Eduvation Blog

The Zombie Pandemic: Hallowe’en Redux

Good morning (or rather, afternoon!), and happy Diwali!

I took some personal time yesterday, so I apologize to those of you who have made me part of your morning coffee routine. Hopefully this issue doesn’t spoil your lunch – as promised, it’s devoted to catching up with pandemic news. (This is the price we pay for focusing on good news Tuesday, and Remembrance Day yesterday…)

It isn’t pretty – 55 new cases reported on CdnPSE campuses alone!


Hallowe’en Redux

As a futurist, I really wish every trend were as easy to predict as the COVID19 pandemic. People who insist this is “unprecedented” and “radically unpredictable” just aren’t paying attention. (Review my 5 COVID101 slides.)

We are always running 2 weeks behind. (Canadian) Thanksgiving sparked a surge of new COVID19 infections by Oct 23 (see “Turkeys Come Home to Roost”). Now, exactly 2 weeks after Hallowe’en, Canadians are seeing the inevitable epidemiological impact of those Oct 31 costume parties. (Obviously, reinforced by colder weather and more time spent indoors generally, and the stubborn insistence of provincial premiers to reopen economically at just the wrong time.)

Hallowe’en parties are blamed for at least 20 cases of COVID19 in CdnPSE so far, including 9 student cases of COVID19 at uWindsor, and 1 at St Clair College. 13 uWindsor students are are in isolation monitoring for symptoms, and 28 Windsor hospital staff and patients are being tested. At least 3 cases at Fanshawe Collegeare linked to a large Hallowe’en house party in London. “Two men in their 20s” have been charged for holding what seems to be a different Hallowe’en party in a townhouse near Western U, although police steadfastly refuse to clarify whether or not they are Western students. (The host reportedly faces a fine of $10,000-$25,000.) Not coincidentally, London had a record-breaking 97 new cases last weekend. Toronto police shut down one Hallowe’en party with 60-70 attendees (no word on case counts, or if any attendees were students). uTennessee reports a cluster of 9 cases sparked by one “small” off-campus Hallowe’en party. uPittsburghascribes 40 new cases to Hallowe’en gatherings. (Doubtless I have missed plenty of other US examples, and of course the majority of higher ed cases still aren’t being identified as such.)

Of course, it’s hard to blame students when they have role models like the US president, whose White House gatherings have been superspreader events. (4 confirmed cases have arisen so far from a party on election night, at which most of the “several hundred guests” went unmasked.)

“We all need to be responsible and consider how our behaviour today may affect our friends, family, and members of the larger community tomorrow.”Robert Gordon, President, uWindsor


“There was some drinking, and what ended up happening was everyone just wanted to hang out together… There was no one to blame at all, right… There really isn’t much that you can do to stop that when you have close to 200 first years in a building, in like three floors right…so it happened… I mean I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner really. It took until after reading week which is super impressive.”Jack Meadows, first-year uWindsor student

Global Update

France reported almost 36,000 cases Wednesday, bringing its total to 1.86M and making it the worst affected country in Europe. The UK exceeded 50,000 COVID19 deaths as of Wednesday, the highest death toll in Europe, and has locked down pubs, restaurants, golf courses, entertainment venues, and many non-essential retailers until Dec 2. (Schools and universities are remaining open, however.) Portugal declared a national state of emergency and imposed night-time curfews across half the country starting this week.

More than half of Italy is now code red or orange, barring travel between regions and shutting down bars, restaurants, and cafés. A national lockdown may come as early as this weekend; Italian doctors are urging a 6-week national quarantine to ease the pressure on hospitals. (About half of all hospital beds are occupied by COVID19 patients.) Economists predict a recession across the EU this quarter.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was hospitalized with COVID19 this week, and 3 other top officials are infected. (“Nothing serious,” said a spokesperson.) Ukraine has imposed national lockdowns on weekends. Turkey has banned smoking in public, to prevent people from lowering their masks, and imposed a curfew on seniors over age 65.

“Sadly the upward trend is likely to continue, and it will be several weeks before any impact of the current measures — and the sacrifices we are all making — is seen and is reflected in the data.”Yvonne Doyle, medical director, Public Health England


US Update

America has been reporting >100,000 new cases of COVID19 every day for the past week, continuously breaking its own world records. Yesterday the US hit 145,000 new cases and 1,549 deaths, the highest since May. Hospitalizations have been climbing rapidly, at almost 62,000 patients late Tuesday. Texas alone has now surpassed 1M cases, closely followed by California and Florida. Hospitals in El Paso county are overwhelmed, 40% of patients have tested positive, and 10 mobile morgues are holding the dead. New York, Ohio, New Jersey and other states have begun imposing new health restrictions.

