Update: In-person exams, residence and testing

In recent days we’ve seen news of other universities in Canada needing to shift their final exams from in-person to online, and reports of COVID-19 cases at one of our residence facilities at UBC Vancouver. 

I understand that those developments and the uncertainty around the spread of the Omicron variant are deeply concerning for some of our community members. Particularly as we all observe other communities that are struggling with outbreaks of the newest variant, it is understandable that some members of our university community might have questions about the situation here at UBC.  

I wish to reassure all members of the UBC community that the university is not currently seeing a spike in cases that present a risk to the health of our students, faculty and staff. Our situation is different from the universities that have needed to shift their exams to online. We have been assured by public health experts at Vancouver Coastal Health and Interior Health that it is safe for UBC to hold in-person exams on both campuses, given the control measures that are in place. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, and her team, are monitoring the post-secondary education sector closely. That being said, the university continues to work closely with Vancouver Coastal Health, Interior Health, and the Provincial Health Office to monitor the situation and we will adjust our approach when required. If we receive direction from public health experts to change our approach or introduce new control measures, we will of course advise our community immediately

As you may be aware, last week, out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with guidance and direction from Vancouver Coastal Health, Student Housing shared an exposure notice with all Totem Park residents. We have been assured by Vancouver Coastal Health that the number of cases at Totem is extremely low – so low in fact that the university cannot, for privacy reasons, disclose it, as doing so might identify the students affected. We’ve also been assured that the risk of transmission in Totem Park is low, as is the risk in classroom and examination settings.  

As you know, UBC has provided rapid testing through the Rapid Testing Program for asymptomatic individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or decline to disclose their vaccination status. I’m very pleased to note that the university is enhancing rapid testing on our campuses to include voluntary rapid testing for asymptomatic fully vaccinated students living in residence (excluding family housing). Testing for these fully vaccinated students will be by walk-in on both campuses and will run, at the UBC Vancouver campus, from December 15-22 and January 4-7, and at the UBC Okanagan campus, from December 15-17 and January 4-7.  Starting in January we will be offering PCR testing on the UBC Vancouver campus for symptomatic students, faculty and staff. These measures will add a layer of protection and reassurance to our existing Rapid Testing Program and against potential transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Finally, I know that exam periods are stressful for our students at the best of times. It’s understandable that there is heightened anxiety as we head into exams and into the holidays. Please continue to take good care of yourselves and others and follow COVID-19 public health guidance so we can all stay safe and healthy. We are reminded that we must take extra care during the holiday season. Indoor social settings, where there are few or no public health controls in place, can lead to transmission of COVID-19, even among vaccinated people. Download your BC COVID-19 support app and complete your daily self-check with the BC COVID-19 self-assessment tool and best of luck with your exams.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor