President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono said he flew to Baltimore last month to care for his parents.
In a statement posted today, Ono explained that he travelled on December 10 and stayed for 4 days, self-isolating for 14 days following his return.
“Late last year my elderly mother was taken to hospital by ambulance in her home city of Baltimore. Since my mother and father, who is 93, live alone, I was concerned about their welfare,” he said in the statement. “There is no one in my extended family who lives in Baltimore and was able to provide support for them.”
UBC Okanagan Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack posted a statement on the same day as Ono, saying she flew to Edmonton on December 12 and will remain there until at earliest the end of January. She said the trip was to prepare her home for sale before she moves permanently to the Okanagan.
Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and UBC’s vice-president of health, also posted a statement saying he had travelled home in December “to address serious personal and private matters,” working remotely from Ireland.
Ono said his trip “was not a vacation.”
“I carefully weighed the decision to travel and out of concern for my parents, made the decision to proceed with the trip,” Ono said, adding that he “strictly followed” COVID-19 guidelines.
Public health officials have urged British Columbians to avoid non-essential travel within and outside the province. The government’s website gives medical appointments and hospital visits as examples of essential travel.
UBC said in a January 6 statement that it has no jurisdiction over the decisions of community members.
“We are aware that some university administrators, students, faculty and staff may have chosen to travel over the holiday break,” said spokesperson Matthew Ramsey.
“Individuals in our community are free to make personal decisions around how they choose to spend their personal time. The university has no jurisdiction over policing those private decisions but expects everyone in its community to follow health guidelines.”
Ono said he was thankful for efforts to combat the pandemic.
“As president of UBC, I am grateful to the many public health professionals and researchers, both at UBC and beyond, who are working hard behind the scenes and on the front lines to protect us from COVID-19,” he said. “I remain committed to doing my part to help bring an end to this global pandemic.”
This article has been updated to include Kelleher’s statement.