Coronavirus: 11 new cases in London-Middlesex as Western reports 28 student infections

London, Ontario, Canada - August 30, 2020: A sign saying 'Welcome to Western! Masks required indoors!' is seen at one of the gate to Western University  campus in London, Ontario, Canada.
London, Ontario, Canada - August 30, 2020: A sign saying 'Welcome to Western! Masks required indoors!' is seen at one of the gate to Western University campus in London, Ontario, Canada. JHVEPhoto via Getty Images

Eleven people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in what is the largest single-day increase reported in London and Middlesex in more than a month, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) reported Thursday.

It comes the same day officials at Western University announced that at least 28 cases had been reported in the last week involving its student population.

Thursday’s update brings the region’s total case count to 776, of which 679 have recovered. Fifty-seven people have also died, with the most recent death reported on June 12.

It leaves at least 40 known active cases in London and Middlesex.

At least 35 cases have been reported in the region over the last seven days, according to health unit figures.

All 11 of Thursday’s cases were reported in London, Ont., and involve nine people under the age of 19 and two people in their 20s.

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Read more: How Western University’s largest COVID-19 cluster happened

Health officials say one case involves a Fanshawe student while 10 involve students from Western University.

The Western cases are among some 28 that have been reported just over the last week involving students at the university, health officials say. All but one live off-campus, and all but four are counted in the health unit’s regional total.

Of those 28, at least 14 are tied to a community outbreak the health unit declared on Sunday that has infected a total of 15 people.

The health unit on Thursday released a graphic detailing the steps that contract tracers have taken in locating and identifying cases linked to the outbreak. (Click here to see the graphic in full and click here to hear Dr. Mackie explain the graph.)

A chart from the Middlesex-London Health unit detailing the linkages between cases identified as part of a community outbreak declared on Sunday.
A chart from the Middlesex-London Health unit detailing the linkages between cases identified as part of a community outbreak declared on Sunday. Middlesex-London Health Unit

The chart shows that a majority of cases are tied to three households and that many have been traced back to a gathering at Lost Love Social Club, a nightclub located near Richmond and Carling streets, on the night of Sept. 9, as well as gatherings at student houses in the following days.

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“It’s gathering in large groups. It’s gathering in close contact with people from outside of your household or outside of your bubble,” said the region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, during the health unit’s media briefing on Thursday.

“It’s unnecessary very close contact, things like sharing food, drinks, e-cigarettes, all the sorts of things that we know are just the highest risk in terms of the spread of COVID-19.”

Mackie says several dozen contacts are in isolation and/or are getting tested as a result of the outbreak. More cases are expected to crop up over the coming days.

“Having seen significant high-risk activity this past weekend, we know that there will be more cases associated with this activity and with these outbreaks that will come to fruition over the next two weeks.”

Read more: 28 Western University students test positive for coronavirus, prompting tightened restrictions

In the wake of the spike in student cases, Western University announced Thursday that it would move to revert back to phase three of its return-to-campus plan.

As a result, athletics and recreation have been suspended, as have in-person student club meetings and events. Some buildings, including libraries, will see restricted access.

Despite the spike in cases, on-campus classes will continue, and residences will remain open, say university officials, who singled out house parties as putting the community at “great risk.”

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Western wouldn’t hesitate to use the “full force” of its code of student conduct should students “risk the health and safety of the community through their actions,” the officials said.

With 40 active cases in the region and 35 announced just since late last week, Mayor Ed Holder was blunt in his assessment of the situation Thursday.

“To those who are part of the problem, I cannot put it any more plainly: if this continues, you are going to kill someone,” he said during the briefing.

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“Should daily case counts remain this high for a sustained period, community spread is a near-certainty, and it’s a matter of when, not if, somebody dies. Wouldn’t that be an awful burden to carry?”

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Read more: Anger from London, Ont. mayor amid growing coronavirus outbreak: ‘You are going to kill someone’

Holder noted, however, that a vast majority of Western students have been doing the right things when it came to social distancing and self-isolation.

“We’ve received tips on our COVID response line from students about young people who aren’t following the rules. Most Western students get it,” he said.

During the briefing, Western University President Alan Shepard said the school was “deeply distressed” by the number of cases, adding it was doing what it could to curb the spread, including with the recent opening of its on-campus testing trailer.

Shepard had one message to students: don’t go out visiting friends.

We’re asking people to stay home and to forego the parties. Nobody’s going to die because they’ve skipped a couple of parties, and people put other people’s lives at risk by going out and engaging in conduct that’s really, in ordinary times would be fine, and right now is particularly dangerous.”

Read more: London’s COVID-19 assessment centres prioritizing patients in wake of massive lineups

Concerns about a rise in cases among students has prompted lengthy lines at the city’s assessment centres this week.

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The health unit reported a total of 829 people visited Carling Heights and Oakridge Arena on Wednesday, the highest single-day number of visitations since the assessment centres opened in April.

Wednesday marked the second time this week that both facilities had to be closed by late afternoon after hitting capacity. Tuesday was the first time it had happened during the pandemic.

As of Thursday afternoon, wait times at the facilities ranged around two hours, as was the case in days prior, with health officials urging that only those who were symptomatic or directed by a health care provider to get tested to visit.

On Western’s campus, students continued to make their way to a testing trailer located in the parking lot of the university’s Social Science Centre.

To prevent students from having to wait in long lines, officials have been handing out tickets that guarantee a test before the trailer closes for the day, allowing students to come back at a later time.

The trailer, which had its capacity doubled earlier this week, is open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. during the week, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Read more: London restaurant fined for breaching mandatory face covering by-law

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Health officials reported six cases on Wednesday, three on Tuesday, six on Monday, and two on Sunday.

