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Students respond to the COVID-19 outbreak at Western University and emphasize the importance of social distancing guidelines

About an hour drive west of Hamilton, in London, Ontario, a second wave of COVID-19 has hit the city, including 46 cases as of Sept. 22 linked to Western University students. 

The rapid increase of positive cases among university students prompted the Western’s president and vice-chancellor, Alan Shepard, to urge the students to follow proper social distancing rules. 

Shepard wrote in a statement that student health leaders at Western have informed him of how the virus can have significant medical consequences, even for young and healthy adults. 

“Permanent lung injury, neurological damage such as long-term cognitive impairment or stroke and cardiac disease such as heart failure. These can happen to young people as a result of COVID-19 . . . Now is not the time to take risks with your health and the health of others around you who may be more vulnerable to this illness than you,” Shepard wrote. 

London Mayor Ed Holder has also expressed his frustration with those who are breaking guidelines. In a media briefing, Holder said, “If this continues, you’re going to kill someone.” 

“If this continues, you’re going to kill someone,” said Holder.

On Sept. 18, London health officials asked the province to impose further restrictions and limit private gatherings to ten people indoors and 25 people outdoors. These limits were put in place for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa earlier that week. 

During a weekend press conference, Premier Doug Ford announced that these restrictions are now expanded to the entire province. 

“The alarm bells are ringing. And too much of it has been tied to people who aren’t following the rules. People who think it’s okay to hold parties, to carry on as if things are back to normal. They aren’t,” Ford said. 

A CBC News article reported that the students who were responsible for the outbreak engaged in high-risk behaviour by gathering at bars, basketball games and even shared e-cigarettes amongst each other. 

The Western Gazette, the university’s student newspaper, said that the increase in positive cases was mainly due to extracurricular activities and despite the increased number of cases, the Middlesex-London Health Unit does not recommend shutting down in-person classes because the spread has not been linked to academic activities. 

Here at McMaster University, classes for both the fall and winter semester continue to remain online. 

However, many students are still living around the McMaster campus in student housing. The Silhouette asked students in off-campus housing to share their thoughts regarding student parties and social distancing. 

Lee Higgins, a fourth-year engineering student is in a student house near McMaster with five other students. Higgins has not gone to any parties but he has expressed that it is obvious there are folks breaking social gathering rules.

“I haven’t felt unsafe here in any circumstances; however, I can tell that even though I’m not seeing them, there are parties going on. There [are] definitely groups of people walking around together late at night and it’s pretty obvious where they’re going . . . I wish we could party safely but at the moment I’m content just playing Dungeons and Dragons with my housemates,” Higgins wrote. 

“I wish we could party safely but at the moment I’m content just playing Dungeons and Dragons with my housemates.”

Adam Gallant, a student who has lived in Westdale for three years, also stated that it is obvious when other students are heading to each other’s houses in large groups and adds that students of McMaster should try to not follow in other universities’ footsteps. 

“[W]e aren’t Western or Queen’s [Universtiy] and I don’t think anyone wants to emulate their behaviour. So throw your “COVID’s over” parties when it actually is. We know the virus spreads quickly, that’s how we got to where we are today, so while there aren’t many people who currently have it, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get it easily,” Gallant added.

On social media, other McMaster students have also encouraged each other to avoid an outbreak similar to that of Western’s. 

everyone PLEASE download the covid alert app and be safe we do NOT want to be like western

Posted by Spotted At Mac on Friday, September 18, 2020

As of Sept. 30, there have been three positive cases of COVID-19 on campus, with the most recent case involving a student on campus on Sept. 24.

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