than 50 (and much lower where possible) and when in public places practice social distancing by keeping two metres — or two full arm lengths — away from others.
Canadians are being advised that where possible, we should stay home and avoid physical contact with others. This is called social isolation – but really it’s just physical isolation. In these times we should all do what we can to reach out to others, use social media and technology to make sure our friends and family feel connected. We’re millennials and Gen-Zs… we’ve been practicing for this moment our whole lives!
Here’s a useful article and diagram to help explain the difference between social distancing, social isolation, and quarantine. It’s important to understand what we can and can’t do while taking action.
How are classes being impacted?
As you are already aware, all public post-secondary schools in BC have transitioned, or are in the process of transitioning, to online teaching. Keeping students safe while completing the semester is incredibly important, but it has the potential to keep many students on the sidelines. If you don’t have a computer at home, or if you have very limited internet access, contact your instructor: together you can work to find a solution that will enable you to be successful in your studies for the remainder of the semester. If you are having any issues getting the appropriate accommodations, contact your students’ union for support. Most are operating advocacy services remotely can are here to help!
The shift away from in-person training is being felt particularly hard in those programs that require hands-on training, such as trades, health programs, and theatre/performing arts. Faculty are working hard to create program delivery as best they can; additionally the Industry Training Authority is currently developing solutions to address concerns with trades training. We will do our best to provide updates as these solutions are announced and rolled out.
What About my Income?
Many businesses are choosing or being forced to close, and that has a huge impact on the income of a lot of people – and a lot of students especially. Additionally, as workers get sick (even with just a cold or regular flu) they have a responsibility to self-quarantine; without paid sick leave in BC this creates an issue for income. Two things to note so far:
- If you are laid off because the business is closing or cutting shifts because of COVID-19, ensure that your employer chooses “shortage of work” on your record of employment (ROE). We are told this will allow staff at Service Canada to fast track the EI application.
- If you are self-quarantining because you are displaying symptoms, the federal government is waiving the one-week waiting period (where you wouldn’t typically be paid).
- If you unqualified for EI, but missing work due to COVID-19, there will be an Emergency Care Benefit to allow for up to $900 bi-weekly for 15 weeks. Applications will open in April.
What about student loans?
The federal government has announced that they are ceasing collection of student loan payments for six months, effective immediately. That means that all payments for federal student loans, including auto-payments, are automatically on hold, and no interest will accrue during this time. This measure will be incredibly helpful for those who are struggling to pay bills, rent, and other expenses with shrinking income. More information about this can be found here. This measure will also apply to those who are in default or are in the process of rehabilitating their loan.
While there is no interest charged on BC student loans, at this point payments are still required. We have been in discussion with the BC government to determine if they will take a similar approach to relieve financial stress on British Columbians; we expect that early in the coming week we will hear a public response.
How about Public Transportation?
There are two big changes with public transit. First, they are implementing boarding at rear doors only where possible, in order to maintain distancing from the driver. Second, fares for buses will not be collected for the next 30 days. It is likely there could some changes to bus routes and available to ensure transit users can still practice social distancing while riding. Be sure to check BC Transit and TransLink websites for any route change announcements.
It appears that these changes are being implemented in all regions of the province.
What’s Happening with Childcare?
At the time, daycares remain open. However, Dr. Henry has requested all parents who don’t require childcare to withdraw their children if possible. With many parents working or studying at home, this measure can be taken with little issue, and it helps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in crowded daycares. Daycares remain open specifically to aid those parents who are still working, like the front line workers in health care at essential places like grocery stores. If you remove your child during this time, the provincial government has made assurances that you will not lose your place in the daycare facility.
It was announced this week that after Spring Break, all K-12 schools will continue to be closed, and that classes will be taught in an online format (details not yet released). As with post-secondary students, this raises concerns for those who don’t have home computers or access to reliable internet. Please contact your child’s teacher if you will have issues with this arrangement in order to find solutions.
We are officially in a public health emergency. It is up to every single one of us to do everything we can to reduce the chances of spreading the Coronavirus. Take precautions, even if you feel silly. But remember: this is a time to be in touch with others for your own sake and for theirs. Let’s help each other as much as we can.
Lastly, if you are feeling some symptoms, use the BC Government’s self-assessment tool. Take the survey and it will let you know if you need to get a further test, or what you should do.