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

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Ontario’s top doctor says Western University cases being monitored, more restrictions possible'
Coronavirus: Ontario’s top doctor says Western University cases being monitored, more restrictions possible
WATCH: Ontario's top doctor says Western University cases being monitored, more restrictions possible – Sep 17, 2020

Western University in London, Ont., says at least 28 of its students have tested positive for the coronavirus.

In an update Thursday afternoon, the university said the majority of cases involve students who live off campus, though one student “is in residence and now in isolation.”

Mayor Ed Holder expressed his frustration and anger during an afternoon media briefing alongside medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie and Western University president Alan Shepard. Holder noted that there have been a total of 32 new cases reported by the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) over the past five days, with at least forty active cases in the region as of Thursday.

Holder spoke directly to those flouting public health guidelines.

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However, Holder also thanked Western University students who are doing their part, saying some students have even reached out to the city’s COVID-19 response line to report those who are not following the rules.

As a result of the rising cases, Western says it will move back to Phase Three of its return-to-campus plan, which means athletics and recreation will be suspended along with in-person student club meetings and events.

Access to libraries and “several other buildings” will also be restricted effective immediately and officials are planning to “use the full force of the code of student conduct” if students “risk the health and safety of the community through their actions.”

Shepard said the university is working closely with the MLHU. He also took the opportunity to defend the university’s ease-back plan and seemingly shift focus to the individual.

“We have had very positive feedback on the level of planning we’ve done,” he said.

“We are counting on all our students to share the responsibility for keeping the Western community – and the city of London – safe and healthy. A big part of that is avoiding large gatherings, particularly house parties, and practising proper physical distancing.”

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The university says those who may have been in close contact with someone who tested positive and are deemed to be at risk “will be contacted directly by the health unit.”

Western’s announcement is the latest in what’s been a hectic week in London, Ont., including the declaration of a community outbreak and overwhelming demand for testing at the city’s two assessment centres and at the university’s testing trailer.

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Last Friday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit issued a public notice, stating that someone who spent two hours at the El Furniture Warehouse restaurant on Sept. 7 had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and patrons who were there in that time frame were asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

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On Saturday, the wait time at the Carling Heights assessment centre location reached three hours. The Oakridge location is closed on weekends.

On Sunday, the wait time reached three hours before noon. Roughly three and a half hours later, the health unit declared a community outbreak after a bump in cases among Western University students. Three students were confirmed to have tested positive on Saturday and another two on Sunday, though they were added to Monday’s case count tally.

Extensive wait times continued throughout the week, prompting Western University’s testing trailer for students to extend its hours starting Monday and to expand its capacity on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, both the Carling Heights and Oakridge Arena locations reached capacity well before the end of day.

Medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie said Wednesday that assessment centres would be prioritizing patients in an effort to address the massive queues.

“Assessment centres in London are going to stop testing people who don’t have symptoms and don’t have exposure,” he said Wednesday.

Click to play video: 'Long wait times at London COVID-19 assessment centres following declaration of community outbreak'
Long wait times at London COVID-19 assessment centres following declaration of community outbreak

The uptick in cases in London mirrors trends seen across Ontario and Canada.

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On Monday, Ontario reported 313 cases, marking the largest increase since early June. The week continued with 251 on Tuesday, 315 on Wednesday, and 293 new cases on Thursday.

Ontario government sources confirm to Global News the province is looking at reducing gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for private gatherings in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa — down from 50 and 100, respectively.

The three regions have seen a rise in coronavirus cases and make up the bulk of Ontario’s daily COVID-19 case count.

However, the government said it is still discussing with the health table to finalize numbers for gatherings. The final details will be announced at Premier Doug Ford’s daily news conference with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Click to play video: 'Why do so many young people have COVID-19? It’s not just partying, expert says'
Why do so many young people have COVID-19? It’s not just partying, expert says

Across the country, cases continued to climb at an alarming rate with health officials reported 939 new confirmed infections on Wednesday. The new total nearly matches the number reported back on May 26 — which happened to be the first day in months that daily cases were under 1,000, signalling the end of the pandemic’s first wave.

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It was also the first time more than 900 new cases were reported since May 29.

— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton, Gabby Rodrigues, and Travis Dhanraj.

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