First positive case of COVID-19 in the U of T community

University denies knowledge of case
12 buildings at U of T have attained a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. PHOTO BY ROBERTA BAKER
12 buildings at U of T have attained a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. PHOTO BY ROBERTA BAKER

In an email obtained by The Varsity, the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies told its graduate students and staff on March 15 that one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Varsity that they had received the email from the Director of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies Audrey Macklin shortly before 10:00 am on Sunday.

However, the university told The Varsity that it is not aware of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member. Toronto Public Health deferred The Varsity’s request for comment to protect the privacy of the individual.

The email from Macklin noted that the centre had not received official notice from Toronto Public Health nor from the university, and that university guidance suggested that Toronto Public Health would contact individuals that were in contact with the student; however, people should self-monitor for symptoms.

A university member familiar with the situation told The Varsity that public health officials had contacted five other members of the centre, three of whom were apparently showing symptoms.

Macklin later sent out a follow up discouraging centre members from speaking with The Varsity and that she herself would not be replying for “appropriateness of discretion and of showing respect for members of our community.”

The university has not notified undergraduate criminology students at this time.

Two sources told The Varsity that they were disappointed with how the centre and the university had handled communication, though one other source added that they believed the centre had done an adequate job in letting graduate students and staff know about the situation, especially given its limited resources. However, the source agreed that the central university administration should provide wider notice.

A University of Toronto spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that, “If we were to be informed by a Public Health authority of a positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member, we would follow a very prescribed process as per public health directives to protect the health and safety of our community and to ensure medical confidentiality for those affected.”

Background on COVID-19

The Public Health Agency of Canada maintains that the public health risk of COVID-19 in Canada is low to the general population. The university recommends that those who have travelled anywhere outside of Canada self-isolate for 14 days and to call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or their primary care provider’s office if they’re experience symptoms.

On March 11, the World Health Organization designated this outbreak as a global pandemic. As of today, there are 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. Five cases have been resolved and another 1,537 are under investigation. The first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was identified on January 25.

COVID-19 is a newly identified strain of coronavirus, which encompasses a large family of viruses. Coronaviruses typically cause illnesses that range from the common cold to respiratory infections and are mainly spread through close person to person contact.

Symptoms of COVID-19 may take up to two weeks to appear and include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. If you believe you might be sick, the Government of Canada recommends that you self-monitor your symptoms, stay home, limit contact with others, and contact local health officials.

Proper hygiene is the primary way to reduce the risk of infection. Public health officials recommend that you wash your hands with soap and water and clean high-touch surfaces often, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your arm, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Those who are over 65, have existing medical conditions, or are otherwise immuno-compromised may have an increased risk “of more severe outcomes,” according to the Canadian government.

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