Queen’s University struggles to prevent large student gatherings

David C. Smith House and Brant House, residence buildings on Queen’s University campus. Kingstonist file photo.

Queen’s University continues to struggle with large gatherings of university students in excess of permitted numbers, including one such large gathering outside of the David C. Smith House on Stuart Street on the evening of Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Smith House is currently being used by Queen’s University as one of its COVID-19 quarantine locations.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation but who prefers to remain anonymous, a residence don noticed a gathering of approximately 80 people through a window and immediately contacted Queen’s Campus Security and Emergency Services.

The source said that dons and cleaning staff within residence buildings have been struggling to ensure students follow the rules put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that many students are not wearing a mask as required, and that they need to be reminded repeatedly to do so.

Representatives from the University disputed the actual number of people involved and denied that the gathering took place indoors, but confirmed that the outdoor gathering “exceeded prescribed limits of 25” people.

“It was dispersed more than once by Campus Security and Emergency Services, which reported estimates of group numbers between 30 and 70,” the University said in an email to Kingstonist. “Since then, a direct email has been sent to the students by the Provost reminding them of the importance of following Public Health guidelines and the consequences of not following residence guidelines, and large group gatherings outside of residences have not recurred.”

That email (available here), sent out by Provost Mark Green on Sunday, Sept. 27, notes that when students accepted their Residence Contract, they committed to following the Residence isolation protocol if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are contacted by KFL&A Public Health and required to self-isolate.

“Masks are mandatory at all times in residence common areas and you must be vigilant about practicing physical distancing and limiting your contacts to only those within your household,” the email reads. “Students in violation of COVID-19 rules in residence are subject to the Non-Academic Misconduct processes, which could result in termination of the residence contract.”

The large gathering outside Smith House is of particular concern because it is one of two buildings on campus that the University is using for students undergoing self-isolation when they report symptoms consistent with COVID-19. “We can confirm that there are 136 beds in Smith and another 90 in JDUC (John Deutsch University Centre) allocated for isolation requirements. The protocols are posted online. Students in residence are required to report symptoms – they are then supported in moving to an isolation room and they are tested. Once they test negative they can return to their regular room,” a representative from Queen’s said.

Kingston Police have also been busy in the University District recently. According to Kingston Police Media Relations Officer Ash Gutheinz, Kingston Police responded to 55 noise complaints in the area, and issued seven Administrative Monetary Penalty notices (five for amplification, one for obstructing police, and one for failing to comply), as well as nine Liquor Licence Act charges, including one for public intoxication.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, discussed the ongoing communications between Public Health and the University.

“An absolute majority of [cases and contacts being monitored] are at Queen’s,” Moore said, noting that Public Health is detecting more cases in Kingston’s downtown core than anywhere else. Many of those cases are related to the Queen’s community, including some students who are currently in residence, as well as some students living outside of University residences.

Moore said that to limit spread within the residences, Public Health has asked Queen’s to ensure that people aren’t allowed to move around or socialize amongst numerous residences.

“They should be staying on their own floor, and not visiting other floors,” he said, noting that Public Health has asked Queen’s to consider adding a curfew if ongoing spread occurs. Moore indicated he will review the idea of instituting a curfew for those in residence in conversation with the University on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Earlier in the school year, both Queen’s and the City of Kingston agreed to step-up fines and enforcement during the pandemic. As of Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, Queen’s University students account for 2/3 of the active COVID-19 cases in the KFL&A region. There are currently 18 active cases of COVID-19 in the region, and 14 of those cases are connected to the Queen’s community.

Please note that the Kingstonist COVID-19 Quick Reference Guide is updated daily to reflect the most recent data available.

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