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COVID-19 cases in U of T community increase as outbreaks arise across campus

Fourteen cases reported on campus from January 3 to January 5
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Classes have switched to online for January. COURTESY OF FERNANDO ZHIMINAICELA
Classes have switched to online for January. COURTESY OF FERNANDO ZHIMINAICELA

As the Omicron variant surges, reported cases of COVID-19 among the U of T community have risen significantly. The university has also reported a number of outbreaks across its three campuses, reporting nine campus outbreaks and 67 confirmed cases on campus between December 20 and January 2. 

The university tracks the number of community members — including those who have not been on campus — who have reported a positive test result to the Occupational Health & Safety Office on its COVID-19 dashboard. It also gives reports of the number of outbreaks on campus each week. 

In an email to The Varsity, a spokesperson for the university wrote that the dashboard is the university’s “primary form of advising our community of COVID-19 cases and outbreaks,” and is updated twice weekly. 

On January 3, a notice added to the dashboard announced that “due to changes in eligibility for testing driven by increasing COVID-19 cases related to the Omicron variant, case counts in this report are likely an underestimate of the number of individuals with COVID-19.” 

Despite this, the number of cases reported within the community have increased to the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, with 112 cases reported within the community between January 3 and January 5. In contrast, a total of 556 cases were reported in the community from the start of the pandemic — March 2020 — until December 24, 2021. 

Students at Chestnut Residence were informed of an outbreak in January. In an email to residents at Chestnut Residence, the university recorded one positive case and four probable cases. While the email noted that the university did not have immediate concerns about safety for residents and staff, all common spaces were closed down. 

Nelson Lee, a resident at Chestnut and engineering director for the University of Toronto Students’ Union, wrote in an email to The Varsity that he knew a number of students at Chestnut who were in quarantine after receiving positive tests at Chestnut, and claimed that there were a number of additional positive cases that students were not informed of. 

All U of T students are asked to monitor their health for COVID‐19 symptoms daily and complete a self‐assessment before coming to campus or leaving their residence room,” wrote the university spokesperson. Students are further asked to report any symptoms of COVID-19 to Campus Health and Wellness or Health and Counselling Centre, and any positive test results to the Occupational Health Nurse. 

U of T has opted to move classes back online for the first few weeks of the winter semester rather than having a completely in-person semester. Some campus residences have also been asking students to consider moving back in later in the semester and providing a weekly payment to those who delay their move-in date.