On the evening of Dec. 12, students and professors alike were shocked to learn that their scheduled in-person exams had been cancelled due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the UVic community.
124 positive COVID-19 tests have been linked to the cluster that UVic and Island Health identified on Dec. 9 as resulting from two off-campus parties. In a joint statement, UVic confirmed that at least four of them are omicron. As more testing occurs, more omicron cases are expected.
UVic has also confirmed that there are no current hospitalizations associated with this cluster. The UVic population is highly vaccinated and thus only mild illness is anticipated.
Although the cases have rose from 30 last week to 124 today, the university expects the rate to decline going forward. The initial cases were associated with two social events off-campus involving business and varsity students. The university says there is no evidence of on-campus transmission.
“The good news is that the number of cases is increasing at a decreasing rate right now, so it probably peaked two days ago,” said Kane Kilbey, associate vice president of human resources and co-chair of UVic’s COVID-19 Transition Team, in an interview with CBC.
Effective the morning of Dec. 13, course instructors will have to change over their in-person exams to online formats, or offer an alternative form of assessment. Instructors are responsible for contacting their students directly either through Brightspace or by email to alert them of how the examination format has changed. UVic says this decision was made in discussion with Island to reduce transmission risks.
This announcement follows a preliminary UVic statement on Dec. 9 that stated some UVic varsity athletes and business school students had tested positive for the disease after two weekend social events.
“We know this is short notice for those with exams scheduled for Monday,” said UVic in the announcement. “We are reaching out to instructors with guidance to make this transition as smooth as possible.”
UVic has updated their testing protocols to respond to the cluster. Individuals deemed as close contacts by Island Health will have access to rapid testing kits. The rapid testing kits are expected to be available in the coming days and will only be available to those contacted by Island Health. In the interim and for those not contacted, appointments for testing can be booked through Island Health’s call centre at 1-844-901-8442.
Along with in-person exams, all planned in-person social events on-campus be cancelled or postponed, including student and employee holiday parties. UVic is also encouraging planned meetings to take place online for the remainder of the semester, or for COVID-19 protocols to be enforced.
Student support services and administration will continue to operate in-person on campus. Research centres and labs will also be unaffected. UVic Libraries and on-campus study spaces will stay open for students, but masks will have to be worn at all times and students cannot bring food or drinks into these spaces.
CARSA has also updated their COVID-19 protocols and now requires that masks be worn at all times. This includes during workouts and in fitness classes, as well as offered recreation activities. CARSA is also no longer allowing workout partners or spotting during lifting sessions as everyone must maintain a safe two metres distance from each other in the fitness centre. These new precautions are also in place for varsity training programs.
Food on campus will also move to take-out services with restricted seating set ups. MOD dining hall will continue to operate.
With these measures in place, the university hopes to resume normal operations in January.
“Island Health’s Medical Health Officer is confident that the current mitigation measures in place, including the university’s decision to cease offering in-person exams and limit other events, are appropriate and sufficient for the exam period and will support the university to plan for returning to normal operations in January,” the joint statement from Dec. 13 reads.