VCH says no to UBC's requests for on-campus symptomatic testing, cites 'low case counts,' high vaccination rates

At the UBC Senate meeting on November 17, President Santa Ono said UBC had asked Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) to open a symptomatic COVID-19 testing site on campus, but the health authority allegedly declined.

President Ono’s comment was in response to a question from Dr. C.W. (Toph) Marshall, a professor in the faculty of arts, and ongoing concerns from community members on campus seeking COVID-19 testing. From the start of the last academic year, students living on campus have repeatedly reported concerns about being directed to take public transit 50 minutes to the nearest testing site.

With the closure of the rapid testing clinical trial, the only testing on campus is the university’s mandatory program for asymptomatic individuals who are unvaccinated or have declined to report their vaccination status. Some students have turned to the UBC Urgent Care Centre to get tested, although this is not encouraged by VCH.

In a written statement, VCH said it considers a wide variety of decision criteria as part of their commitment to provide “timely and accessible COVID-19 testing.”

“There are a number of considerations when selecting the location for collection centers, including their suitability, availability, and accessibility. Although some travel is required from UBC and many other communities in our region to … a VCH test collection centre, UBC residents also have the option of seeking healthcare at the UBC Student Health Service [or] visiting the Urgent Care Centre at UBC Hospital.”

Dr. Michael Schwandt, a medical health officer at VCH, echoed this point on Twitter, saying that while accessibility is important, neighbourhood risk should be considered as well. On the thread, Dr. Schwandt cited other neighbourhoods in the region where testing access is a challenge, but where incidence rates are higher than UBC.

The BCCDC’s case rates are based on place of residence, so only students who live on campus are included in the UBC health area.

When asked if it was possible low case rates at UBC were due to difficulty seeking COVID-19 testing, the health authority pointed to other factors.

“UBC has low case counts because of its very high rate of COVID-19 vaccination and adherence to COVID-19 safety measures by people who study, work and live on campus.”

In an interview with The Ubyssey, the university also referenced high vaccination rates and low risk of in-class transmission, but that decisions on symptomatic testing are ultimately up to VCH.

“We rely on the … deep expertise of the health authority who set policy in terms of where symptomatic testing sites are located.” said Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations.

Following similar messaging to previous statements, VCH did not specifically comment about opening a testing site at UBC, but said it would continue to monitor the situation and adjust as required.

“VCH is committed to delivering timely and accessible COVID-19 testing, based on current epidemiology and testing criteria, to residents across our region. The testing strategy and location of testing services will continue to be evaluated and adjusted as epidemiology changes.”