Should CapU Be More Transparent about COVID-19 Cases on Campus?

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

Alisha Samnani // Editor-in-Chief
Bridget Stringer-Holden // News Editor
Freya Emery // Illustrator

UPDATE: As the result of a freedom of information request, The Capilano Courier has learnt that as of March 7, 160 COVID-19 cases have been recorded at Capilano University since Jan. 7, 2022. 

A lack of information surrounding positive COVID-19 cases on campus leaves students feeling concerned about their safety as Capilano University (CapU) continues to push for a return to mandatory in-person classes.

CapU students are largely pessimistic about the return to campus as many fear the spread of the Omicron variant. Since the university’s initial announcement, students have been protesting and requesting hybrid options, citing concerns over COVID-19 safety and potential outbreaks, as previously reported by the Courier.

Although safety measures such as self health check-ins and classroom hand sanitizers have been implemented, at least one student feels that CapU could be doing more — especially when it comes to letting the CapU community know about positive COVID cases on campus.

Brigid Mychael (she/they), a third-year student at CapU, now in the Creative Writing program, tested positive for COVID in October 2021. Although they had what the CDC calls a “breakthrough “case — meaning a person tests positive for COVID-19 at least two weeks after becoming fully vaccinated (which includes receiving a booster or third dose, if you’re eligible) — Mychael now believes they were likely infectious during the time they attended in-person classes at the North Vancouver campus.

“While Mychael followed CapU’s policy at the time by reporting their case to the university, they were disappointed by the lack of information around what took place after reporting their positive test results. 

Mychael, with the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU)’s help, asked their instructor to let the class know about their positive case — and was told that he couldn’t due to “confidentiality issues.” Although the CapU Illness Reporting Process requires instructors to establish dates, times and locations where ill students were last on campus, it prevents them from sharing personal medical information without permission — something Mychael said they provided. 

“It just seemed like he didn’t do anything about it after being informed,” explained Mychael. “He didn’t have to tell anybody who exactly had COVID — he just had to be like ‘hey, a student has COVID, we should do something about this’.”

Unaware of whether classmates were informed about being in contact with Mychael, they approached the head of the department about the issue — something they were encouraged to do if they had trouble communicating with their instructor.

The B.C Centre for Disease Control tells post-secondary institutions that they “should not provide notifications to faculty, staff or students about potential or confirmed communicable diseases cases (including COVID-19) unless requested to do so by the local Medical Health Officer.”

Through a freedom of information request, the Capilano Courier has obtained a copy of CapU’s Nov. 10, 2021 COVID-19 Case Positive Report, which was sent on an “as-needed basis” to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training. Although Mychael reported their case to the university administration — and the Illness Reporting Process requires both instructors and coordinators/chairs to report the case to their immediate supervisors — their case was notably absent from the report.

As of this January, the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training no longer requires universities to submit case positive reports.

A report from the president’s office, presented to the CapU Board of Governors on Feb. 22, stated that from Jan. 2 to Feb. 8  “we have had 43 positive COVID-19 cases [in CapU student housing], with the majority of the students having no symptoms and others having very mild symptoms.” The report also revealed that prior to the return to campus housing on Jan. 2, there was only “one positive case of COVID-19.”

The report indicated that “over 1,000 [leftover] rapid test kits” from a Fall 2021 Canadian pilot program were being used to confirm these cases in student housing.

Mychael remains disappointed by the way their case was handled, and hopes that CapU takes more of an active role in contact tracing, rather than leaving it up to students. “I would say the health checks are good — but it’s not like there’s someone at the door checking your temperature […] it’s really the honour system,” said Mychael. “There’s literally nothing that could have stopped me from just walking on campus and not reporting my symptoms [or] choosing to get tested.”

CapU has stated that there is no requirement to participate in the daily self health checks, and that they will be “monitored and recorded only where and when required by industry-specific guidance or provincial/medical order.” 

Current public health guidance also removes onus from universities, stating that they are low risk and that “contact tracing is no longer an effective public health intervention for control of COVID-19 in the community,” instead advocating for all students, staff and faculty to obtain vaccinations.

About 51 per cent of COVID-19 cases were among those who were unvaccinated at the time they contacted the virus, according to data from the Government of Canada’s Feb. 6 COVID-19 daily epidemiology update.

Similar situations have caused students to take contact tracing into their own hands, setting up websites such as the UBC COVID Tracker, which documents both exposure events across campus and rapid antigen test results. 

This is a developing story and will be updated online as more information becomes available.

The B.C. CDC has sent Capilano University a shipment of rapid antigen tests to be distributed to students through the CSU. More information on how to obtain your rapid antigen test kit can be found under the Return to Campus page on CapU’s website. Individuals need a CapU card to access these tests.

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