The Ontario government has released a new framework for post-secondary institutions with strong vaccination policies, bolstering Western’s plan to move forward with in-person learning this fall.
The province is allowing flexibility for capacity limits and physical distancing in indoor instructional spaces, including classrooms, labs and libraries.
In recent months, Western and its affiliated university colleges, Brescia, Huron and King’s, have engaged in robust health and safety planning for the fall, working closely with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).
On Aug. 25, the university announced a more stringent mandatory vaccination policy requiring all students, faculty, staff and visitors planning to be on campus this fall to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 7. As this deadline approaches, the university is reporting early evidence of a campus community vaccination rate in the high-90 per cent range.
“Vaccination is the single most important intervention we have for reducing the transmission of COVID-19. With the return of post-secondary classes, increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination will be vital to a successful school year,” said Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for MLHU. “I applaud Western University’s implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy. Their leadership on this, supported by the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, will make a difference on campus and in the London community this fall.”
Since announcing its plans to return to full in-person learning for the fall term, Western has taken extensive measures to ensure students are provided with a rich learning experience, while following public health and safety protocols.
“We know in-person learning and collaboration best supports student success, mental health and well-being,” said Western president Alan Shepard. “A highly vaccinated campus population gives us confidence as we welcome back the community and provide the exceptional in-person experience Western is known for.”
In addition to the vaccination policy, here’s how Western is planning for a safe return to campus:
Mandatory masks: Following advice from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, mandatory three-layer, non-surgical masks are enforced across all indoor spaces on campus. Masks will be distributed to students daily at The Great Hall (Somerville House) up to and including Sept. 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and through the Labour Day long weekend (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday). Faculty, staff and graduate students can continue to obtain their masks through their supervisors.
High ventilation standards: Ventilation in all classrooms at Western meets – and in most cases exceeds – high standards of measurement to prevent potential airborne spread of coronavirus, according to a recent analysis based on air-exchange recommendations set out by the Healthy Buildings for Health program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Adjustments and enhancements, where necessary, were made according to expert recommendations.
Daily health screening: All students, faculty and staff coming to campus must complete a daily health screening questionnaire, which they receive by email and can be completed online.
On-campus vaccination and testing centre: Western continues to operate an on-campus vaccination and testing centre in the Graphic Services Building for faculty, staff and students.
Enhanced cleaning: Enhanced cleaning and sanitation measures throughout campus, particularly in dining, washrooms and high-traffic areas, continue to be the norm.
Wastewater testing: Western will pilot an early detection system to monitor the presence of COVID-19 through regular wastewater sample testing in some campus residences in September. To help reduce or eliminate potential outbreaks, wastewater surveillance is increasingly being explored in Ontario and in other parts of the world for early identification of pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
Safety ambassadors: Throughout the fall, building safety ambassadors will help ensure COVID-19 protocols are being observed across campus.
Protective shields: Classrooms are being retrofitted with protective shields serving as safety barriers so faculty members can safely remove their masks during lectures. Some 75 of these shields were put in place in fall 2020, and an additional 180 are being installed in classrooms throughout campus this week.
More information on Western’s COVID-19 response can be found at www.uwo.ca/coronavirus.