Here’s how Ryerson would handle a COVID-19 outbreak on campus

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By Charlize Alcaraz

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Toronto, Ryerson is prepared with protocols and procedures to implement in the case of an outbreak on campus. However, not all students on campus have been following the rules. 

University president Mohamed Lachemi told The Eyeopener that since the beginning stages of the pandemic, Ryerson has been abiding by a set of public health guidelines and cooperating with public health committees and authorities. 

“We continue to refine our comprehensive response to reflect any new advice from the government or public health authorities. The plan provides guidance on the investigation on the spread of COVID-19 and it obeys guidance from Toronto Public Health,” said Lachemi.

He also mentioned Ryerson’s protocol covers several possible scenarios in the event of an outbreak.

“Our protocol…provides guidance to the university administration on a variety of considerations including supporting community members…cleaning and disinfection measures and possible building closures,” said Lachemi. 

“Overall the university continues to monitor the situation in Toronto and it bases its decisions on the closures of buildings or the discontinuation of campus activities being accessed on a daily basis.”

Although universities are implementing more regulations on social distancing and mask policies, some students say being in a university setting makes it hard to follow COVID-19 prevention measures.

First-year film student Madeleine Chinneck said that Ryerson is doing the best it can, but isn’t barring students from taking the risks they want to take.

“There were gatherings that [got] shut down, but they’re not crowded parties with lots of people”

“Everybody’s socially starved, trying to meet new people and trying to make new friends, so it’s hard to be super compliant of all the rules and they’ve been accommodating for that,” said Chinneck. 

Although students can’t meet new people in person, Ryerson moved its orientation week completely online to have everyone safely socialize via Zoom. 

With online events where you can make your own virtual reality headset, to a commuter student mixer, Ryerson has covered some students’ common interests. But Chinneck says that there are still some parties in her residence buildings hosted by students.

“There were gatherings that [got] shut down, but they’re not crowded parties with lots of people. Nobody’s being that outlandish with it, said Chinneck. “But there are gatherings of like 15 to 20 people sometimes.”

Chinneck, who is a resident at Pitman Hall, said the university seems to be well-prepared for an outbreak in their residences despite the large gatherings. Each student can fully quarantine as they are all living alone.

There are also two dedicated isolation floors in the International Living & Learning Centre (ILC). They were used in September to welcome and accommodate international students and will be used again in the event of a residence outbreak.

Abbey Winch, a residence advisor for the ILC, said she thinks a resident outbreak is inevitable but policies put in place have them prepared. 

“People [in residence] are still going out to restaurants and hanging out with friends, which I don’t expect them not to do, but I just expect them to be safe while they do it.”

Besides the two floors dedicated for isolation rooms, Winch said they have a COVID-19 hotline that students can contact if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus. 

“All the security staff are very well-trained with first-aid, CPR, [keep updated] with COVID-19 news and they know how to deal with it,” she said. 

“If you do have to be quarantined, the Ryerson Eats kitchen staff has really good delivery services where they just deliver the food to your door. We also have little care packages with toilet paper and everything else you might need during the two weeks [of quarantine] because you can’t leave your room.”

How Western’s party scene caused an outbreak among students

Western University was the first post-secondary institution in Canada to report a major outbreak of the coronavirus in September, with at least 68 students testing positive, as reported by the Western Gazette

These cases were mostly linked to two community outbreaks––one occurring at a house party and the other in Lost Love social house, a popular student bar in downtown London. 

Many students were involved in a “fake homecoming” where small gatherings occurred around the campus. Students could be fined $10,000 to $100,000 for hosting these parties, according to the Western Gazette. Attendees could be fined $750.

Natasha Bruce, a first-year medical science student at Western, recalled multiple moments where students “forgot” about the pandemic.

“Most of the cases are from upper years who are actually able to go to those bars and they’re also at house parties,” Bruce said. “At the beginning, the res buildings were kind of hectic because kids were in their own new spaces and they were on their own, so [we] kinda acted like there wasn’t really a pandemic going on.”

She also said “it was hectic more so on the social aspect because everyone just kind of forgot. It’s a bad thing to say but it’s true.”

Western campus police fined two students in residence under the Liquor License Act, but around 100 students could face penalties under Western’s Student Code of Conduct for partying in their residence buildings during “fake homecoming.”

Some students say that since the outbreak happened, there are still some parties going on in residence.

“The only reason why people have gotten stricter [with partying] is because they know about the fines now and all the [residence staff] have really been pushing that,” said Iman Berry, a second-year political science student.

She also said students have not been abiding by the mandatory mask policy on campus.

“People still aren’t wearing masks and they keep saying, ‘Oh, we forgot’ but I also live in res and I never forget my mask, and if I do, I go back and get it.”

Rise in numbers of positive cases and an outbreak remind students about the pandemic

Students from both Ryerson and Western mentioned they are more conscious of the situation and have been more aware of the risks they’re taking because they don’t want to go home.

“The minute that one case got out, everyone took it so seriously, everything really died down…We pay way too much, none of us want to go home,” said Bruce. “We’re really trying to do as best as we can and work with the dons and the res staff to make sure everyone stays safe.”

In Toronto, the city saw a drop in cases in July and August, but numbers have started to rise again since. On Friday, Ontario reported 939 new positive cases and the province will be returning to a modified Stage 2 lockdown.

Chinneck said Ryerson has been accommodating with students that want to be social and meet new people–but it’s up to students to analyze how much risk they want to take. 

“At the beginning, it felt like COVID-19 didn’t even exist. But after the numbers started rising, some people started taking it more seriously,” said Chinneck. “People still aren’t following the rules, but I think they’re more aware of what risks they’re taking.”

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