Amid changing testing advice, PCR testing currently not planned to be broadly available at UBC

Due to changing public health advice, UBC is no longer providing PCR tests to individuals who test positive through its rapid testing program.

A statement from President Santa Ono right before winter break indicated that PCR tests would be broadly available on campus starting this month for symptomatic students, faculty and staff.

“Starting in January we will be offering PCR testing on the UBC Vancouver campus for symptomatic students, faculty and staff,” Ono wrote in the update on December 14.

While this was reported by The Ubyssey to mean that PCR testing would be widely available, according to UBC, that is no longer the case.

Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said that Ono’s statement referred to PCR tests offered only to those who received a positive rapid antigen result as part of the asymptomatic Rapid Testing Program.

“The information that was presented in the President's blog, [on] December 14 was accurate up to December 14 … The provincial health office changed testing protocol and guidance later in the month, therefore, the PCR testing protocol at UBC changed. That meant that anyone who tested positive through the rapid testing program was given a PCR test up to January 4.”

Currently, the only symptomatic testing available on campus is rapid antigen testing at the Life Sciences Centre. The site, run by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) opened on December 24 and will remain open until at least January 23. It is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Life Sciences Centre testing site opened as BC reached PCR testing capacity due to the Omicron variant pushing case numbers up rapidly. As a result, access to provincial PCR testing was limited to those most vulnerable and with severe symptoms.

Public health advice has also changed regarding the necessity of getting a test, with the BCCDC now recommending that fully vaccinated individuals with mild symptoms proactively self isolate rather than get tested.

When asked if PCR tests would be administered at this site in future, VCH directed The Ubyssey to a statement on the opening of the site. The statement mentions that both PCR and rapid antigen tests have been distributed at other VCH testing sites, but does not clarify whether both would be distributed at the new testing site.

The PCR test is considered a “gold standard” and more accurate than rapid antigen testing, but requires laboratory equipment to use. Rapid antigen testing can be self-administered and has become more accessible amid the PCR limitation.

Stephen Hoption Cann, a clinical professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said in a statement that a positive result on either test is less likely to be a false positive with high levels of Omicron circulating.

Nonetheless, he said, “A negative test with either the PCR or rapid test is no guarantee that you do not have COVID – neither test is 100 per cent accurate.”