Residence COVID-19 procedures leave students falling through the cracks

Student senator and Exchange resident Julia Burnham woke up on September 25 to a cough and other mild flu-like symptoms.

Hoping that it was nothing to worry about, she went to bed as usual, but woke up to worsened symptoms the next day. That was when she filled out the province’s COVID-19 self-assessment form online and went to get tested.

Despite emailing her Residence Life Manager after getting tested on September 26, per Student Housing and Community Service’s (SHCS) advice online, Burnham did not receive a response until 48 hours later.

“I was really surprised to see just how bare SHCS’s instructions were for students who are actually testing positive or required to self-isolate. All of the guidance on these websites really focused on safety protocols within residence,” Burnham said.

Although Burnham received a negative test result 40 hours later, she struggled to make ends meet during the two days she was in self-isolation. She was low on food supplies as her weekly shopping routine was disrupted.

“There’s supposed to be this one point person who’s the singular contact for any access to assistance. You’d think that this person would be responding to their emails with a bit more urgency,” said Burnham.

“What about students with medication needs or more urgent food needs?” Burnham added.

Despite SHCS’s listing instructions for students exposed to COVID-19 online, some students’ experiences raise questions of how SHCS is prepared to deal with possible cases.

“You’d think that this person would be responding to their emails with a bit more urgency,” said Burnham.
“You’d think that this person would be responding to their emails with a bit more urgency,” said Burnham. Courtesy Julia Burnham

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Managing Director of SHCS Andrew Parr said that “a student living in residence should immediately reach out to their Residence Life Manager when they have completed the BC COVID-19 self-assessment tool and are directed to self-isolate, or if a health professional directs them to self-isolate.”

In the event that the Residence Life Manager does not respond in a timely manner, Parr suggests that students contact their residence front desk instead.

Fourth-year student Shanna also lives in Exchange and had a similarly unsupportive experience with SHCS when she was exposed to COVID-19 after spending an evening at a friend’s place downtown. Shanna did not want her last name shared out of concern for her privacy.

“I got an email … from one of the Residence Life Managers and then they told me that I had to move out as soon as possible,” she said. “I was very surprised because Coastal Health never told me to move out. They just told me to stay put, stay where you are and just self isolate in your dorm.”

After calling SHCS, the operator instructed Shanna to move into Walter Gage Residence where the university offers self-isolation units.

“I asked the lady on the phone whether or not I have to pay for everything. And she was like, ‘No, not upfront.’ So she was saying you don’t have to pay for it right away but you’ll have to pay for it later,” Shanna said.

“I Googled how much it would cost for a self isolation [package] in Gage. And it was close to $1,000 for 14 nights.”

Instead of staying in Gage, Shanna decided to find a place off campus with a friend, where they self-isolated together for two weeks.

According to Parr, students who live in residence are not required to pay an additional fee when staying in a self-isolation unit on campus.

In August, SHCS announced changes to resident housing contracts saying that due to COVID-19, UBC could terminate a contract without offering alternate accommodation. After public outcry, the university removed the offending portion but still doesn’t guarantee alternate housing arrangements.

After exchanging emails and speaking to an SHCS operator on the phone, Shanna said SHCS didn’t follow up with her to confirm whether she tested positive or negative for COVID-19: “After that one email … I never heard from [SHCS] ever again.

“I did ask my roommates [to] give me at least one more day to pack up and find a place and they wouldn’t even give me a day. And I wasn't even going anywhere, I was just inside my room the whole entire time,” she said.

“Yet they tried kicking me out as soon as possible. I just felt like the whole thing was very dehumanizing.”