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COVID-19: Added safety measures at Western amid rise in local cases, new residence outbreak

FILE - Western University in London, Ont, on May 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart

Western University brass say new safety measures are being implemented on campus amid increasing coronavirus case counts in the London-Middlesex region and the declaration of another outbreak at a student residence.

The announcement comes the same day the region returned to the red-control level of the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework.

Read more: 3rd COVID-19 wave will lead to difficult weeks ahead for Ontario hospitals: OHA

The latest outbreak was declared Tuesday at Elgin Hall after seven positive cases were confirmed there, university officials said in a statement.

The outbreak is among four residence hall outbreaks that are currently active at the university.

Two were declared on March 26 at Ontario Hall and Saugeen-Maitland Hall, linked to at least 11 cases each, while one outbreak was declared on March 2 at Essex Hall.

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In addition, a separate community outbreak was reported Monday by the health unit, linked to a social gathering or gatherings involving business students. At least 10 cases had been confirmed.

And on Tuesday, Western officials reported that an unspecified number of Western staff in an unidentified unit had also recently tested positive, but provided few details.

In a statement, Western’s director of health, safety and well-being, Matt Mills, said the rise in cases locally — the region’s rolling seven-day case average stood at 51 as of Tuesday, up from 25 the previous seven days — is being reflected on-campus.

“The third wave is here, and it is real,” Mills’ statement read.

“We know the variants of concern are more easily transmissible, especially among young people, and we must redouble our efforts to keep ourselves, each other and the community safe.”

Nearly two-thirds of the 154 local coronavirus cases that have screened variant positive has involved someone under the age of 30, according to figures from the health unit.

Read more: Charges laid after woman reported being followed twice on Western University campus

In response to the rising case rates, the university says it is implementing additional safety measures, including a mandate that everyone on campus wear a three-layer, non-medical mask indoors and when in the presence of others, rather than a cloth mask.

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Added safety measures are also being implemented at residence halls, where students are now required to wear face coverings at all times outside of their bedrooms. All common areas have also been closed, the university says.

Staff working on-campus are also now required to wear a face shield if working within six feet of each other, the university says, and must also wear eye protection as an added protective measure.

Masks will be distributed by the university starting on Wednesday, including to all students living on-campus, officials said.

Faculty, staff, and graduate students can request a mask or eye protection through their faculty or unit designated requisitioner, while undergraduates can email facecoverings@uwo.ca.

During a media briefing on Monday, the region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, noted that Western was “in the range of 20 per cent of our overall community problem.”

More information can be found on Western University’s website.

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