COVID-19 outbreak hits Western University as five students test positive

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Western said before the start of the fall quarter that it was trying to preserve as many learning opportunities on campus as it could safely.

GEOFF ROBINS / Le Globe and Mail

Five students from the University of Western Ontario tested positive for COVID-19 within a week of starting classes, prompting the local Ontario health authority to declare an outbreak.

Middlesex-London Health Unit said the five students live in the larger community, not on campus, and have not attended classes or activities on campus. But they visited bars and restaurants in downtown London where they mingled with a number of people.

They also spent time with other students in neighboring houses and apartments. The health unit declared an epidemic in the community on Sunday, saying it expects more cases to appear in the coming days.

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This is the first major epidemic associated with a post-secondary institution in Canada since the start of the fall term. Some epidemiologists fear that young people who return to school, even with mostly online classes, will become a key vector of disease transmission when they gather for parties and other social events. The outbreak occurred as other communities with large college-aged populations clamped down on behavior that could endanger public health.

Many Canadian universities have chosen a hybrid model that combines online learning with limited in-person instruction. But each is making their own way on the amount of activity to be allowed on campus and the number of students to be accommodated in halls of residence. However, one aspect of student life that many universities find it difficult to restrict is social life off campus. Freezing week parties and public health issues were reported in some communities across Canada in the past week.

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“We know our students value the opportunity to be on campus and have classroom experiences – and for this to continue to happen, everyone must play a role in keeping their own and the community safe by following the guidelines.” public health, ”said Jennifer Massey, associate vice president of student experience at Western.

“Students want to be together and socialize, and we strongly encourage them to avoid parties and large gatherings and to ensure their social circles include a maximum of 10 people.”

Western said ahead of the start of the fall semester, which began on September 9, that it was trying to preserve as many learning opportunities on campus as it safely could. About 25 to 30 percent of its classes will include unspecified “campus experience” this fall, including undergraduate seminars and labs where physical distance is possible. The amount of in-person instruction varies depending on the student’s program and grade.

Concerns about the behavior of post-secondary students have been raised elsewhere. At Queen’s University, a professor wrote an open letter to the community last week, saying he had seen large gatherings of students partying and not observing the rules of physical distancing. The city of Kingston has been forced to close a public beach near campus after overcrowding became unmanageable.

City officials have responded to more than 300 noise complaints over the past two weeks, mostly from the area around the Queen’s campus, and imposed dozens of fines in an attempt to quell the gatherings.

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In Nova Scotia, the RCMP announced that four university students had been charged under the Health Protection Act over the Labor Day weekend for not self-isolating after entering what one had. called the Atlantic bubble. Three of the students were in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and one in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. All were fined $ 1,000. Nova Scotia requires all students coming from outside Atlantic Canada to self-isolate for 14 days and undergo three tests for COVID-19.

Dozens of universities in the United States have switched to holding fully online courses after a number of outbreaks following the return of students last month. In many cases, the outbreaks were linked to parties or students living together in dormitories.

Although the level of community spread in Canada has been much lower than in the United States, bringing students together is a growing concern of public health officials.

“If we ever needed evidence to show that there is still a risk of COVID-19 in the community, this is it,” said Chris Mackie, Middlesex-London medical officer of health.

“We know the temptation to get back together with friends and party is great, but it’s crucial that we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Affected Western students are being followed in isolation, the health unit said. The university has already installed a trailer in a parking lot on campus to make testing easier for students and staff.

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