With return to in-person learning, faculty advised to not tell their students about COVID-19 exposures

As most of UBC returns to in-person instruction this week, concern has arisen over what faculty can say regarding COVID-19 exposures in their classroom.

While some faculty members have said online that several of their students had tested positive, UBC and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) are encouraging professors to not inform their classes.

In a February 1 tweet, lecturer for the department of psychology Benjamin Cheung implied that many of his students were testing positive for COVID-19 as in-person learning was days away, but could not say so directly.

“I'm not saying that a bunch of my students have tested positive for a certain illness [because] that for some reason can get me in trouble with admin… I'm just saying that lots of students are asking for extensions for their assignment and we're going in-person in a week,” he wrote.

Professor of philosophy Evan Thompson said he was experiencing “the same thing” in his classes in a tweet of his own.

In an interview, Cheung said he had been informed over email last semester that instructors are “not supposed to tell [their] students that there has been an exposure.” He was not aware of any policy changes made since.

In October, The Ubyssey reported confusion over this policy as faculty members disagreed over whether they were still permitted to tell their class about COVID-19 exposures.

Cheung said he understands that many students might feel uncomfortable coming to campus, and is trying to adapt his class format to the circumstances.

“I have been pretty enthusiastic about offering hybrid as an option to my students.”

Since last semester, both the BCCDC and UBC have given updated guidance on contact tracing on campus.

On January 25, the BCCDC published return to campus guidance, which said that post-secondary institutions should not notify faculty, staff or students about COVID-19 exposures unless instructed by the local Medical Health Officer.

The document also included “key messages” universities could share with concerned faculty, staff or students. This includes that “since COVID-19 transmission is uncommon in educational settings, in most cases, public health notifications to the campus community will not be required.”

UBC’s safety and risk services website, last updated February 7, gives similar advice as the BCCDC to faculty who feel they have “an obligation to inform others” about exposures.

If the faculty member feels there is a need to provide general information, the matter should be directed to their Department Head, School Director or another administrator.

While Cheung is trying to keep his class format flexible with the return to campus, he believes there would be frustration whether UBC opted to stay online or in person.

“Ultimately, there’s no easy win.”