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Reading week: Western University students asked to stay put if they can, be cautious if they can’t

Students walk across campus at Western University in London, Ont., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.
Students walk across campus at Western University in London, Ont., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

Undergraduate students at Western University will be on reading week next week, raising concern over a potential bump in travel between the London, Ont., region and COVID-19 hotspot regions like the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa.

While City of London Mayor Ed Holder is urging students to avoid travel if possible, he and Middlesex Warden Cathy Burghardt-Jesson said that if students do choose to travel, they need to take necessary precautions.

Read more: Middlesex-London Health Unit cautions against travelling to COVID-19 hot spots this Thanksgiving

“I have university-aged children and this is a tough time for them,” Burghardt-Jesson said.

“And having the ability to go home for a week, you know, it is a decision they’re going to have to make. And if they feel for their mental health, they need to go home, I think we need to respect that but they need to do it safely.”

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The warden reminded people to continue following public health guidelines, especially handwashing and crowd sizes. Holder echoed her sentiments and also reminded the public to wear masks.

“I might add another: be careful of hanging out with strangers, which can be easy when you go to a different place. So it kind of goes back to that same point about knowing your social circles. Just cautions all around, so I won’t repeat with the warden has said but I think it’s all good advice.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit’s medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, also pointed out that the forecast looks fairly pleasant next week — with mostly clear skies and some moderate temperatures between 8 C and 14 C anticipated — and so he’s encouraging people to move interactions outside whenever possible.

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“Anytime you can get outside instead of gathering indoors, that will really reduce your risk of spreading COVID so think about those outdoor activities for the next week or so.”

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

Mackie also spoke to the potential for a bump in cases following reading week, noting that the region has seen cases linked to Thanksgiving activity but “not a tremendous number.”

“I think back to Mother’s Day back in May when we were closer to our peak — we didn’t really see a bump around Mother’s Day. I’ve seen some of the messaging from Western, for example, to their students around safety precautions to take during reading week. I think those would be very helpful,” he said.

“Western students really took up the mantle of COVID after the outbreaks in September and I know many Fanshawe students did as well so I’m hopeful about reading week.”

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Further public health guidance can be found on the MLHU’s website.