January return to campus update

- University of Victoria

This week the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) provided further guidance for managing the emergence of the Omicron variant with a view to supporting businesses to remain open and schools to continue to safely provide in-person learning and teaching.

We continue to adhere to, and implement all public health orders and safety measures recommended or required by the Provincial Health Officer, including:

To strengthen these core layers of protection and until further notice:

  • Masks are required to be worn by students at all times in classrooms and study spaces except where exempt for a medical reason.
    • Consuming food and beverages is not permitted in classrooms, labs, study spaces or libraries.
  • Masks must be worn in common areas of buildings, including in on-campus housing and office buildings (e.g., lobbies, hallways, bathrooms).
  • On-campus, in-person social events for employees and students must be cancelled, postponed or done virtually.
  • Units are asked to conduct meetings online where possible. If meeting in-person please remember to wear a mask at all times.  Attendees may only remove masks when seated and if able to maintain at least 2m of physical distance from others.

Rapid testing

PCR testing in the community is being supplemented/replaced by rapid antigen testing (self-testing) and self-management, or managing at home, without testing.

At this time, rapid antigen tests are only available at community testing sites.  We have suspended our asymptomatic testing clinic. This clinic was established in September as part of the vaccine declaration and testing program as a means for unvaccinated asymptomatic people to obtain weekly tests.  The clinic fulfilled its purpose and will now be repurposed to support the emerging public health role for rapid antigen tests in the coming weeks.

For now, if you or someone you know needs a test, please call the Island Health COVID-19 Call Centre.

Contact tracing

The PHO has advised that Omicron’s unique characteristics mean that contact tracing is no longer a sustainable or effective public health intervention. The PHO’s case and contact management process will be replaced by self-management and responding to outbreaks, especially in high-risk settings.

While we expect less transmission of COVID-19 in our setting, we will work closely with Island Health as necessary to support those in our community who are affected by COVID-19.

The best and most current information about self-management and notifying close contacts is available from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC).

Remote work for staff

Given the expected number of COVID-19 cases in the broader community, the PHO has also asked businesses, as well as our sector to provide additional flexibility for staff to work remotely, where appropriate.

With the reduced number of students on campus until January 23, the option of virtual/remote work will be extended to staff, where viable, while taking steps to preserve capacity to support our on-campus students and activities, including research. 

Staff who are already working remotely may continue to do so or may do so more frequently if operationally feasible.  It may also mean that staff who are not currently working remotely may begin to do so, where appropriate, on a part-time basis for the next two weeks without the creation of formalized remote work agreements.

This will help us preserve our capacity and support a return to in-person learning and operations later this month.  Advice about remote working in the context of a temporary business continuity strategy will continue to be updated over the coming weeks.

Continuity planning

As advised by the PHO, we are taking proactive measures to prepare for significant shortages of faculty and staff or larger than normal student absences.

Public health advice for individuals who are ill, isolating, self-monitoring or identified as close contacts changes periodically. The most current guidance is available from UVic Occupational Health, Safety & Environment (OHSE) or the BC CDC.

Extensive resources are available on Teach Anywhere for instructors to plan for student absences.

Our goal is to provide as much in-person learning and teaching as possible beginning January 24 while ensuring that we are also able to maintain core on-campus student, academic, research and support services, while supplementing those services virtually as needed.

Thank you for your continued support, patience and resilience as we navigate yet another phase of the pandemic. We will continue to provide regular updates to ensure our community has the most up-to-date information available.