The COVID-19 rapid testing clinic at Orchard Commons is set to close on August 20, leaving questions around testing options for the upcoming school year.
In February, UBC launched a rapid testing clinic in Orchard Commons for asymptomatic students and staff living in first-year residence after receiving screening tools from the province. Then, in June, the university expanded eligibility for the clinic to all students, faculty and staff.
With most community members returning to campus in early September, several students have expressed concern about testing availability on campus as case counts continue to rise in the UBC neighbourhood and across BC.
In a statement from August 13, President Santa Ono said, “we will have both rapid testing clinics and vaccination clinics,” and that “UBC will be sharing details on these clinics shortly.” According to meeting minutes from a July 21 AMS executive committee meeting, UBC approached the student society about booking rapid testing space in the Nest, though no final decision was recorded. When contacted by The Ubyssey, UBC Media Relations declined to provide further information.
It is also not yet clear whether UBC will only administer screening tests for asymptomatic individuals or if diagnostic tests for those with symptoms will also be available on campus. Over the past academic year, no testing options were available on campus for symptomatic individuals.
Students repeatedly expressed frustration and concern about commuting 50 minutes downtown to the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre, the nearest COVID-19 collection centre run by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). These accessibility challenges forced some students to seek testing at UBC Hospital, which the health authority emphasizes should not be used for COVID-19 testing, except for emergency cases.
Regarding plans to open a testing location closer to campus, VCH said in a written statement that it “[is] committed to delivering timely and accessible COVID-19 testing,” but did not comment on any plans at UBC specifically.
“There are a number of considerations when selecting COVID-19 test collection sites, including their suitability, availability, and accessibility,” continued Rachel Galligan, communications leader at VCH.
Testing at Orchard Commons was also used as a Health Canada trial for COVID-19 rapid testing. Principal investigator Dr. Sabrina Wong said their study evaluates whether self-administered rapid tests can identify transmission chains in asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals.
“One approach to reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission amongst those living in congregate housing and working in enclosed spaces with large numbers of people ... is to ‘screen’ for those who are likely to harbour the virus, even though they may have no or minimal symptoms,” said Wong, associate director of research at the UBC School of Nursing.
Although research results from this trial are still pending, VCH medical health officer Michael Schwandt noted an earlier UBC pilot for first-year residents detected 25 asymptomatic cases using rapid tests administered by healthcare workers.
Until August 20, asymptomatic community members can access rapid tests at Orchard Commons. Others seeking COVID-19 testing should use the self-assessment tool and find their nearest collection centre on the BCCDC website.