British Columbia

University of Victoria cancels in-person exams after spike in COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

The University of Victoria announced Sunday it is moving its in-person exams online beginning Monday after a rise in COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island.

On-campus social events also cancelled, libraries and labs to remain open

In-person exams have been cancelled at the University of Victoria after a rise in COVID cases on Vancouver Island. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

The University of Victoria announced Sunday it is moving its in-person exams online beginning Monday after a rise in COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island.

"We probably reached around 60 cases and we're continuing to follow up with those people that have identified as close contact," said Kane Kilbey, the associate vice president of human resources at UVic.

On Monday, Island Health and the University of Victoria confirmed the number was now 124 cases of COVID-19, and said the outbreak was associated with off-campus events.

At least four of those cases have been identified as the omicron variant, but officials expect there will be more omicron cases as lab sequencing continues.

A joint statement from the university and health authority says that these cases are among a "highly vaccinated population" and currently, those infected are dealing with mild illness.

They said they are not aware of any hospitalizations associated with this cluster at this time.

Kilbey said the university made the decision to move in-person exams online in consultation with the Island Health authority and acknowledges the announcement was "short notice" for those with exams on Monday. 

"When we reviewed the situation with Island Health, we determined that a temporary step away from in-person exams is the safest way to reduce the likelihood of any further transmission," said Kilbey.

Instructors will be asked to move all assessments online or use another method so that students are not sitting together for extended periods of time. Students will be informed of alternative arrangements by their instructor directly, the school says.

"We are providing as much latitude as possible for instructors to make changes and we're also enabling instructors to choose a different type of assessment format," Uvic's acting vice provost Susan Lewis said on the CBC's On the Island.

Earlier in the week, the university had moved exams online for business students who were linked to two off-campus events where they were exposed to COVID-19.

Island Health did not declare an outbreak at the school after the off-campus events, but asked any students who attended the parties to self-monitor for symptoms.

The Island Health authority has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases recently. It reported 127 new cases on Friday, the most of all the provincial health authorities.

Another 307 new cases were reported Monday.

The Island also has the second-highest number of active cases per capita behind Northern Health.

UVic has said on-campus social events, including holiday parties, will now have to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

However, research labs, varsity athletic facilities, on-campus study spaces, and libraries will remain open with masking rules in place.

"There's just a few small changes that we've made on campus, but otherwise, we're open for business and all of our student research services are continuing to operate at the normal capacity," Kilbey said.

Other universities in B.C., including the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, are continuing to have in-person exams to end the fall term.

With files from Courtney Dickson