The COVID outbreak connected to St. Francis Xavier University is under investigation, and more new cases are expected in the coming days. As of today, 59 cases have already been tied to the outbreak. “That’s a significant number in my mind,” premier Tim Houston said Thursday after a cabinet meeting.
Of the 52 new COVID cases reported today (Thursday) for all of Nova Scotia, 38 of them are related to St. FX in Antigonish. “For perspective on that, there are about 2,000 people in the community, and we’ve done a lot of testing,” the premier added.
The outbreak has been traced back to the university’s annual X-Ring ceremony, when graduating students receive what’s said to be one of the most-recognized pieces of jewellery in the world. This year’s ceremony was last Friday, Dec 3, bringing “parents, family members and supporters on campus to celebrate,” as the event webpage says. Apparently thousands of people attended, with the page warning that “our viewing spaces hit the capacity of 2000.”
But such official X-Ring events held by the university aren’t of particular concern to COVID investigators, because those followed public health restrictions. Instead, Houston said, the province is most concerned about unsanctioned social events that happened throughout the weekend—“those are the big focus point.”
So far the enforcement investigation has found that the majority of spread happened in small, private gatherings that happened on and off campus from Dec 2-5, reads a statement from the province.
The vast majority of the cases in the 59-person outbreak are vaccinated X students, Houston said, so the university is looking into exam options for students who may be sick or have been recently exposed to COVID. “There’s a lot of moving parts,” he said.
Because cases are largely in vaccinated young people, so far the infections have been “very mild,” according to the provincial statement.
During Tuesday’s COVID briefing the premier directed his message towards those in the St. FX community who may have hosted events around X-Ring weekend: “If you weren’t following the rules, we’re going to find you and we’re going to fine you.”
In November, after a multi-day event organized by Light Gospel Baptist Church lead to a deadly COVID outbreak, the province raised the fines for illegal gatherings, increasing the maximum fine from $2,422 to $11,622 for individuals, and to $57,622 for organizations. As of Thursday no fines have been laid in connection with X-Ring weekend.
“Our priority right now is supporting those who are positive and containing any further spread on campus and in the community,” chief medical officer of health Robert Strang said in a statement Thursday.
“The vaccine is doing its job by limiting spread and keeping symptoms mild, so this outbreak is very different from what we’ve seen in previous wave 4 outbreaks.”