At least 719 of the region’s cases have been reported in London, while 27 have been in Strathroy-Caradoc and 12 in Middlesex Centre. Seven cases have been in Thames Centre, six in North Middlesex, four in Lucan Biddulph and one in Southwest Middlesex.

The region’s seven-day average for new cases stood at 5.0 as of Thursday, up from 3.57 the day before. Looking back 14 days to Sept. 2, the 14-day average is 3.0.

The region’s cases per 100,000 rate stands at 152.5 as of Wednesday, while Ontario’s stands at 305.3. Individually, London itself has a case rate of 174.9, while Strathroy-Caradoc’s is 119.3. Lucan Biddulph and North Middlesex have case rates of 85.0 and 83.7, respectively.

People in their 20s make up the region’s largest age group of cases, accounting for 178, or 23 per cent of the region’s case total. People in their 50s make up 114 cases, while people in their 30s and those 80 and above make up 108 each.

That being said, the health unit says the case rate for those 80 and above stands at the equivalent of 465.1 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 230.9 for those in their 20s.

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The city’s lone institutional outbreak, located on the fourth floor of Chelsey Park Retirement Community, remains active as of Thursday. The outbreak was declared on Sept. 9.

At least 28 institutional outbreaks have been declared, including 22 at seniors’ facilities, that have been tied to 193 cases involving residents and staff and 35 deaths.

Outbreaks, including those not involving seniors’ homes, are the largest transmission source in the region, linked to 265 cases.

Hospitalizations remain low, if nonexistent, in London and Middlesex. The health unit and London Health Sciences Centre have not been releasing real-time hospitalization figures.

LHSC has only said the number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 is “five or less.”

A total of 115 people have had to be hospitalized, including 32 in intensive care.

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Provincially, Ontario reported 293 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and three new deaths related to the coronavirus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Toronto reported 85 new cases, with 63 in Peel Region and 39 in Ottawa.

She said 70 per cent of the new cases are in people under the age of 40.

The total number of cases in Ontario now stands at 45,676, which includes 2,825 deaths and 40,424 cases classified as resolved.

Read more: Ontario reports 293 new coronavirus cases with majority in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa

There were also 179 cases newly marked as resolved over the past 24 hours, and the province said it processed 35,134 tests over the previous day.

Twenty-one cases were reported in schools around the province, including at least five among students.

The new cases — which also include four staff members and 12 people who aren’t identified — bring the total number of schools with a reported case to 51 out of the province’s 4,828.

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Elgin and Oxford

One person has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials with Southwestern Public Health (SWPH)

It brings the region’s total case count to 263, of which 248 have recovered and five have died — a tally unchanged since early July.

The new case was reported in Central Elgin, health unit figures show.

Four cases were reported on Wednesday, two cases on Monday, and one case on Saturday.

There are at least 10 known active cases in the region — eight are in Woodstock, one is in Bayham, and one is in Central Elgin.

Five cases are in their 20s, two are in their 50s, two are in their 60s, and one is in their 80s. Seven are men and three are women.

One case was in the hospital as of Thursday. They were not in intensive care.

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By municipality, Aylmer still has seen the largest number of cases with 82 — an incident rate equivalent to 1,094 cases per 100,000 people. Bayham has reported 38 cases and has a case rate of 513 per 100,000.

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Elsewhere, St. Thomas has reported 37 (95.1 per 100,000), while Woodstock has seen 29 (70.9 per 100,000).

Total testing numbers weren’t immediately available, but the health unit says its test per cent positivity rate for the week of Sept. 6, the most recent that is available, was 0.1 per cent.

Huron and Perth

No new cases, deaths, or recoveries were reported on Thursday by officials with Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH).

The total number of confirmed cases is unchanged at 127, of which 118 have recovered. Five people have also died.

Four known active cases remain in the region. At least two are located in Stratford.

Few other details are known.

No change was reported on Wednesday, one case was reported Tuesday, and two cases were reported on Monday.

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Perth County has reported 45 cases overall, with 16 cases in North Perth, 15 in Perth East, eight in Perth South, and six in West Perth.

At least 45 cases have also been reported in Huron County, including 14 in Central Huron, 12 in Bluewater, and 10 in South Huron.

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In Stratford, 31 cases have been reported along with four deaths that were all linked to an outbreak at Greenwood Court, a long-term care home, that was declared over on May 11.

In St. Marys, six cases and one death have been reported.

The region’s test positivity rate was 0.2 per cent as of the week of Sept. 6.

Sarnia and Lambton

One person has recovered from the novel coronavirus, Lambton Public Health officials said late Wednesday.

The region’s total case count remains at 343, of which now 317 have recovered. Twenty-five people have also died, most recently in early June.

As of Thursday, there is one known active case in the region. It’s not known where the case is located.

Two recoveries were reported late Tuesday and one recovery late Saturday.

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There has been no change to the number of outbreaks declared in the region. At least 10 have been reported, including eight at local seniors’ facilities, one at Bluewater Health, and one at an unspecified workplace.

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The outbreaks have been linked to 109 cases and 16 deaths, largely due to two outbreaks at Landmark Village and Vision Nursing Home that stretched from March to May and from April to June, respectively.

Hospitalizations have also remained the same for the last several months. Bluewater Health discharged its final COVID-19 patient in mid-June. A total of 58 hospitalizations have been reported.

The health unit says at least 25,279 tests have been received as of late Wednesday. At least 1.4 per cent of tests are coming back positive, a figure unchanged from the day before.

— With files from The Canadian Press