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It is just over a month since we found ourselves suddenly having to adjust to a new way of teaching and working in the midst of what is arguably one of the most serious threats ever faced by Islanders, Canadians, and people around the world. In the midst of this global tragedy, our friends and colleagues in Nova Scotia are enduring unimaginable grief in the wake of the mass shootings there on the weekend. Our hearts go out to them. 

COVID-19 has resulted in sickness and deaths on a global scale, but our province has come through relatively well thus far, thanks to the diligence and hard work of our public health officials, health-care workers, and the willingness of people to adhere to the strict health measures put in place to protect us. 

Here at the Atlantic Veterinary College, we are focussed on helping our students complete their academic year; protecting the lives of animals; and contributing in any way we can in the fight against this deadly virus.

Our faculty have risen to the challenge, quickly converting their teaching and exams from in-classroom to online delivery as much as possible. We have successfully completed the final weeks of preclinical and clinical training for the winter semester and are working to make necessary adjustments to the fourth-year curriculum for the Class of 2021 so that they will get the knowledge and training they need to graduate next year as professional veterinarians. 

This has been a learning curve for our faculty as much as for our students. I applaud them for their quick response. Most of all, I extend deep gratitude to Dr. Leigh Lamont, Associate Dean Academic and Student Affairs, and her team, who are doing amazing work to ensure that all of our students achieve their educational outcomes while they remain safe.

At this point in the year, excitement would be building among our graduating students—the Class of 2020—as they would be preparing for their White Coat and Convocation ceremonies, which usually occur in early May. I know that it is a great disappointment to them—and to us—that these pivotal events in their lives cannot take place in-person this year. We are working with the Class to develop an alternative way to celebrate their great achievement of completing their doctor of veterinary medicine program. 

Our Veterinary Teaching Hospital continues to operate on an urgent and emergency case basis, with only staff deemed essential working on-site. We are taking stringent measures to safeguard the health of our people while fulfilling our mandate to provide top-notch veterinary care for animals—large and small. We are grateful to Dr. Heather Gunn McQuillan, director of our hospital, and her staff for their dedication to our patients during this very challenging time. The VTH has had amazing policy support on infection control by Matt Saab and Drs. Jason Stull and J McClure.

We are supporting our provincial and federal governments in their work to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our populations here and across the country. Epidemiologist and professor Dr. Javier Sanchez is a leading member of the team modelling the potential impact of COVID-19 on our Island, along with alumnus and postdoctoral fellow Thitiwan Patanasatienku. Other alumni of our DVM and/or world-renowned epidemiology graduate programs are contributing through their roles with the provincial government: Dr. Carolyn Sanford, provincial veterinarian; Dr. Tim Burnley, health information specialist; Dr. Ibrahim Elsohaby, veterinary epidemiologist; Dr. Ahmed Elmoslemany, health information specialist; Dr. Marguerite Cameron, acting provincial epidemiologist; and Dr. Karen MacDonald-Phillips, epidemiologist. Our alumni and colleagues are making major contributions to the effort to minimize COVID-19 cases and maintain our food supply chains.

The need for a strong supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is much in the news these days. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Diagnostic Services, and individual researchers have set aside PPE for provision to health-care workers should it be needed. We are ensuring that our people have the PPE they need to safeguard their own health, but we are being very judicious in its use. Last week, we shipped almost 16,000 sterile swabs to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in response to a request for assistance. To support the health care system, AVC is also exploiting veterinary supply systems, where some human health care supply chains have had challenges. 

I want to express my deep pride in and gratitude to all members of the AVC community—students, faculty, staff—for rising to meet the challenges of this very difficult situation. With the exception of those working in the essential areas of the VTH, Diagnostics, Animal Resources, and Central Services, our faculty and staff are for the most part working remotely, which itself is a challenge. We all miss the face-to-face interaction with our colleagues and students, and we look forward to the day when we can return to a more normal way of working and living.

To our clients, stakeholders, and friends, I thank you for your ongoing support as we navigate through what feels like uncharted waters. You are a very important part of our success. I wish you all the best. Stay healthy and safe. 
Dr. Greg Keefe

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