Coronavirus: Kingston post-secondary students, public health prepare for holiday travel

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WATCH: Chief medical officer says they are preparing contingencies for students return after holidays – Dec 4, 2020

Classes wrap up this week at Queen’s University, which also means students will soon be facing the decision of whether or not to travel home.

First-year nursing student Maria Wassef says she will be heading home after finishing her exams next week.

“I live in the GTA. In Oakville,” Wassef told Global Kingston. “Going home means that I am going home to a much hotter spot than Kingston.”

In many ways, Wassef’s options are limited.

She says after exams are completed she’s not allowed to remain on residence where she lives.

Wassef says she plans to isolate before she leaves and practice public health guidelines when she gets home.

“I do live quite close to my grandparents and ever since everything’s been kind of increasing, they themselves have been wearing a lot of PPE when interacting with us and out of respect I do the same,” Wassef said.

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Wassef also plans to isolate when she returns to Kingston from her trip to Oakville.

“We do have in-person classes but they don’t start until two weeks after the semester begins to allow everybody to isolate,” said Wassef.

Read more: Coronavirus cases surge in U.S. as data shows many still travelled for Thanksgiving

Gagandeep Kaur is a Masters of Applied Science student at Queen’s, and for her, home is in India’s north.

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She is involved in research at the university and says COVID-19 protocols make it impractical for her to travel home.

“If I go back to India, to my parents, then I have to take testing here and then after coming back in here then I have to quarantine for 14 days again, so that doesn’t add up.” said Kaur.

Kaur says even if she could make the trip home, under the current circumstances she wouldn’t.

“I don’t want to risk my parents’ life if I did catch COVID, going home.” said Kaur.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health’s Chief Medical Officer is recommending students isolate before travelling and after the return to Kingston.

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He’s also advising students to socially distance, wear PPE and practice frequent handwashing while away.

“I think the biggest risk is actually when they return to Kingston.” Moore said, acknowledging students will go to areas like the GTA and Montreal, where COVID-19 number are higher.

Read more: Officials say to avoid Christmas travel in B.C. this year due to COVID-19 pandemic

Moore says discussions with Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College are already underway about holiday return protocols after the Christmas break.

“They are endorsing quarantining for 14 days and we may have a strategy for testing at around day five to seven of any returning student.” said Moore.

Moore say KFL&A Public Health will be monitoring the data from hot spots across the country.

“If the risk increases in those regions I think it will be more and more likely we’ll suggest not only the quarantine but also asymptomatic voluntary testing,” said Moore.

Moore says they are working the testing logistics with the assessment centre, Kingston Health Sciences Centre and lab to ensure the capacity is available.

“Two thousand students in residence at Queen’s, several hundred at St. Lawrence, we don’t want to overstretch our partners, but it’s certainly a strategy that I think we’re considering very strongly.” said Moore.

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