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Ottawa health officials urge university, college students: party smarter

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, says the local public health unit had its first case of a resident testing positive after receiving a notification from the COVID Alert app. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa health officials are hoping university and college students returning to the nation’s capital this fall are willing to party smarter amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches joined Mayor Jim Watson, the heads of the city’s post-secondary institutions and local law enforcement officials Wednesday afternoon to urge youth to keep the coronavirus in mind when attending — or not attending — parties this upcoming academic year.

“This is a very different and difficult year for everyone,” Watson said.

While health impacts should be top of mind for students returning to or starting school in September, Watson cited fines associated with the city’s mandatory mask bylaw as “financial consequences” of attending outsized parties.

Read more: University of Ottawa to open coronavirus testing site on campus this fall

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Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly backed up the mayor’s words, warning students could face fines of up to $1,000 if they’re caught hosting a party that exceeds Ontario’s provincial limits on gatherings.

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He added that uniformed and plain-clothes officers will be patrolling public spaces in Ottawa this fall.

Etches said Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has set up a new webpage with messaging targeted specifically at university and college students.

Click to play video: 'Returning to university during a pandemic' Returning to university during a pandemic
Returning to university during a pandemic – Sep 1, 2020

Among the tips for hosting safer parties on the OPH site are suggestions to hold parties outdoors, to skip shared dinners and to have “survival kits” of disinfectant wipes on-hand.

Etches also noted that OPH has seen its first incident of a resident testing positive for the virus after being notified by the COVID Alert app that they had been exposed. She encouraged incoming university students to download and make use of the app.

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Read more: COVID Alert app wraps first month with 2.2M downloads, 90 infection reports

Meanwhile, OPH reported 12 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday.

The number of active cases of COVID-19 dropped to 206 from 219 the day before.

There are currently 11 people in hospital with the virus, one of whom is in the intensive care unit.

Two more coronavirus outbreaks were declared in Ottawa on Wednesday, bringing the total number of ongoing outbreaks at local institutions up to 18.

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