A growing outbreak of COVID-19 sparked anger and frustration from Ed Holder, the mayor of London, Ont., on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) said that 28 students at Western University had tested positive for coronavirus since Sept. 11.
“To put things in perspective, 28 is about as many cases as we had the entire month of July,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health.
During a media briefing on Thursday, an angry and frustrated Holder issued a message to those who are driving the outbreak and breaking COVID-19 guidelines.
“If this continues, you are going to kill someone,” said Holder.
“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.”
The health unit sent out a stern message on Thursday afternoon as well.
“We’re deeply distressed by this outbreak and we want to do our share and more to try and curb it,” said Alan Shepard, president of Western University.
Like Holder, Shepard also used Thursday’s media briefing to plead with students to follow health guidelines.
“I’m asking all Western students to do what doesn’t come naturally to young people, which is to stay home and to stay only with one or two other people and not be out visiting friends,” said Shepard.
Western’s University Student’s Council president Matt Reesor described the increase in cases as disappointing.
“The reality is that the majority of students have been abiding by the guidelines… it’s been a smaller group that seems to be having this effect,” said Reesor.
Ian Sobotka, a student in his fifth year at Western, said he’s concerned about the growing number of cases in the community, but not surprised.
“I think just the average university student’s pretty stupid and just wants to party and isn’t able to think ahead,” said Sobotka.
Fifth year student Tarquin Opperman spent his summer in London, Ont., with Sobotka and was disappointed to see a surge in cases.
“It was tame in London this summer and we probably could’ve kept it that way if students were being a little more responsible, but at the end of the day they are adults, they can make their own decisions and it’s just too bad,” said Opperman.
“I feel we’re definitely going to avoid downtown in general right now,” said Tyler Ollenberger, another fifth year student who’s friends with Opperman and Sobotka.
“I’m definitely expecting to see more cases,” Ollenberger added.
First year students Arika Lee and Gaby Jamieson expressed visible concern upon hearing of the 11 new cases reported in London and Middlesex County on Thursday.
“It sucks,” said Lee. “It’s definitely impacted our first year kind of negatively. Obviously, we came to Western for the experience and it’s been very different this year.”
“We don’t even really have any in-person classes, so we don’t even get that experience, let alone parties and stuff,” said Jamieson.
While the two have been strict on following COVID-19 guidelines, they worry about others who may not be on the same page.
“At the same time, there’s really nothing we can do about it, we can just protect ourselves,” Jamieson added.
“It’s somewhat inevitable that something like this would happen,” said Max Carbone, a student in his third year at Western.
“Everybody’s obviously really excited to get back to school and see their friends… it’s hard to push away the urge to go out and see everybody.”
Carbone said after seeing crowded lineups and large gatherings in downtown London, along with the number of cases that have been linked to that activity, that he and his friends have decided to be more cautious.
“After that first week (of school), we all sort of realized that this is not something we should be doing or be partaking in,” said Carbone.
“It’s really tempting… but it’s just something that we have to be smart about now because it’s a different time and it’s not a regular school year.”
The new cases have prompted tighter restrictions at Western, with the university moving back to Phase Three of its return-to-campus plan.
That includes suspending athletics and recreation, 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.”View link »