The Hallowe’en “zombie pandemic” bodes ill for our neighbours to the south, who have just endured weeks of political rallies, hours-long lineups at polling stations, vocal street protests and anti-masking demonstrations, and are heading into (American) Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales, and of course the Christmas/Hannukah season. While UK universities are frantically working to minimize the infections caused by Christmas holiday travel, American colleges have to deal with student migrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (All while waiting out a lame duck president who is in denial about science, COVID19, and his election defeat.)

Some US colleges planned all along to revert to distance delivery after Thanksgiving, and some started the fall term in August with an early end in mind. In the past few weeks, dozens of other institutions have announced a change of plan, reverting to online delivery temporarily or until the end of the year. Drake U (in Iowa) and a half-dozen others switched to full virtual delivery this week, rather than waiting until after Thanksgiving as planned. uMichigan Ann Arbor is cancelling residence contracts for the Winter 2021 term and urging students to move home if possible. UM is also increasing remote courses, and imposing mandatory weekly COVID19 tests on students. uPittsburgh has enacted a shelter-in-place order after “at least” 40 new cases were detected this weekend, likely from Hallowe’en gatherings. Pitt’s “elevated risk” posture moves most instruction virtual, closes many shared spaces and indoor dining, and caps gatherings at 25 people.

Perhaps some of those announcements were made easier this week, after the election results became clear, but US institutions continue to realize what CdnPSE leaders seemed to understand back in July: bringing thousands of students from across the country to your campus in the midst of a pandemic is a project doomed to fail.


Canadian Update

Canada is in bad enough shape as it is. We’re back to being labelled in the World Economic Forum’s daily graphs – which is a bad sign, even if we’re still well below the US, UK, and Germany for cases per million. We’ve been averaging >4,000 new cases daily for a week now.

Quebec, Canada’s hardest-hit province, has recorded >700 COVID19 deaths since schools reopened in late August – more than half in the past 3 weeks. Cases have been surging in September and October, leading inevitably to hospitalizations and fatalities. More than a quarter of Quebec’s outbreaks are occurring in K-12 schools, and the Health Minister admitted this week that more should have been done this summer to improve school ventilation for the fall.

Although the “Atlantic Bubble” has been a notable success, Nova Scotia has seen “a small but sudden spike” of 15 new cases, and so has introduced tougher quarantine rules on travellers entering the province from outside the bubble. (If they stay with family or friends, the entire household must stay in isolation for 14 days.)

BC saw COVID19 “explode” this weekend, with 998 new cases. The PHO imposed new restrictions on social gatherings and gym classes in the Lower Mainland. The Premier warns that stricter lockdown measures may be required if people don’t voluntarily flatten the curve.

This week, Ontario set new COVID19 case records multiple times, and active cases surpassed 10,000 for the first time. 422 patients have been hospitalized for COVID19, including 82 in ICUs. Premier Doug Ford is opposed to more shutdowns, saying that “he has been bombarded with calls from small business owners facing financial ruin.” He rejected his own PHO’s advice when launching the new colour-coded guidelines, which have been criticized as being far too lenient. (Reportedly the guidelines as released set the thresholds four times higher than expert recommendations.) Sadly, modelling suggests new cases in Ontario will exceed 2,000 per day by Dec 1. “We’d have to start seeing a huge change in terms of the restrictions that we have in place to not hit 2,000.”

In Toronto, the PHO has taken matters into her own hands, extending its ban on all indoor dining and limitations on gyms for another 28 days. (Her legal team has advised her that she may face personal liability for the decision, but she says she has no choice.) In nearby Peel region, hospitals are struggling near capacity, and the PHO has closed banquet halls and prohibited wedding receptions until 2021.

Saskatchewan is “teetering” on the brink of disaster, with COVID19 case numbers at record levels and 1,363 active cases – more per capita than Ontario or BC. One uSask epidemiologist recommends the province impose another lockdown to regain control of the pandemic.

With the highest per-capita infection rate in the country, Manitoba has announced a province-wide lockdown beginning today, forbidding all social gatherings, religious services and sports for the next month, banning all indoor dining, closing most retailers, and limiting supermarkets to 25% capacity. Schools, however, are to remain open – prompting a group of 500 teachers to demand support for an education system “on the brink of collapse.” Red River College has had stringent measures in place, so the move to critical/red will not affect operations further. uManitoba has added new requirements of 3-ply disposable face masks, WFH if possible, and only essential activities on campus. Most UM common areas, dining spaces, sport and recreation facilities are closed.

Cases in Alberta have also risen sharply in recent weeks, including 3,700 new cases in just 5 days this week. 30% of non-essential surgeries in Edmonton have been cancelled “for the foreseeable future.” 174 Alberta physicians and hospital officials are urging a “circuit breaker” lockdown to prevent “catastrophic” consequences, which the PHO says the province is “considering.” The province is trying to hire 380 more contact tracers (in addition to the existing 800). Alberta premier Jason Kenney is resisting shutdowns because restrictions are “massive” infringements of people’s rights.

