Stating the obvious, this past year was confusing and complicated in many ways for everyone. Ontario declared its first state of emergency just over a year ago, on March 17, 2020. Borders were closed globally. People flocked to grocery stores to stock up on cleaning supplies and toilet paper. The world as we knew it seemed suddenly different.

University students were particularly impacted by the new restrictions in Canada. Many students live away from home in student housing, and international students constitute a large chunk of the student body. 

On March 13, 2020, U of T announced the cancellation of all in-person classes, switching to virtual classroom platforms, starting March 16. The sudden shift was initially planned to last for two weeks and is scheduled to be re-assessed on April 3, 2021. 

“The situation is now accelerating very rapidly,” U of T President Gertler said in a letter to the U of T community on March 13. 

“One of the key factors in these decisions is the need to foster a degree of ‘social distancing,’ as recommended by public health authorities,” continued Gertler. “On that front, our goal is to help interrupt the chain of transmission in the wider community, thereby protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring that our health-care system will not become overburdened.”

Society itself experienced milestone moments, whether it be the resurfacing of racial relations in North America or women’s advancement in politics and professional spheres. Through it all, U of T staff and students remained resilient and at the forefront of innovation.

On March 5, 2020, Professor Keith Pardee and his research lab received $1 million from the initial $27 million in novel coronavirus research the International Development Research Centre of Canada allocated. The project, coined “lab-in-a-box,” involved taking its previously developed portable Zika virus test and modifying it to detect the Covid-19 virus. 

“What we are trying to do is make that functional clinical capacity available more globally,” stated Pardee to The Mediumin March 2020. “Our current test format costs about $2 per test. In the proposed Covid-19 work, our goal is to reduce the cost to [approximately] $0.25 per test.”

A member of Professsor Pardee’s research team Seray Çiçek told the Velocity Fund Pitch Competition in 2020 that their research could change pandemic response on an international scale by enabling doctor’s offices to accurately diagnose viral tests. “Our decentralized model will help keep the world healthy and protected,” said Çiçek.

Back in October 2020, the Office of the Vice President and Provost announced the launch of U of T’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force.

“A recognition of racism is insufficient,” said Hannah-Moffat to U of T News. “Racism is not an issue for Black and racialized communities to address—it impacts everyone, and it is our collective responsibility to take steps to eliminate barriers and create inclusive spaces for Black students, staff, faculty, and librarians. We are committed to creating lasting, meaningful change.”

Most recently, UTM partnered with Trillium Health Partners to launch its mass vaccination clinic and help the province proceed in its three-stage vaccination plan. The clinic is currently operating at a capacity of 2,000 doses administered per day and is looking to expand to 4,000 doses in the near future.

U of T President Gertler wrote a letter addressed to the U of T community on March 8, highlighting the plans for the upcoming fall semester.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a long and challenging journey for all of us, with many unexpected developments along the way,” read Gertler’s letter. “But with the vaccine rollout now picking up speed, we have reason to expect better days ahead.”

“Now is the time to look forward with optimism and excitement as we contemplate a return to greater in-person activity on our three campuses,” continued President Gertler. “Let me take this opportunity to thank you all once again for the resilience, dedication, creativity, and consideration you have shown throughout the past year. Your example remains a wonderful source of inspiration as we continue to pursue our academic mission together.”

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