MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. -- Western University is citing the spread of variants of concern in its decision to move most remaining in-person classes and final exams online starting Monday.

Some clinical in-person classes for programs including medicine, nursing and rehabilitation sciences will continue, as will some non-health related programs that cannot go virtual.

Research will also continue, with new safety measures in place, while all research requiring contact with people off-campus requires approval from the Dean’s office and the office of the vice-president of research.

University officials are also encouraging students living in residence to move out early if possible.

President Alan Shepard said in a statement, “These were difficult decisions...Positive cases are continuing to rise across the region and the province – and we’re seeing that pattern emerging among our students and in some residences. We want to do everything we can to stop the spread.”

Students who move out by April 11 or earlier will be offered prorated refunds, and are advised to quarantine at home for two weeks, based on guidance from the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Students who can't go home until exams are complete, including those in quarantine or isolation, will continue to be supported, the school says.

Shepard added, “I’ve seen most members of our community really rise to the challenge, and I know we can push through. We need to stay on guard, and stay safe. The finish line is approaching.”

Campus remains accessible to employees and graduate students whose work requires it.

There are four ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at Western residences - Medway-Sydenham Hall, Elgin Hall, Ontario Hall and Saugeen-Maitland Hall. An outbreak at Essex Hall was recently declared over.

In addition, there have been multiple community outbreaks associated with the school in March. One was connected to a gathering of business students, one among staff/faculty in facilities management and another linked to a serious of off-campus parties at the beginning of the month.

Three of the four recent residence outbreaks and the outbreak associated with business students have all involved variants of concern.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit's Dr. Chris Mackie says, "The concerning thing around these Western outbreaks is that it's not just one. So you're seeing variants of concern in outbreaks of around a dozen people in several different settings of Western. That means the variants have been spreading for some time and that means people have been gathering in unsafe ways for some time."

In terms of the current number of cases associated with each outbreak, here is where the situation stands as of Wednesday:

  • Medway-Sydenham Hall - five cases
  • Elgin Hall - eight cases
  • Ontario Hall - 11 cases
  • Saugeen-Maitland Hall - 15 cases
  • Facilities management staff - 13 cases
  • Two separate community outbreaks - each has eight to 11 cases
  • Off-campus parties outbreak - 49 students

Mackie says says there are roughly six active community outbreaks associated with Western, but he notes that it's not exclusively Western students attending gatherings involved in the outbreaks.