UBC says in-person exams to go ahead, amid student pressure to cancel due to COVID-19

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UBC says in-person exams to go ahead despite student COVID concerns
UBC says it won't cancel in-person exams despite a mounting campaign from students concerned about the spread of COVID-19. Kamil Karamali reports – Dec 19, 2021

The University of British Columbia says it won’t cancel in-person exams, despite a mounting campaign from students concerned about the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement released Sunday, UBC spokesperson Kurt Heinrich said officials met with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday.

“They advised that COVID-19 transmission is very uncommon in structured educational settings because of high vaccination rates and the safety measures in place, and that in-person exams can proceed,” Heinrich said.

Read more: UBC student society calls for cancellation of in-person exams amid Omicron spread

“Through the investigation and management of cases, Public Health has confirmed that cases among staff, students and faculty at UBC have been lower than in surrounding communities, and when cases do occur, the vast majority of acquisition is in homes and social settings.”

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Heinrich said post-secondary institutions were excluded from the recent health orders for this reason.

Students will, however, be able to request a delay in their exam through a process known as “standing deferral.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. Puts new COVID restrictions into place starting Monday'
B.C. Puts new COVID restrictions into place starting Monday


The update came as UBC student leaders ratcheted up pressure on the university to cancel in-person exams amid surging B.C. COVID-19 case numbers and the spread of the Omicron variant.

Some students Global News spoke with were unhappy with the proposed deferral option, saying it would require them to take their exams six months from now and prevent them from registering for some courses next semester.

“Students are worried they’ll go to an exam in crowded spaces with hundreds of students in a single room, catch COVID, and potentially bring it home to their families for the holidays,” Alma Matter Society (AMS) president Paul Evans said at a rally organized Sunday.

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“We are shocked at the indecisiveness … and how incapable the administration has been at making decision on this issue.”

Nearly 1,000 people have also signed onto a petition calling for the in-person exams to be cancelled.

“With exams taking place in massive gyms and lecture halls with up to 900 students packed closely together, we are experiencing an urgent threat to the health and safety of not only our campus communities but all of our extended contacts and families we had planned to return home to,” the petition states.

On Friday, AMS vice-president of academic and university affairs Eshana Bhangu penned a letter to UBC president Santa Ono and other university executives pressing them to cancel the exams.

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“The situation in examination halls does not instil confidence and feeling of safety within students; students are jam packed together in some halls and mask usage is not enforced as it should be,” she wrote.

The letter cites “worrying anecdotes” of COVID-positives going to write their exams anyway, and argues full exam halls violate the spirit — if not the letter — of new provincial health restrictions taking effect Monday.

Among those restrictions is a 50 per cent cap on attendance at events with more than 1,000 attendees.

Read more: University of Victoria trying to get rapid tests to students, staff amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Earlier this month, the UBC COVID Tracker, an anonymous Twitter account tracking the virus at the university, shared a letter from Vancouver Coastal Health notifying residents of the Totem Park residence of an exposure between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5. 

The push comes as the  University of Victoria grapples with its own COVID-19 outbreak, linked to a varsity rugby tournament in Kingston, Ont.

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