UBC announces rapid COVID-19 tests will be available for first years

UBC has announced that rapid COVID-19 screening tests will be available for students and staff who live and work in first-year residence.

The voluntary tests will begin on February 9 and will continue until April 8.

“We’re thrilled to tell you that, beginning on February 9, 2021, rapid COVID-19 screening tests will be available for all students who live in first-year residence (Orchard Commons and Totem Park),” Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) wrote in an email to first years on Monday afternoon.

The tests will use nasal swabs that “shallowly enter the front of the nose.” Results will be available in 15 minutes, with the process projected to take 20 to 30 minutes, at most.

The email outlined snacks and prize draws for Apple AirPods Pro or Bose headphones as reasons to get tested. Students will also be part of Canada’s first field study using BD Veritor Plus tests in student residences.

All students and staff who live or work in first-year residence and are over 16 years of age are eligible for recurring rapid testing and can register online. Students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days are ineligible.

Currently, the closest testing site to campus is an urgent primary care centre downtown — 50 minutes away by bus. UBC said in November that testing programs were at the discretion of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). As a result, students turned to getting tested at UBC Hospital, which is not a designated testing centre.

Rae Ann Aldridge, executive director of UBC safety & risk services, said in an emailed statement that the program is only launching now because because the province has sent the university point-of-care screening tools for research purposes. Those tools were only recently approved in Canada.

Aldridge added that testing will be free for students, with a minimal cost for supplies such as personal protective equipment, snacks and prizes.

The program is a collaboration between federal and provincial governments, Providence Health Care, VCH, the UBC School of Nursing and SHCS.

VCH did not provide comment by press time.

“Rapid screening tests will help keep residents safer by testing more rapidly and frequently, thereby identifying positive cases earlier and interrupting possible chains of transmission,” SHCS added.

This article has been updated to include comment from UBC and reflect that the provincial government sent UBC the tests, not the Public Health Agency of Canada.