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COVID-19: Hamilton post-secondary schools to modify winter return amid Omicron concerns

Mohawk college in Hamilton, Ontario. Global News

Hamilton’s major post-secondary schools are laying out precautions and modifications prior to a resumption of classes in January amid a COVID-19 surge tied to the more infectious Omicron variant.

Officials with McMaster University say they will start their winter term Jan. 10 as planned, but only virtually with a large portion of its classes.

“We are asking instructors, with limited exceptions in clinical settings, to hold classes virtually for the first week with in-person instruction beginning January 17,” president and vice-chancellor David Farrar said in message to students.

Read more: Rapid COVID-19 tests, active screenings in the cards for Hamilton students as Omicron surges

The university has already told staff to “work 100 per cent remotely” if possible, as of Wednesday, and suspended formal and informal university related social gatherings both on campus and off campus until Jan. 17.

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Libraries will remain open with masking, physical distancing and screenings while athletic facilities close on Dec. 20, re-opening on Jan. 17. Some exceptions will be structured varsity activities and elite athlete training.

Students will be allowed back to residences Jan. 14 instead of Jan. 7.

“We will continue to monitor the province and our local health unit and will provide additional planning updates early in the new year when we should have a clearer picture of the path the pandemic is taking,” said Farrar.

As of Wednesday, over 99 per cent of faculty, 97 per cent of students, and 98 per cent of staff have been fully vaccinated at McMaster.

Mohawk College will also have a temporary reduction of in-person learning when its classes come back on Jan. 6.

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“Until Jan. 30, the college will continue with the academic format we have been using for the fall semester,” president and CEO Ron McKerlie told Global News in an email.

“This means all required in-person learning will continue in January, but all other learning that was to be done in-person will be delivered using virtual and remote delivery for January.”

Other modifications for the school include the cancellation of all in-person events, internal and external, however the athletic and recreation centre as well as student residences will remain open to students and employees.

Read more: Ontarians 18+ can get COVID vaccine boosters Monday

Screening checkpoints at entrances will continue examining proof of vaccination with students. Those without confirmation or an approved exemption will be turned away.

Visitors will not be allowed and masks are mandatory regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

“Our goal remains to bring students back to campus for in-person learning, and we continue to work towards this goal,” said McKerlie.

“We are monitoring the situation with the pandemic closely. We will re-evaluate these plans as the path of the variant becomes more clear.”

The college’s vaccination rate is approaching 90 per cent and is expected to exceed 95 per cent by the end of the fall semester.

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A number of other Ontario universities — including the University of Toronto, York University and the University of Guelph — announced similar modifications to their winter semesters this week due to surging COVID-19 cases across the province.

Hamilton reports 93 new COVID-19 cases, highest since summer

Public health reported 93 new COVID cases on Wednesday, a number not seen since the summer when the city revealed 95 cases on Aug. 27.

Hamilton’s average number of daily COVID-19 cases over the last seven days went up again day over day to 56, from the 53 reported Tuesday. The last time the city saw that number was on Sept. 6 when the weekly average case rate was also 56.

The city’s case count per 100,000 is now at 66 per week, more than double numbers recorded on November 30th.

Active cases are also up between Tuesday and Wednesday, moving from 411 to 423.

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Read more: Ontario reports more than 1,800 new COVID cases as daily counts continue to surge

More than 78 per cent of active cases are in people under the age of 50, while 46 per cent of infected individuals are under the age of 30.

The city reported eight new outbreaks on Tuesday with six in schools. As of Dec. 15, there are 28 surges across the city tied to 83 total cases.

Hospitals in Hamilton added three more COVID-19 patients overnight, and are now reporting a combined 29 COVID-19 patients as of Dec. 15.

Last Wednesday, both St. Joe’s and Hamilton Health Sciences reported a combined 13 patients.

Richardson says COVID-19 hospitalizations are still considered to be low with an average of less than one new admission per day.

Read more: Quebec, Ontario, P.E.I., introduce new measures to slow Omicron spread

However, the top doc said there are concerns in that area since the severity of diseases the new variant brings with it is still not known.

“Staff are working very hard … across Ontario and around the world to understand what the disease … and see what level of severity it has,” Richardson said.

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Over 78% of eligible Hamiltonians fully vaccinated

Hamilton’s health partners administered close to 3,900 vaccine doses on Tuesday, a 60 per cent increase in shots compared with a week ago Tuesday.

Over 20,000 doses have been administered over the past seven days which is up from the estimated 17,000 given out the seven days before.

Read more: Omicron uncertainty clouding Canada’s inflation forecasts: fiscal update

As of Tuesday, 78.7 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians over the age of five have been fully vaccinated while 83.3 per cent have had at least a single dose.

Just over 85 per cent of residents aged 12-plus have had at least a pair of shots, while about 88 per cent have had one.

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The city is still behind the provincial average which has 87.7 per cent fully vaccinated 12-plus, and 90.3 per cent with at least a single dose.

Over 90 per cent of those aged 60-plus in the city have had a set of shots and are fully vaccinated.

Excluding newly eligible kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 18-24 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in the community at just over 77 per cent fully vaccinated.

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