London

No masks, no distancing: Health unit issues statement after students pack party

As university students return for the first school start since the COVID-19 outbreak, London's health unit has issued a statement reminding people to adhere to provincial orders that require masking, social distancing and limits on gatherings.

Police were called, but no charges laid following gathering on Oxford near Talbot

Neighbour Bruce Wood said he watched as scores of students began to arrive after 11 p.m. Thursday. At one point, he said he counted 45 people leaving but said there were still more inside, suggesting the party violated provincial orders that limit indoor gatherings to 50 people. (Submitted by Bruce Wood)

It's a scene many are hoping won't become common in the days ahead as thousands of college and university students arrive in London for the first return to school since the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Students were spotted partying Thursday night at a student rental building on Oxford Street near Talbot, with no masks and no physical distance between them, a neighbour told CBC News. 

Bruce Wood, who lives nearby, said trash bags were taped over the windows in an apparent move to conceal the number of people inside.

However, he watched as scores of students began to arrive after 11 p.m. At one point, he said he counted 45 people leaving before 2 a.m. but said there were still more inside, suggesting the party violated provincial orders that limit indoor gatherings to 50 people. Those orders only allow gatherings of that size as long as physical distancing can be maintained. 

Wood said he wasn't concerned about the partying but by the flouting of provincial restrictions aimed at preventing new outbreaks of COVID-19.

"The last thing we need to see is, on the night students are returning, .... well over 50 people crammed into a house," said Wood. "You have that many people in there coming from all across Canada, potentially internationally as well. There's the potential to spread it to everyone."

Wood said a ride-hailing service driver, who was called as the party was winding down, drove off without picking anyone up because they weren't wearing masks.

Police responded to a complaint about the party but said when they arrived, most had gone home. There were no charges.

Stick to the rules, health unit says

The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) saw photos of the party and issued a statement warning that large gatherings like Thursday's party can become "hotbeds" of COVID-19 transmission. 

"Significant outbreaks have been seen in other parts of Canada and the United States as a result of similar gatherings," said Dr. Alex Summers, the associate medical officer of health with the MLHU. "Although the need to socialize and meet with friends and neighbours is understandable, we can't ignore the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic."

Summers said months of following rules for masking and physical distancing have helped London keep its case count low, something he wants to see continue. 

CBC News spoke with Dave Strano, who manages the property where the party took place. 

He said he will speak with the tenants and remind them of the limits on gatherings but said it can be difficult for landlords to monitor the behaviour of their tenants. 

"I'm obviously going to follow up with them on the safety precautions," he said. 

Frat party cancelled

Earlier this week the local branch of the Delta Upsilon fraternity announced plans in a social media post to host their own unofficial frosh party. The same post derided Western's official orientation events as too tame.

The fraternity cancelled plans for the party after Western officials spoke to them. 

CBC News has also learned the owners of a fraternity house at the corner of Cheapside and Richmond Street received a complaint about a large party held there last weekend. 

Students at Queen's in Kingston and in Ottawa have been warned by health officials to follow the rules and Premier Doug Ford has asked students to limit their partying. 

Penalties for unsafe gatherings

The City of London issued a statement Friday to remind people they could face fines for breaking the rules. 

So here's what they are: 

  • Limits on gatherings Provincial orders allow for indoor gatherings of up to 50 people or up to 100 people for an outdoor gathering, provided physical distancing of at least two metres can be maintained. Both those two numbers can't be combined to allow for 150 people at a single gathering. In all cases, the maximum gathering size is 100 when combined, and only 50 inside at any given time.
     
  • Fines Anyone attending a gathering that violates the rules could face fines up to $750 plus a $130 victim surcharge. Heather Chapman, the city of London's manager of municipal law enforcement services, also said property owners could be fined under the city's public nuisance bylaw for large parties. 

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