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McMaster University students (l. to r.) Mila Stankovic , Cassandra Faber, Sophia Voutranicis, and Alicia Lake move belongings from residence. McMaster University requested all students living on campus move out as more coronavirus cases appear in Hamilton and across the country.

Tim McKenna/The Globe and Mail

The University of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier University ordered students in residence to leave as soon as possible to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on university campuses.

Many universities across the country have encouraged students to leave their dorms in recent days to reduce the likelihood of transmitting the disease. But Wilfrid Laurier and Guelph, campuses separated by a half-hour drive, made clear Monday that they hope to empty their dorms immediately.

Wilfrid Laurier students, more than 3,400 of whom live in residence, were told that they had until just before midnight on Wednesday to comply.

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A spokesman for Wilfrid Laurier said the decision to close residences was made for public-health reasons, but there is no evidence that the new coronavirus is present in residence. It’s part of an effort to flatten the curve, said Kevin Crowley. He added that the university will make allowances for those with “exceptional circumstances.”

“Those who may be allowed to remain in residence include: international students; out-of-province students who need extra time to move out; students who live more than five hours away from campus; and students who are currently self-isolating,” Mr. Crowley said.

Guelph University president Franco Vaccarino said students were asked to leave residence as soon as possible, and that those who are unable will have services provided. He added that some students who are permitted to stay might have to move residences, among other unspecified changes.

Tristan Campus, the mother of a first-year student at Wilfrid Laurier, rushed to her daughter’s residence to gather her things Monday evening. Ms. Campus said she was shocked to get the news so late in the day via social media.

“This is ridiculous. Forty-eight hours notice? Why so sudden?” she said. “There’s a lot of questions. They’re probably doing the right thing but I want to know the reason.”

University dormitories have been compared with cruise ships as potential vectors of transmission because students sleep, eat, socialize and study in such close proximity. Young and healthy people are also less likely to show symptoms of the illness and could spread the disease unknowingly.

A man in a mask boards a bus on campus at Western University in London, On. on March 13, 2020 where in person classes have been suspended for the rest of the school year in favour of online instruction due to concerns over the the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

But major outbreaks have not yet been reported on North American campuses. The vast majority of Canadian universities decided over the past three days to cancel in-person classes and move course instruction on-line to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

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About half of the students living in residence at the University of Saskatchewan have already departed, the university said. Like many campuses, they’ve eliminated buffets in their cafeterias and removed self-serve cutlery, opened up extra cafeteria space and created distance between seats to enhance safety. So far, none of their students have tested positive for COVID-19 but three have self-isolated.

At Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, students in residence were encouraged to return home if possible. But the school, which has a sizable international student population, said dorms would remain open for those with nowhere to go. It was the same at Cape Breton University, which has the largest proportion of international students in Canada.

At Carleton University, president Benoît-Antoine Bacon said the university was attempting to reduce density in its residences. It’s offering to refund room and meal costs for those who leave before March 22 as an incentive to speed departures.

“I want to reassure everyone that international students who cannot go home because of travel restrictions will be taken care of not only to the end of the term but this summer as well,” Mr. Bacon said in a statement.

Ms. Campus said the eviction was stressful for her 18-year-old daughter. Although classes have been cancelled, her daughter still has an essay due this week as well as a test.

Ms. Campus said that bringing so many people together at once as they help students move out of residence may end up counteracting public-health directives on social distancing.

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“I’m a nurse. I understand safety. Is this the safest way to have done this?” Ms. Campus said.

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