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Administration has cancelled some events, suspended university-related travel for students and staff

The University of Ottawa says it is considering moving the rest of the semester online as early as next week, while also cancelling some events on campus and suspending university-related travel for students and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in the school community, but there are two positive cases in Ottawa.

Citing recommendations from public health officials to adopt social distancing as a means to combat the spread of the virus, the administration says it is weighing the possibility of shifting the rest of the academic semester, which runs until the end of April, to “distance learning” as early as next week.  

“At present, however, no changes have been made to classes, or exam schedules at the U of O,” the administration said Thursday night in a website post.  

The school also announced the cancellation of March Break camps, as well as its open house for prospective undergraduate students, which was scheduled for March 21. 

All university-related travel by U of O students and staff is prohibited until further notice, while faculty travel is “strongly discouraged.” Additionally, the school says any university event that involves visitors arriving from international destinations should be cancelled.

The first case of COVID-19 in Ottawa was confirmed on Wednesday, a man in his 40s who contracted the virus while travelling in Austria. The man is experiencing mild symptoms, was not symptomatic on his flight back to Canada, and is now self-isolating after being tested at the Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus.

Ottawa’s second case was confirmed on Thursday, a woman in her 40s who is also self-isolating with mild symptoms after testing positive at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, according to the province. The woman is not connected to the city’s first positive case of the virus, was not symptomatic during her flight home, and has had no close contacts since returning from Italy, according to Ottawa Public Health.

Across the province, there have been at least 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, with five labelled as resolved. here have been at least 117 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada

COVID-19 has infected more than 127,000 people and killed over 4,700 globally since emerging in China in December 2019. 

More than 100 post-secondary schools in the United States have moved classes online as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. In Canada, Laurentian University in Sudbury and Barrie, Ont. has moved classes online until further notice.

At the U of O, an online petition has been launched, with over 1,200 signatures as of publication time, calling on the administration to suspend in-person classes. Over 500 students have signed a similar open letter to president Jacques Frémont

U of O Health Services introduced a new medical note protocol earlier this week, where students can request a medical note for a short-term illness (less than 72 hours) proving they are or were unable to meet an academic requirement from walk-in clinic reception staff without needing to see a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The new process looks to cut down on the administrative strain to clinical resources, reduce exposure of students to contagious illnesses in clinic space, and save the clinic’s capacity for those who need to see a medical professional for advice or treatment.

The school has also struck a working group of senior administrators, led by president Jacques Frémont and provost and vice-president (academic affairs) Jill Scott, to coordinate the university’s response across campuses.

Earlier this month, it was announced that five U of O professors are receiving more than $2 million in funding from the federal government to support research projects aimed at addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

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