COVID-19: Outbreak declared at Fanshawe College residence as Western outbreak grows

Fanshawe College's Merlin House student residence. Google Maps

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared by the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) at a student residence at Fanshawe College — the post-secondary institution’s first of the pandemic.

The outbreak, declared at the college’s Merlin House residence on Sunday, was made public in the health unit’s Monday update and is linked to at least three cases according to Fanshawe spokesperson Elaine Gamble.

“Those students are in isolation and are following the instructions they received from the MLHU. As of Nov. 24, 2021, guest restrictions for Merlin House and Merlin House residents have been in place in an effort to protect the residence community,” Gamble said in an email, adding the restrictions will remain in place until further notice.

It comes as an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at Western University’s Saugeen-Maitland Hall residence, the first declared at the school this academic year, sees more students impacted, according to the health unit.

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The outbreak, declared on Saturday, was initially linked to at least five cases, but has since grown to eight, according to Dr. Alex Summers, the region’s acting medical officer of health.

“The transmission that has been seen in the Fanshawe and Western outbreaks over the weekend happened largely from social interactions indoors, no masks, social environments,” Summers said during Monday’s media briefing.

“That is where, largely, transmission is being seen, whether you’re a post-secondary student or not, so no surprises in the transmission patterns that we’re seeing in those outbreaks.”

Summers, however, notes that overall transmission of COVID-19 among post-secondary students in the community has been very low due to the “exceptionally high vaccination rate amongst post-secondary students in our community.”

While people who are fully immunized can still contract COVID-19, known as a breakthrough case, the health unit says those individuals become less sick than unvaccinated individuals, and are much less likely to require hospitalization or die.

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“(The) transmission that has been seen is really from social interactions, close environments for an extended period of time where masks aren’t being worn, for obvious reasons.”

There has been no evidence of transmission within a classroom or lecture hall environment, he said.

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“The combination of vaccination, masking and a relatively short time together in those settings make them fairly low-risk for transmission on the whole, and certainly that’s what we’ve seen to date.”

Western says all close contacts in residence have been notified by the health unit and are self-isolating.

“Out of an abundance of caution, all employees and residents of Saugeen, as well as students in some identified classrooms are being notified and asked to self-monitor for symptoms and visit Western’s on-campus vaccination and testing centre if symptoms associated with COVID-19 develop, regardless of vaccination status,” the school said in an update Saturday.

Both Fanshawe College and Western University have strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements in place for those on campus.

At Fanshawe, anyone coming to the college’s campuses must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or have an approved medical or Ontario Human Rights Code exemption. The college has been barring those not vaccinated or without an approved medical exemption from going on campus since Nov. 5.

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According to Fanshawe, 94 per cent of students and 98 per cent of employees have been fully vaccinated, with 23 students and five staff granted exemptions.

After Nov. 5, students who chose not to get the vaccine and who did not receive an exemption from the school were to have their on-campus studies deferred to a later date or transitioned online, if available.

Staff who knowingly contravened the school’s vaccine policy would “be addressed through the College’s disciplinary processes and, where applicable, relevant Collective Agreement language,” according to the policy.

Roughly 60 per cent of Fanshawe students are continuing to learn remotely this term, while Western University chose to bring nearly all of its students back to campus for in-person learning.

Like Fanshawe, everyone coming to Western’s campus is required to be fully vaccinated, including those in residence. Proof of full vaccination was required to have been provided as of Oct. 12.

Individuals could request an accommodation if they were unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons or for “other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code,” according to the school’s website.

So far, just over 99 per cent of Western students and staff have provided proof of full vaccination, according to the university.

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Students who failed or refused to comply with the policy would see their contravention reviewed under the Code of Student Conduct, Western’s website states.

“Pending an investigation and as an interim measure, the student will be prohibited from attending campus. If found to be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct, the student will be sanctioned. Sanctions may include suspension or expulsion from the University.”

Staff and faculty who did not comply with the policy are provided the option to resign or retire from the university. Staff are also given the option to take an unpaid leave of absence

“(Faculty) who remain non-compliant will be placed on a leave with pay pending investigation and, if non-compliance is confirmed, will be placed on leave without pay,” according to the university.

“Faculty on leave cannot carry out their teaching, research or service responsibilities, on or off-campus.”

980 CFPL reached out to officials with Western University and Western’s University Student Council for comment but did not receive a response by publishing time.

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