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Several hundred Western University students get tested after COVID-19 outbreak

Western University

Salmaan Farooqui and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press Published Monday, September 14, 2020 6:59PM EDT

A few hundred Western University students lined up on campus Monday to get tested for COVID-19 after five students living off campus tested positive for the disease over the weekend.

A spokeswoman said the school in London, Ont., is using harm reduction education to help students understand the risks involved with large gatherings and not following physical distancing and mask-wearing rules.

“We want our students to make wise choices, to take care of themselves, to take care of each other and to take care of our community,” said Jennifer Massey, the associate vice president of student experience at the school.

She said the school is emphasizing to students that limiting the spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility that can be done by following the rules.

“Picture 10 best friends and make sure those are the people you’re spending time with,” Massey said.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit declared a community outbreak over the weekend. It said it expected the number of cases to rise given the number of contacts those students had in recent days.

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“While the students who have tested positive all live in the community and have not attended classes or activities on campus, they have had a number of interactions at downtown bars and restaurants, and with students in neighbouring housing units,” the health unit said in a statement.

The health unit is advising anyone who went to downtown clubs, bars and restaurants to self-monitor for symptoms and to get tested if any surface.

Contact tracing staff are continuing to reach out to people who came in close contact with the positive cases of COVID-19 in the region.

“If we ever needed evidence to show there’s still a risk from COVID-19 in the community, this is it,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

“We know the temptation to get back together with friends and party is great, but it is crucial that we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Massey said the school has had COVID-19 testing for months, but reopened with more capacity on Friday, where it saw 50 students get tested and then 65 on Saturday.

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About 220 students got tested Monday, she said.

The school is also encouraging students to tell other students to follow COVID-19 laws, Massey said.

“If you’re spending some time with a friend, and if they’re not wearing a mask, to gently remind them to put their mask back on,” she said.

“What we’re finding in most of the situations our students are very happy to comply.”

Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano said students should be policing themselves.

“I think we all wear that as an element in enforcing and policing,” he said.

“I think a lot of that peer to peer monitoring is going to be required to moving forward.”

He said there is a case of COVID-19 at Georgian College and cases at other institutions, but did not name them.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2020.

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Michael Turner

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