Problematic pandemic protocols: UVic’s irrational COVID-19 testing logic

Opinions

On-campus supports for the unvaccinated leave symptomatic students scrambling

File photo of the now-closed testing centre at UVic.

After dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year and a half, I’m sure we all know people who have had to test for the virus, and have probably been tested ourselves. COVID-19 scares have become a larger part of our lives as we hear of possible exposure warnings in restaurants or stores. The threat of contracting COVID-19, coupled with self-isolating, is very stressful. COVID-19 tests coming back negative are probably the biggest waves of relief I’ve felt in the time since March 2020. 

With the return to campus, many students are rightfully feeling nervous: big classes, big parties, big(ger) risk of catching COVID-19. The rollout of vaccine passports at UVic may ease some stress; however, many spaces on campus don’t require proof of vaccination. 

Those who choose to be unvaccinated or to not declare their vaccine status are directed to undergo weekly rapid testing, but this is where the problems arise. This rapid testing centre is only for those who are unvaccinated and asymptomatic, and there is no other facility on campus for symptomatic or vaccinated people. 

The nearest COVID-19 testing centres are about a 20 minute drive from campus — that is, if you have access to a car. However, if you’re one of the many students who don’t drive, the only other affordable option is public transit or biking. Essentially, the lack of testing centres is forcing symptomatic students to use buses or bikes in order to get a COVID-19 test, which contradicts the recommendations of self-isolation by the Government of Canada, and could lead to more of the general population being infected.

The procedure for booking a test only makes it harder to access testing. Walk-ins aren’t available, so symptomatic people must call the Island Health COVID-19 help line, which only operates on a callback system. According to the website it can take up to 24 hours to get a call back, and then booking still isn’t guaranteed for the day of. One of my classmates called to book a test and received a call back the following day only to learn that the earliest possible time to book a test was four days later. She ended up going to the hospital two days before her scheduled test because she grew increasingly ill. She ended up testing negative but the entire ordeal was immensely stressful. If there was a testing site at UVic, this process could be much more efficient and centralized. 

UVic’s testing system is absolutely illogical in this sense, and I know many students who have had to deal with the runaround of attempting to book a COVID-19 test. I’ve heard many frustrated complaints about the backwardness of this situation, especially since more people tend to get sick in the fall. It’s barely been a month back at school, I already know many of my fellow students have had to miss class because they’re self-isolating. 

It’s already difficult for students to miss in-person classes. Some classes don’t record lectures, and for those that do, students still miss out on the collaboration and communication that happens in a classroom. This is a separate issue that the university should be addressing. However, a lack of access to testing makes it more likely that not only will symptomatic students be showing up to class, they might be coming before they have a negative test result. Even though people are supposed to stay home until they are asymptomatic, this may not be realistic. 

In short, there needs to be a change in the COVID-19 testing protocols at UVic. The university has set up infrastructure that assists the unvaccinated and allows them to participate in many of the same activities as those who are vaccinated. Those who have chosen not to be vaccinated for one reason or another have access to resources on campus and can receive test results within minutes, but self-isolation for those who are even mildly symptomatic can last for days. While UVic is testing asymptomatic people, symptomatic people are left to fend for themselves in order to book a test.

However, there is a solution to this. Island Health used to have a COVID-19 testing centre on campus. If this centre is reopened with the sole purpose of testing symptomatic UVic students and staff, this could lead to fewer classes missed, faster test bookings (for those on campus, and those in the community), far less stress, and far more efficiency. 

Neither the school year nor the pandemic is close to being over, so UVic needs to step up in order to support their students.