London

Western students overwhelm on-campus COVID-19 test facility

Driven to get tested after hearing news of eight new cases, Western University students overwhelmed a temporary COVID-19 testing facility on campus on Monday.

The facility reached maximum capacity and turned hundreds away only an hour after opening

Western student Elizabeth Lam arrived at the temporary on-campus COVID-19 testing facility just before noon, but was told to come back later in the week as they had already reached capacity for the day. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Concerned after hearing news of eight new COVID-19 cases among their classmates, hundreds of Western University students turned up at a temporary on-campus testing facility Monday, causing it to hit its daily testing capacity and turn students away an hour after opening. 

London's health unit announced over the weekend five students had tested positive for COVID-19. Monday, it added three more to the case count. All the students who tested positive were living off-campus.

Western has said the students who tested positive are isolated and are in good health, but the news clearly sent ripples through the student body. 

The university on Friday had set up a temporary testing facility in a trailer in a campus parking lot. A few dozen people were tested there on Friday and Saturday but news of the weekend outbreak drove hundreds of students to line up to get tested on Monday morning. 

It opened at 11 a.m. but shortly after noon had hit its daily testing capacity of 220 students, the rest were turned away. 

Among them was Elizabeth Lam, 22. 

"They said that they've hit their maximum for today and I'll have to come by later in the week," said Lam. "It kind of makes me nervous that it's only been open an hour and it's already at the max." 

While the infected students have not attended classes or activities on campus, they have been to downtown bars and restaurants, and socialized with students in neighbouring housing units, the health unit said.

Western students line up outside the temporary testing centre. It opened at 11 a.m. but had hit its daily capacity of 220 tests by noon. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The health unit has said it expects more there to be more cases in the coming days.

The community outbreak, and run on testing, comes as two popular London nightclubs confirmed positive cases of the novel coronavirus.

The case at Lost Love comes after a patron at another popular downtown bar, El Furniture Warehouse on Richmond Street, had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Lost Love in downtown London closed for deep cleaning after a patron tested positive. (Rob Krbavac/ CBC News)

Jennifer Massey, Western's head of student experience, said the university may increase staff at the testing trailer. It's currently staffed by doctors and nurses from Western health services.

Overall, she said the high demand at the campus testing facility is a sign students are taking their health seriously.

"I think this is a really positive sign that students are taking testing seriously and are willing to make time in their busy day to get tested," she said. 

Massey said she believes most students are following the rules and adhering to limits about indoor and outdoor gatherings, masking and physical distancing. The campus testing facility will re-open on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

News of the outbreak among students comes on a day when Ontario reported 313 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily case count since early June.

Health Minister Christine Elliott called today's spike a "disturbing and significant increase."

Will students follow rules? 

CBC News spoke to owners of two Richmond Row bars popular with students: Barney's and Chuck's Roadhouse. 

Barney's manager Jessica Yip said students sometimes have to be reminded of the COVID-19 rules, particularly after they've had a few drinks. (Robert Krbavac/CBC News)

Jessica Yip manages Barney's and says she often has to remind students of the rules, particularly after they've had a few drinks. Rules require all patrons to wear masks when they go to the bathrooms. They also have to stay six feet apart from patrons at other tables. 

"Once they get drinking I think they kind of forget what's going on. Some might have masks but might not be wearing them properly," she said. "They still like to wander. We try to limit that." 

Chuck's Roadhouse owner Tom Sada said he relies on staff to enforce the COVID-19 rules. (Robert Krbavac/CBC News )

Tom Sada owns Chuck's Roadhouse, a Richmond Row bar that opened two months ago in midst of the outbreak. 

He's spent $20,000 turning part of his parking lot into a makeshift outdoor patio space to increase his capacity. 

Sada says he relies on his staff to enforce the rules. 

"I don't depend on students to do enough, we can't take chances," he said. 

He said his staff collect patrons' names and monitor them closely for any sign that they're not following the rules. 

"We really depend on our staff and our team. We don't allow them to do whatever they want. They have to be six feet apart. We are over-staffed to make sure they follow the guidelines." 

"They have to understand that this isn't a joke, this is serious. Sometimes they just don't understand it." 

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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