Social gatherings led to COVID-19 variant outbreak at Lakeland College campus in Vermilion

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As of Friday morning, 52 students and four staff at Lakeland College's Vermilion campus were sick with the coronavirus, the college says. (3D4MEDICAL - image credit)
As of Friday morning, 52 students and four staff at Lakeland College's Vermilion campus were sick with the coronavirus, the college says. (3D4MEDICAL - image credit)

Social gatherings are being blamed for an outbreak at an eastern Alberta college where dozens of students and staff have contracted the highly contagious B117 variant of the COVID-19 virus.

As of Friday morning, 52 students and four staff at Lakeland College's Vermilion campus were sick with the coronavirus, the college says.

Forty-five of those cases are confirmed to be the B117 variant originally detected in the United Kingdom.

School officials said the virus was spread by students who were socializing and breaking the rules.

The outbreak resulted "from isolated, non-compliant off-campus social gatherings," Alice Wainwright-Stewart, Lakeland College's president and CEO, said in an email to CBC News.

Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak on April 5 at the Vermilion campus, Wainwright-Stewart said.

The investigation is still in its early stages and contact tracing is underway to limit the spread, she said.

Twenty-six students who have either tested positive or were exposed to the virus are in isolation on campus, the college says. Residence staff are providing meals, supplies and access to health services.

On Friday, AHS and the college began providing on-site voluntary rapid and standard testing for COVID-19.

Lakeland College, where many of the courses require hands-on learning, posted on social media in mid-March that more than 90 per cent of its students in 2021 had engaged in in-person labs, lectures and activities.

But with the arrival of the coronavirus variants earlier this month, classes were moved online for agricultural and environmental sciences as well as interior design programs.

"It hasn't been too bad. Like, of course it does suck that we can't go back onto campus now," said Mackenzie Devenis, a first-year student in crop technology. "But they are still doing a great job. Like we still meet on teams for our labs \so we're still getting the same experience — just over the computer."

She said it was unfortunate that the social gathering took place "because now there are a lot of kids that had to go home early."

The semester officially ends at the end of April.

First year student Mackenzie Devenis says Lakeland has done a great job handling the outbreak.
First year student Mackenzie Devenis says Lakeland has done a great job handling the outbreak.(Submitted by Mackenzie Devenis )

Common areas, the recreation facility, the Equine Centre, the cafeteria dining area and library have all been closed while the school has ramped up monitoring and enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.

"Alberta health inspectors visited our Vermilion campus this week to review our protocols and procedures and found them to be more than sufficient for on-campus learning," Wainwright-Stewart said.

"The vast majority of our campus community have acted responsibly and we thank them for that," she said.