Health unit asks Western students not to go home to COVID hotspots for fall reading week

As the province continues to deal with record-high COVID-19 case counts, particularly in Ottawa, Toronto and the Peel and York regions, Western University students are getting ready for their fall reading week and health officials are telling them to stay put in London if possible. 

“If you must travel, keep your distance from anyone you haven’t been living with while in London and wear a mask indoors/outdoors, especially when it’s hard to keep distance,” the Middlesex London Health Unit said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon. 

Quebec City and Montreal are also considered hot spots. 

A similar request to avoid travel outside of London was made of students ahead of Thanksgiving weekend, when health officials then feared a spike in cases if students went to hot spots and then returned to the city. 

Western University officials sent an email to students this week, urging them to limit in-person interactions as much as possible and to follow health and safety protocols. 

A harm-reduction approach

“We are taking a harm-reduction approach to this as it’s often the most effective in encouraging good behaviour,” said Jennie Massey, Western University’s associate vice-president of student experience. 

“We’re trying to find that careful balance between providing our students with all the information that they need to make an informed decision and then also providing some good ideas for things that they can do to keep safe and healthy and keep everybody else around them safe and healthy.”

An outbreak in London Hall, a residence, is under control, Massey said. 

Jessica Omorodion, a fourth-year student, would normally go home to Newmarket, but decided to stay put this year, as testing for COVID-19 on campus is limited and her parents are older and immunocompromised, she said. 

“It’s really difficult to get tested unless you’re showing symptoms and I don’t want to risk going home and bringing the virus home to my parents,” she said. “I really don’t want to accidentally bring it home.” 

Omorodion plans to keep busy with extracurricular activities during the week, she said. 

Hope Mahood, a third-year student, told CBC News many of her peers are not going home, even those that did leave London for Thanksgiving. 

Dining halls, sports and rec open

“It’s the middle of mid-terms so people are just staying here and studying,” Mahood said. “One of my friends might go home just to see her mom for a couple days, but mostly everyone is staying. It’s a mixture of COVID and midterms.” 

Western has provided students with a number of alternatives to going home. The campus sports and recreation centre will be partially re-opened on Monday, in a limited way. 

Western University residence London Hall had four students tests positive Sunday Oct 11, 2020. Some students living there were put in quarantine in another location. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Residence dining halls will also remain open for students staying behind, Massey said. 

“We are asking our students to continue following all the health and safety protocols that have been outlined by our colleagues at the Middlesex London Health Unit,” she said.

“This is an important time for us all to continue to be vigilant. The second wave is here and it’s real, and we all have an important role to play, keeping ourselves safe, our friends and family safe, and our community safe.”

The university has also scheduled a number of virtual events for students and has suggested things students can do while staying in London

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