Western’s health and safety team and local public health officials are lauding the campus community for maintaining compliance around COVID-19 safety protocols while encouraging continued vigilance as winter approaches.
A 99 per cent vaccination rate is being credited for Western’s zero on-campus transmission rate since September. And those aren’t the only numbers pleasing Matt Mills, director of health, safety and well-being.
“We’ve had more than 30,000 people on campus each day since September, and during that time, we’ve received only 14 notifications from the Middlesex London Health Unit, all of which were low-risk exposures,” he said. “Our campus community has clearly stepped up and answered the call.”
As the colder weather approaches and people head back inside in the weeks ahead, however, Mills underscored the importance of sticking to protocols that have proven successful.
“We have much to be proud of, but we all must remain vigilant,” Mills said. “When we continue to do our part as members of the Western community, the in-person academic and work experiences we were longing for last year will still be achievable.”
This comes as Ontario health officials caution the province is back in the fourth wave of the pandemic as average infection rates begin to rise slightly, attributed to cooling temperatures and recent lifting of capacity limits.
With Western an integrated part of the London and Middlesex region, an almost 100 per cent vaccination rate among the campus community is good news for those living in the City of London and area, said Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.
“We’re delighted by the leadership Western has shown in ensuring access to vaccinations and ensuring its campus remains as safe as possible by mandating vaccination,” Summers said. “Students, staff and faculty are a big part of who we are as a region. When the Western community is vaccinated, it not only protects the university community, but the London-Middlesex community is as well.”
The zero on-campus transmission rate and low-risk case counts highlight the impact of vaccination, Summers said. “When the COVID-19 virus runs into a wall of vaccination, it slinks off into the sunset, and we continue to see that on postsecondary campuses across the province, and here in London.”
The health unit has been a valued partner in Western’s success in managing the pandemic, said Terry McQuaid, Western’s director of wellness and wellbeing, who also oversees the university’s on-campus vaccination and testing centre.
“Coordinated communications across Western and within the London community including our health unit and the assessment centres have been the key to these collaborative partnerships,” McQuaid said.
“There’s also been a coordinated effort across campus, by students and employees. Everyone wants to get back to learning and being part of the community, so our engagement in health and safety measures has been a sustained practice across the campus.”
Western was the first university in Canada to make vaccination mandatory for students living in residence, and one of the first to require proof of vaccination for all students, staff and faculty attending on campus. The enhanced vaccine policy took effect Sept. 7.
These early steps, along with safety protocols and processes, went a long way in providing a safe place to work and learn, Mills said.
“Students, staff and faculty all deserve credit for wearing their masks, filling out the daily health screening questionnaire, monitoring their symptoms and staying home when unwell,” he said. “This layered approach has allowed us to provide a safe return to on-campus learning and working.”
Mills also credited the efforts of cross-campus working groups for ensuring enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures were in place and that ventilation in all classrooms met (and often exceeded) the high standards of measurement to prevent potential airborne coronavirus.
Building safety ambassadors
The efforts of more than 240 building safety ambassadors across campus, educating the community about health and safety protocols, have also made a significant impact.
In its second year, the safety ambassador program maintains a roster of full-time staff members and graduate students who provide reminders on distancing and masks and assist instructors in cases of non-compliance to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Grace Kelly jumped at the chance to take on the role.
“We’re here as a gentle voice in the hallway to guide students if they forget their masks, and to support them and keep them learning on campus,” said Kelly, whose day job is manager of research compliance and education at Western Research.
“Being part of that energy (on campus) is really important to me. It’s opportunity to help the university be what a university should be, with students on campus, in classes and seeing each other.”
With files from Mari-Len De Guzman
The campus community is reminded that Western’s flu immunization clinic, located in the Graphic Services Building, has been extended to Friday, Nov. 19 for all students and employees. No appointments necessary.