Concerns raised over University of Alberta request for volunteers at COVID-19 rapid testing clinics


The University of Alberta’s Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) is voicing concerns over a request from the university for staff members to volunteer at COVID-19 rapid testing clinics this fall.

Earlier this week, the universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge released their joint back-to-campus strategy which requires students, faculty and staff coming to campus to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing if they are not fully vaccinated. In addition, those who choose not to disclose their vaccination status will also be asked to regularly complete a rapid-screening test and receive a negative result before they participate in in-person activities.

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In a request Thursday, the U of A said its public health response team is recruiting members of the university community who are willing to help with the administration of rapid testing clinics on Augustana Campus, North Campus and Enterprise Square.

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“Duties may include collecting patient information, observing swabs, or analyzing and recording results,” read the request obtained by Global News. “Volunteers should be able to commit to a minimum of five hours per week throughout the fall term.”

Click to play video: 'Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge to require unvaccinated students, staff to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing'
Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge to require unvaccinated students, staff to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing

NASA president Jillian Pratt said the association was notified of the request through a staff newsletter Thursday night. She said the association was not consulted on the request for staff volunteers, and added it has several concerns regarding the ask.

“These are folks who don’t necessarily have expertise in those testing practices, they don’t have expertise in health records management, privacy concerns, things like that,” Jillian Pratt said Friday.

“If your plan is relying on volunteers to collect this type of sensitive data, we have some really major concerns about that…. We’re concerned about how the data will be collected, how it will be stored, how folks would be trained with this.”

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In addition, Pratt said many staff members are already overwhelmed and don’t have the time to commit to this.

“They’re overburdened, overwhelmed, very anxious about their return to campus as it is. They don’t know how they’re going to try to find any time either away from their positions or afterwards in order to do this,” she said.

“I’ve heard from quite a few staff members already who, quite frankly, feel quite insulted that they’re the ones being asked to do this when they’re already been asked to take on so much more on campus.”

The back-to-campus policy released by the universities on Tuesday also requires mandatory masks in all indoor public spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

The policy is a rather drastic shift from guidance issued earlier this month. On Aug. 6, the president of the U of A said masks would not be required when classes resumed this fall.

Following that guidance, there was some resistance to the measures from several students and staff on campus.

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Pratt said while she appreciates that senior administration listened to those concerns, she didn’t realize work to implement the rapid testing plan would be “thrust back onto the community who are expected to volunteer their time and energy in order to ensure that this plan could be implemented.”

“Our ultimate outcome would be folks who have the knowledge, expertise, education, experience that they need to be doing the testing, doing the testing,” she said.

The notice to staff requesting volunteers stated “all training is provided and no health care experience is necessary.”

Pratt said the association is writing to the university to notify administration of their concerns.

Global News reached out to the University of Alberta which declined comment until next week.

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