Western University students prepare for a 'fresh start' amid new pandemic regulations

Students moving into residence at Western University say they are looking forward to a new school year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic means following strict rules and protocols. 

Residences are at 94 per cent capacity and new plans are in place for Frosh week

Jenna Thomson, far left, carries her belongings into her new dorm room at Western University's Medway-Sydenham Hall residence. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Students moving into residence at Western University say they are looking forward to a new school year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic means following strict rules and protocols. 

Around 5,300 students are now settled into nine campus residences for the next eight months, following a four-day staggered move-in process that wrapped up on Monday.  

"I'm definitely looking forward to finally getting out of my house after quarantining for months," said media studies student Jenna Thomson, as she moved the last of her belongings into Medway-Sydenham Hall. "It's going to be nice to meet some new people and make some new friends and get out there in the world. It's a fresh start."  

Western University delivered most of its classes in a blend of online and in-person formats in its previous academic year. By the end of March, 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases in London were linked to outbreaks in its residences.  

In August, Western announced it is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students, staff and faculty who plan to be on campus this fall. It is delivering in-person learning, as per the province's new framework allowing for flexible capacity limits and physical distancing indoors. 

From left to right: First year students Brandon Quon, Neo Zhang and Makayla Beauvais. "Of course I’m going to be cautious, but it's also really helpful that everyone here is vaccinated," said Beauvais. "It's a little bit like on the stricter side right now. But as things get better, I'm sure that they'll ease up a bit.” (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Chris Alleyne, associate vice president of housing and ancillary services, said that residence capacity is now at 94 per cent. One per cent of students and residents have been provided exemptions from getting the vaccine. They must receive rapid testing twice a week.  

"It was overwhelmingly, positively received," Alleyne said of the mandate. "I think it provides a pathway forward for this year to ensure we're welcoming back our community, prioritizing their health and safety." 

Alleyne said that this year's safety measures in residences include indoor masking, no external guests, physical distancing, and a wastewater surveillance pilot program.

From left to right: First year students Maya Oakes, Leah McIntee and Molly Hildebrandt. "They're doing a good job to protect everybody, but also try to let us do new things and start opening more things up," said Hildebrandt. "So I think we're still having a lot of fun events to do, but also keeping in mind that things aren't completely back to normal yet and to keep everybody safe." (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Alleyne said the university will follow guidance from the Middlesex London Health Unit in the case of an outbreak. 

Zamir Fakirani, president of the University Students' Council, said that organizing orientation activities around COVID-19 has been a challenge. 

Zamir Fakirani is 2021 president of the University Students' Council. "We're encouraging students to obviously be safe and follow all the rules on our social media channels," he said. "But I'm confident that our students are already actively thinking about that, whether we remind them or not." (Angela McInnes/CBC)

Concerts have been planned in four separate venues this year, instead of having one large gathering on University College Hill. Students will attend based on their residence. 

"We are not permitting moshing this year," said Fakirani. "All students are going to have to register as they enter for contact tracing purposes, and we're going to have enforcement to make sure that everyone is being socially distant. So we're doing this in the safest way we can." 

First year student Daniella Zappulla, right, bids farewell to her younger brother Lucas as she moves in to Medway-Sydenham Hall. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

He added that the USC has been working with the university to offer students a socially distanced patio on "Concrete Beach" in front of the University Community Centre. 

"I do plan to attend, because it's my first year and I want to make some friends, but obviously I still would be just a little bit cautious," said first year health sciences student Daniella Zappulla.

"I'm just excited to get on with my life, start my first year and make those memories."