In the midst of a second wave, it’s a trek to get COVID-19 tested for UBC students on campus

The closest COVID-19 testing site remains a 50-minute bus ride away to students living on campus as cases in Metro Vancouver cases surge.

Currently, students have to travel downtown to the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre for COVID-19 testing. Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) does not recommend that those without symptoms get tested. But for students who are displaying symptoms, visiting the downtown testing site may be difficult, requiring those those without a car to find a ride or take public transit.

At the Vancouver Senate meeting in September, President Santa Ono acknowledged that UBC has the capability to administer COVID-19 testing.

“We have many connections with different researchers, and also with the BC [Centre for Disease Control] (BCCDC). So within our faculty, there are very, very experienced individuals who could be mobilized [to give tests],” he said.

While no public actions seem to have been taken since the meeting, UBC cannot act independently on this issue. Establishing a testing site is up to the discretion of VCH.

The university declined to comment on whether there have been any talks with VCH on bringing COVID-19 testing to campus.

In a written statement emailed to The Ubyssey, VCH wrote that it is “committed” to providing “timely and accessible COVID-19 testing, based on current testing criteria,” but did not explicitly refer to any plans of opening a testing site at UBC.

“There are a number of considerations when selecting COVID-19 testing sites, including their suitability, availability, and accessibility. All testing sites in the VCH region can be found on the BCCDC collection centre dashboard,” a VCH spokesperson wrote.

50 minutes there, 50 minutes back

The lack of nearby COVID-19 testing has been inconvenient for many students. It even forced one to turn to the UBC Hospital to get a test. While hospitals have the capacity to administer COVID-19 tests, but they aren’t designated testing centres.

Heather Bylsma, a second-year student living in residence, woke up with COVID-19-like symptoms in October. She immediately self-isolated from her roommates and called 811 to confirm that she should get tested.

“I was a bit frustrated and confused as to why I had to go all the way [downtown]. Because I don’t have a car, I wasn’t going to get in the car with any of my friends and put them at risk. I didn’t want to take public transit, but that was kind of my only option,” Bylsma said.

The bus ride would have taken Bylsma 50 minutes, followed by a four-hour wait for a test. She then would need to take another 50-minute bus ride back to campus.

“I was super sick. And I didn’t want to leave my house for six hours.”

Bylsma was prepared to go downtown when one of her friends called, telling her that the Urgent Care Centre at UBC Hospital administered COVID-19 tests.

“I called them and they said I was all good to come in. I just had to walk into urgent care.”

When Bylsma arrived, hospital staff seemed “really resistant” to give her a test. Eventually, after explaining her symptoms, she was able to get tested. Her results came back the next morning. But Bylsma said she understands why UBC Hospital may not be advertising their ability to offer COVID-19 tests.

“The waiting room is also super tiny … I didn’t have COVID — my test result came back negative — but if I did, I definitely would have been putting people at risk.”

VCH, who operates UBC Hospital, urged students to visit a designated test collection centre to receive a COVID-19 test, rather than the Urgent Care Centre.

The test collection centres are in place to “streamline the COVID-19 testing process,” a VCH representative wrote, but noted in extreme cases, students should go to an emergency room.

“Please visit an emergency department if you are experiencing symptoms that require urgent and emergency care, which includes any difficulty breathing.”