I would echo PM Justin Trudeau, who urged the premiers this week to “do the right thing” and impose stricter public health measures now.

“I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressure not to shut down businesses or slow down our economy… I urge the premiers and the mayors to please do the right thing: act now to protect public health.”Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister


“We need to do something to change the course of the epidemic. There’s not a version of reality where suddenly the virus just stops growing on its own and things are looking OK by the end of December.”Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist, uToronto


“Compared with the rest of the country, we look pretty good. But a number of my colleagues across the country would say they were doing well, too. Then, out of nowhere, they went from a dozen cases to hundreds of cases in no time at all.”Stephen McNeil, Premier, Nova Scotia


“As if we hadn’t known for months that [school ventilation] was a problem in Quebec, as if we hadn’t known for months that winter was coming in Quebec and that the solution of opening the windows was not going to hold up.”Véronique Hivon, Parti Québécois spokesperson for education


“Teachers and education staff have reached capacity with regards to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Our ability to continue supporting our students and families is in jeopardy — this is our breaking point and collapse of our system is imminent.” – Letter from 500 Manitoba teachers to Premier and Education Minister


COVID on Campus

I last reported the CdnPSE cases on Monday. Since then, there have been 55 cases reported (and likely many others unreported)…

uAlberta neuroscientist Richard Stein has died of COVID19 following at outbreak at Edmonton General Hospital on Oct 21. Dr Stein was renowned worldwide for his work commercializing biomedical devices. Edmonton Journal

Cambrian College has had 23 people self-report positive COVID19 tests this fall. “In all cases, transmission occurred in the community, not on campus.” Campus density is down to 20% of normal, and 35% of programs are being delivered entirely online.  CBC

Durham College seems to have reported 4 new student cases: one on Nov 9 at its Whitby campus, 2 at its Whitby and Oshawa campuses on Nov 10, and another Nov 11 at its Oshawa campus. (By my count, that makes 18 cases this fall.) One of the Whitby students lives in the South Village residence.  DC

Fanshawe College now has 3 student cases of COVID19 following a “large Hallowe’en house party” in London attended by students “from different colleges and universities.” National Post

uGuelph reports 2 active cases at its campus. (These are likely in addition to the 3 cases previously reported, for a total of 5 this fall.) Global

Red River College reported Monday 2 “unrelated” cases at its main Notre Dame campus in Winnipeg. (I think that makes 7 cases this fall.)  RRC

St Clair College reports a Nursing student who was on placement at Windsor Regional Hospital tested positive, although like the 4 uWindsor students (see below) the student did not contract COVID19 at the hospital. WRH has suspended all Nursing student placements “until further notice.” The student also attended a lab on campus at SCC last week.  CBC

St Lawrence College reported Tuesday a Kingston student tested positive. (By my count, that makes 5 cases reported at SLC’s campuses this fall.)  Global

uWaterloo reported 3 more cases on campus on Nov 9 (now a total of 8 reported since Oct 1.)  The 4 most recent cases are all related to an outbreak in the Claudette Millar Hall residence.  uWaterloo

Western U’s University Hospital reported 2 COVID19 outbreaks Tuesday and Wednesday, although they did not indicate the number of cases. (CBC reports that one involved 3 patients, and the other likely <5. So we’ll call it a total of 6 cases to be conservative.)  London Free Press

uWindsor has 5 students who tested positive in the Alumni Hall campus residence due to a Hallowe’en party, and 13 others are in isolation monitoring for symptoms. The local PHO says one had travelled outside the region and then attended the party with “mild symptoms.”  Toronto Star

uWindsor also has 4 Nursing students on clinical placement at Windsor Regional Hospital who have tested positive. “The hospital has confirmed that the students did not contract the virus from within the hospital setting.” (The Windsor Star reports that some of the Nursing students are connected to the Hallowe’en party in residence.) CTV reports that WRH has recommended 28 patients and staff who came into direct contact with the students be tested for COVID19.  uWindsor



There were doubtless hundreds of Remembrance Day ceremonies yesterday that didn’t make it into my roundup, since I compiled it based on media releases, tweets and news coverage on Nov 10. My apologies in advance – but one more definitely should have been included, and I missed it myself!

Memorial U of Newfoundland is, as its name would suggest, a “living memorial to the fallen in war.” MUN produced a virtual Remembrance Day ceremony yesterday, including segments from 5 campus communities and several musical performances. The 25-min video is on YouTube.


Thanks for reading – I know that was a long and depressing issue. I promise tomorrow will be lighter fare!

Meanwhile, be safe and stay well,


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