How a large cluster linked to more than 80 COVID-19 cases unfolded this month
KITCHENER -- A large cluster of COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region has nearly quadrupled in size since the start on March.
The cluster is linked to social gatherings where people weren't wearing masks or maintaining physical distancing, according to health officials.
One of the initial cases also screened positive for a variant of concern.
The cluster invovled students at both the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Officials have declared an outbreak in all UW residence buildings as a result. There are 27 cases included in that outbreak, according to UW officials.
Tirth Shah, a second-year student who lives off-campus, is concerned about the outbreak.
"Immediately it turns a switch in your head like, I wouldn't say fear, but anxiety," Shah said.
The number of COVID-19 cases associated with the university outbreak continues to grow.
"We knew we would the risk of case count grow as we begin to implement the measures we need to have in place to manage this outbreak," said Nick Manning with UW.
Students living in apartment-style residence buildings have been told to consider their roommates as part of their bubble.
"Obviously, that's a little different for the students living in the more dormitory-style accommodations," Manning said. "We're treating that as a household as an entire floor of that residence."
Student residents and employees who work in the building are encouraged to get a COVID-19 test, even if they don't have any symptoms.
They're also asked not to travel over the Easter weekend.
Here's a look at how the cluster unfolded in the region over the past month.
March 4 to 7: Officials said several social gatherings occurred between these dates were people were indoors with close contacts for a long period of time.
March 18: Regional officials identified 23 confirmed and one probable case in connection to the cluster. They also confirmed one additional case was identified as a variant of concern.
Officials said the cases were linked to students at both the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Claudette Millar Hall, a residence building at UW.
March 19: Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said more cases linked to the cluster would likely screen positive for a variant of concern. She also said at that time there were 20 high-risk contacts linked to the cluster.
"This is an example of how easily it can spread," Dr. Wang said during that week's COVID-19 briefing. "We are in a risky period at this time. The variants will spread easily if we allow them."
March 26: Dr. Wang said there were now 56 cases associated with the large cluster, which now included secondary spread. There were also two probable cases and 52 high-risk contacts.
"This cluster illustrates how easily or quickly COVID-19 can spread when public health measures aren't practiced," Dr. Wang said. "It is a crucial reminder that we must keep up with these public health measures, especially reducing unnecessary close contacts."
March 30: Officials declared COVID-19 outbreaks in all residence buildings at the University of Waterloo. They said the outbreak was connected to the cluster and identified 21 cases in that outbreak.
According to public health, there were now 85 confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to the cluster, along with two probable cases. There were 75 high-risk contacts identified by local officials.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said he was concerned about the cases at in young people at local universities.
"What they're missing is, they might be able to get through it, but what happens when you go home to your parents, you go home to your grandparents and you pass it on to someone," Ford said. "It's just not right."
March 31: The outbreak at UW grew to 27 cases. A university official said they'd deployed security to all residence entrances to make sure unauthorized people wouldn't enter the buildings.
With reporting by CTV News Kitchener's Nicole Lampa