The day after the COVID-19 pandemic moved Western’s classes online, the president addressed senate, giving updates and assuring officials that for now, Western is still open and running.
President Alan Shepard addressed mass event cancelations to the body of professors and students, emphasizing he felt Western University made the responsible call in light of the pandemic.
“This is obviously an enormously dynamic situation,” said Shepard, “Yesterday morning I was cancelling [the] open house, which I hated to do, and by the evening we were deciding to move the rest of the semester online — canceling lots of events.”
While there are currently no cases of COVID-19 on campus, Shepard said a Western student on exchange in Spain has contracted the virus and is being treated in hospital there. They were in critical condition at one point, but seem to be recovering.
Two students on exchange in the same location have self-isolated as a precaution according to Keith Marnoch, Western’s media relations director.
“There are no active cases in London at present,” wrote Marnoch, in a statement. “The risk for infection [for Western students] remains low.”
On Friday, Quebec announced they will be ordering closing schools and universities for two weeks in response to the virus; Ontario has closed public schools for the same period. Shepard said Western is taking action to ensure classes are able to continue.
“I really pray that the government of Ontario does not take this approach,” said Shepard. “By moving courses online, one of the things I was hoping to do was ensure we can finish the semester. Because the last thing we want to do is prevent people from getting their degrees.”
Shepard also reassured senate that Western has no plans to shut down residences or campus buildings, as some universities in the US have done — saying that this would be unfair to students whose homes are far away or in countries that have shut their borders.
As of now, Western is still assessing its plans for large-scale events in late April and May, like convocation. Although Shepard said it is “unlikely” Western will be able to host Congress 2020 in the usual way.
“I hesitate to cancel things that are two and three months out,” said Shepard. “Because what if, in a month this is all … contained and taken care of, then we’d be sorry we cancel something in May.”
Marnoch said that the university hasn't finalized their approach to the summer term yet. He said their focus is on final examination and convocation procedures.
For more information about how the novel coronavirus is affecting campus, check the Gazette on Twitter @uwogazette.