'Safety first': 5,300 first-year students moving into Western University residences this weekend

Move-in weekend at Western University in London, Ont., looks a little different this year.

The university is trying to manage health and safety, yet give the students a fun arrival experience.

"It's different but I'm excited for what's to come," says Elizabeth Shewchuk, a first year student from Whitby, Ont., who is taking Business Management Organizational Studies.

There was a little less pomp and circumstance, and volunteers weren't able to give any hands on help.

"It's a balance," says Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of Housing at Western. "There's excitement that families and students have in sending their students away from home, but top of mind is health and safety. We're trying to ensure that we have strategies in place to ensure that they're feeling welcomed but it's not overwhelming".

Western has 5,300 first-year students moving into 10 residences on campus. Instead of the typical two days to move in, students are spaced out in one-hour intervals over four days to promote physical distancing.

Western was the first university in Canada to introduce mandatory vaccinations for those in residence, and have since mandated vaccinations for all faculty, students, staff and visitors.

"It makes us more at ease knowing that everybody here has their vaccines," says Susie Shewchuk, Elizabeth's mom. "We just reassured her that everyone will be vaccinated, so it's time to just get back out there into the real world".

The Liao family came from British Columbia. Jesse Liao will be a first-year Western student.

"I've been nervous before we came, but right now it's much better," says Henry Liao, Jesse's father.

Jesse was wearing a blue-wrist band, signifying that he's had both his doses of vaccine.

"They give it to you when you move in," says Jesse Liao.

"I guess the university's plan to protect people around here and I think that's just a really good thing for students to feel more at ease. Definitely with the virus and the variant still is still emerging, at least people can feel like that sense of ease, or safety knowing that you can tell who's been vaccinated who's not especially during move-in with people coming from all over the country and the world".

Western is reporting a vaccination rate in the high 90 per cent range. Students living in residence must have their first dose within one week of their move-in date, and no later than Sept. 13. They are required to have their second dose no later than Oct. 12.

"When they arrived today, our vaccination and testing center is open so we're sending people sort of immediately upon sort of arrival, straight to get their first or second doses," says Alleyne.

"We have some international students and students who live far away who were unable to be fully vaccinated and so they're getting their first shots and second shots".

Even though parents will know that their teenager will be protected against COVID-19, it doesn't mean they won't miss them.

"It doesn't feel real right now but I'm sure when we see our goodbyes there'll be a tear or two," says Susie Shewchuk.