Students deserve to know about COVID-19 cases on campus

Editorials Opinions

While COVID-19 numbers surge on the island and elsewhere in B.C., the provincial government and UVic are still withholding statistics that could help people resist pandemic fatigue and combat institutional distrust.

In the last month, there have been at least two COVID exposure events (one in residence, and the other in the School of Music), which have left students demanding details that they feel would help keep them safe. UVic states that they have traced the contacts of the COVID-positive students, but no specific information will be released about the date or location of the exposures. UVic also does not have or disclose data on how many COVID-19 exposures or cases there have been on campus this year. 

“[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 an email from Residence Services to students living in the affected building.

Continuing to live under strict social restrictions without information about when, where, or how COVID-19 is being spread in their communities is brewing resentment across B.C. 

This level of concern for privacy isn’t reflected in other jurisdictions in Canada. Albertans can see case information by neighbourhood and school. Ontarians can see how many variant cases are in their area, and even how many residents have been vaccinated. Meanwhile, B.C.’s COVID-19 dashboard is still separated into five sprawling regions, and although Island Health provides case counts for south, central, and north Vancouver Island, we are still a long way from having city-specific information or information about UVic.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in B.C. have hit an all-time seven-day-average high of over 8600 new cases.

Institutional distrust is detrimental to the government’s pandemic response. It can affect several aspects of the fight against COVID-19. For example, the BCCDC’s website claims that vaccine hesitancy is high, and states that it is the responsibility of health workers to convey correct information. However, the government’s continued lack of transparency will only make issues like vaccine hesitancy worse.

For international or domestic students who have delayed coming to UVic until in-person classes return, information surrounding the probability of a return to campus in the fall is essential to planning their financial and living arrangements for September.

COVID-19 cases will not go away because we are not talking about them. The probability of returning to classes in five months may not be affected by current circumstances, but students and staff have the right to know what the on-campus situation is in their decision making. 

Having recently announced a return to classes for the 2021-22 term, the university seems hesitant to acknowledge how the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and current provincial restrictions may get in the way of this plan. In order to assure that students are aware of the situation on campus and whether or not students are comfortable in returning to in-person classes, the university will need to increase transparency.