May 6, 2020
In January and February 2020, the coronavirus in China and then other parts of the world such as Italy and Spain, came to worldwide attention. In early March 2020, there was growing concern over the coronavirus or COVID-19 and the potential looming health threat across Canada and in Saskatchewan. As the awareness of the virus ramped up, GDI immediately established daily meetings of senior management in order to closely monitor the evolving situation, monitor recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Government of Saskatchewan, and to communicate important information internally and externally to our stakeholders.
Public information and recommendations changed rapidly. The Institute was concerned with prioritizing the health and wellness of GDI staff and students, promoting illness-minimization measures such as handwashing, staying home if sick, cough/sneeze etiquette, and social distancing. Common kitchens, lunchrooms, etc. were shut down. Extra cleaning and disinfecting efforts were scheduled for all facilities. Staff were asked to cancel all non-essential meetings, events, and travel. DTI closed its testing centre and mobile testing labs. Notices related to illness prevention were posted in all facilities. IT began to set up remote access to the network, video conferencing options, and other important technical connections. Credible information sources were promoted such as the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the PHAC websites.
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 12th, Saskatchewan reported its first presumptive case. On March 18th the province declared a state of emergency.
In the days leading up to, and following the WHO declaration, the Institute referred to its policy, “Influenza Pandemic Planning Policy,” the intent of which is to ensure business continuity in a pandemic and short-term planning with a health focus. The policy document was useful in the early days of contingency planning but the situation quickly surpassed the early stages of precautions. GDI is a complex institution with programs at multiple levels of certification, and with a variety of institutional partners. As much as possible, the Institute followed the direction of the institution each program is affiliated with, but by March 16th all GDI classrooms were closed. By the end of the week most classes were up and running in some form of online/remote/distance delivery. This was an abrupt change in an institution where our usual model is to deliver face-to-face, community-based education and training programs in classrooms throughout Saskatchewan. Much credit is due to the faculty and staff for the quick shift to remote delivery. All efforts have been to keep students engaged.
GDIT&E quickly implemented supports for funded students, included extra tutoring supports, program extensions, and remote access to employment counselling services.
On March 17, 2020 the GDI buildings and offices were closed to the general public. Business and services to Métis clients and students remain on-going as of April 30th, with a variety of remote processes taking place across the province. Staff are working various combinations of in-office and remote work, as directed by supervisors. Social distancing is practiced in all GDI locations and the Institute follows all guidelines and regulations from the provincial government.
GDI immediately applied to a number of sources of funding in an attempt to secure emergency funds for GDI students struggling due to the effects of COVID-19. With a variety of funds from internal sources and a $17,000 contribution from Saskatchewan Innovation and Opportunity Scholarship (SIOS), the Gabriel Dumont Scholarship Foundation launched the COVID-19 Emergency Bursary for Métis Students. To-date, 344 Métis students have been awarded in excess of $162,000 in emergency bursaries under the program.
Early in the pandemic it was clear that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was in short supply, provincially, nationally, and globally. Dumont Technical Institute took stock of all PPE available from its various healthcare-related training programs across the province and donated the totality of its stock to the Saskatchewan Health Authority. In total DTI was able to donate 12 boxes of N95 masks, one box of disposable gowns, six boxes of procedural masks with visors, 21 boxes of procedure masks, two boxes of isogel, and one box of nasophayngeal swabs.
IT purchased a suite of laptops and Chromebooks to loan to students in order to support their distance learning needs. As of April 1, 2020, 74 students had borrowed equipment from DTI in the form of laptops or Chromebooks, to support their at-home studies. As of April 1, DTI has a 74% engagement rate from Adult Basic Education students and a 96% engagement rate from Skills training students who continue their studies at home.
The GDI Culture and Heritage Department has been taking a variety of measures to support those working and studying at home including providing access to Métis-specific resources for GDI staff (ie, the GDI history book and discussion questions) and resources for children (Métis Alphabet colouring pages and the Stories of Our People comic series). A number of virtual concerts were arranged, starting with Donny Parenteau, on YouTube and Facebook. Followed by a Jess Lee concert on Facebook and YouTube. Other artists’ performances are planned to be released each Monday, including John Arcand on Monday May 4th and Tristen Durocher on Monday May 11th. Response to the virtual performances has been excellent.
As students continue to move through their studies, it becomes apparent that many are struggling with the effects of the sudden shift in delivery, home study, and uncertainty caused by COVID-19. GDI has arranged Student Mental Health Support Services for GDI students through a program called keep.meSAFE in partnership with Morneau Shepell. This means our students will have access to counselling services free of charge 24/7. They are invited to download the free My SSP app and/or call toll free 1-844-451-9700 to access counselling services. A link will be provided in the coming days for students to access for an orientation to the services. Staff and faculty training is being arranged as soon as possible.
While the pandemic and its effects are far from over, the Province is beginning to implement measures for the gradual re-opening of some businesses and services beginning May 4th in a phased approach. The full plan can be accessed at the re-open Saskatchewan webpage. As we move forward through this uncertain time, we encourage all GDI staff and students to stay safe, follow provincial and local directives, support one another, and be kind to each other and yourselves.