Internal notice of COVID-19 case on campus leads to students demanding answers

News
Graphic by Darian Lee

Frustrated by lack of information, students derail UVic Instagram post about career services

Residents of the Sir Arthur Currie (SAC) building received a notice that there was a COVID-19 exposure in their building from March 24-29. The notice did not indicate how many people were infected by COVID-19 or how many people were self isolating. Island Health informed students that they should self-monitor for symptoms and were not considered high risk.

“For privacy reasons, we cannot provide any other details on the COVID-19 exposure,” the notice read. “No information specific to the individual or individuals will be released by Island Health.”

The amount of cases and close contacts is unclear, and the lack of information is causing confusion among students. 

“It’s especially important that people on campus know because there are shared spaces on campus. There’s the MOD [the campus cafeteria], the Student Union Building, and lounges,” said Eve Heimpel, a first-year biochemistry student living on campus. “Anyone who lives on campus has eaten in the MOD.”

On UVic’s Instagram post promoting a “career curiosity workshop,” students expressed their frustration and worries not about their future careers, but about the lack of information regarding COVID-19 exposures on campus.

One user wrote, “There’s an excess amount of covid on campus. Maybe let people know? Kinda sus.”

Lane O’Hara Cooke is a first-year political science student living on campus but not in the affected residence building. Cooke says she found out about the COVID-19 case through word of mouth, adding that this is not the first time she found out about cases on campus through other students. 

Cooke first reached out privately to UVic’s Instagram account asking if they would make a statement regarding the exposure. After being left on read, Cooke decided to make a public story on her account regarding UVic’s silence, and encouraged people to put public pressure on the university by commenting on their Instagram posts. 

UVic got in touch shortly after Cooke’s story post, replying to her with resources detailing what the university would do if there was a confirmed COVID-19 case on campus. Cooke’s second request for a public statement was also left unanswered. 

Cooke left her own comment on UVic’s instagram post: “UVic is failing its students who pay for this institution to stay afloat. Where is the public statement?”

To protect the privacy of students who may have contracted COVID-19 or are isolating as close contacts, UVic and Island Health say that they usually withhold information specific to individuals, including whether they have contracted COVID-19. 

“We typically do not speak to the numbers of cases to protect patient privacy,” said an Island Health spokesperson, who confirmed that there was an infectious case on campus from March 24 to March 29. 

“Public exposures are posted on the website when we have been unable to reach or identify all individuals potentially exposed via contact tracing,” said Island Health spokesperson Andrew Leyne in an email. 

Karen Johnston, associate director of public affairs for UVic, says that the university only issues public statements regarding campus COVID-19 exposures on the advice of Island Health and that UVic has specific guidelines on how they respond to cases. 

“We understand that news of any exposure to COVID-19 is of concern not only to those directly affected but to the broader community. Please be assured, we are working closely with Island Health and the medical health officer under established notification protocols,” said Johnston in an emailed statement. 

In the original notice sent to SAC residents, Residence Services say that they are putting a strong focus on student privacy.

“[Information] will only be shared with university staff if operationally required, and only then in strict confidence. The University will only share information as they deem necessary through the Communication department,” said the email from Residence Services to SAC residents.

Both UVic and Island Health have not updated their public exposure notices to include the latest campus exposure. UVic sent out another email to students living on campus at 4:00p.m. today that warned of the general rise in cases on Vancouver Island. There was no mention of the confirmed case on campus. 

As of April 1, the last public notice regarding a COVID-19 exposure affecting UVic students was posted on March 3. The notice does not mention the number of affected students or whether those students lived on campus, only stating that “students have been impacted by an off-campus exposure to COVID-19 over the weekend of Feb. 27-28.”

The Times Colonist reported that this previous exposure was the result of an off-campus party. In that article, Johnston is quoted saying that the university was aware that some students living in residence were exposed in a private home to a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

As the university prepares for a full return to in-person learning in the fall, it remains unclear whether or not these policies around informing the public about COVID-19 exposures on campus will change.

If you have more information regarding the latest COVID-19 exposures on campus, please contact the Martlet at web@martlet.ca.