Western University deals with another outbreak amid calls to expand vaccine rollout

Less than a week after a COVID-19 outbreak at Essex Hall was declared over, there is another outbreak at the Western University residence.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is reporting a small number of cases at the residence.

But the outbreak, declared on Sunday, had students at the residence packing up and moving out a day later.

The main campus, however, looked like a ghost town of sorts, after Western announced a shift to online learning last week.

Part-time student and Western library employee Rachael Edwards said she’s concerned for students living in congregate settings.

“I’m worried for other students. All that and just how they’re dealing with it because I know it’s not easy to be in a residence and cooped up.”

The Essex Hall outbreak becomes the sixth such residence outbreak at Western University in less than a week, with other active outbreaks at Elgin Hall, Ontario Hall, Saugeen-Maitland Hall, Medway-Sydenham Hall and Delaware Hall.

Just a handful of residences at the school, Lambton Hall, Perth Hall, Alumni House and London Hall, remain outbreak free.

There are also several community outbreaks associated with Western; among facilities staff at the school, associated with a gathering of business students and connected to a series of parties in early March.

MLHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie said he believes Western is doing all it can to contain the outbreaks.

“These are young people, and young people party, so it’s not a big surprise to see what’s happening. Hopefully with this closure and request to return to home communities that will be enough to help the students understand the important role that they play in controlling COVID.”

On another COVID-19 front, the outbreaks come amid increased calls from both the labour and medical communities to move essential workers up the queue for vaccinations.

These could include employees of factories, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, transportation -- or anywhere employees have exposure to the public or work in close proximity with each other.

Peter Bergmanis, with the London chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition, said the provincial government needs to be more clear about eligibility.

“Why on earth would you then dictate that people in a warehouse are essential, and then don’t support them in any other way, don’t give them paid sick time off, don’t give them any means of support other than having to go to that job, and then call them essential? So, you can’t have it both ways.”

Phase two of the vaccine rollout includes essential workers, but the province has indicated that priority is dependent on vaccine availability.

- With files from CTV's Amanda Taccone