53 test positive as University of Guelph grapples with growing COVID outbreak

At least 53 University of Guelph students have now tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus as the university continues to blame “unsanctioned gatherings” in residence buildings mid-January for the spread.

The university has threatened larger fines for those breaking pandemic rules as the campus outbreak keeps growing.

It has repeatedly denied CBC’s requests for interviews this week.

In a statement posted Wednesday, the school said it was mostly “first-year domestic students” who attended the parties at the East Village Townhouses on January 15 and 16. So far, 32 people have been fined $120 each for attending.

The school is investigating and says further penalties are possible, including a $880 provincial fine and residence eviction.

“We are taking this situation very seriously,” said Carrie Chassels, vice-provost of student affairs in a statement. 

Considering curfew

About 200 residence students remain in isolation, almost a quarter of all students living in residence this semester. The school says those who test positive are being put in a single residence building and told to isolate alone.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said the number of positive cases is a “moving target”, based on its contact tracing.

“It’s really an unfortunate situation,” said Sean Mitchell, a vice president with the Central Student Association, the university’s student union.

Some 200 residence students remain in isolation, about a quarter of all students living there this semester. The number of students in Guelph’s residences recently increased to 840, from 550 in the fall semester. (University of Guelph Student Housing Services/Instagram)

“We really hope those numbers come down but it hasn’t even been two weeks yet.”

The university says it has stepped up surveillance to prevent further spread, putting security cameras around the townhouses and promising more security patrolling. It’s still considering curfew.

‘Flaunting the rules’

Mitchell thinks responsibility falls on both students and the university itself, to make sure rules are enforced.

The number of students in residence recently increased to 840, from 550 in the fall semester.

“Whether it’s 200 or a thousand students, the same principles apply,” said Mitchell. “We can’t have students intermingling on the scale that they have been.”

The union is already encouraging students in residence not to travel home for reading week, which happens mid-February.

Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie also voiced his disappointment Wednesday. In a Twitter video, he talked about other COVID outbreaks Guelph has dealt with.

“None of [those] happened really on purpose from flaunting the rules,” he said.

He then spoke directly to those isolating.

“I do hope that you take this time to think long and hard about the actions that maybe you thought … wouldn’t be a big deal that have turned out that they are.”

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