Free masks, rapid tests for symptomatic cases await UBC students as in-person classes return next week

Free masks and rapid tests for those with symptoms will be available to UBC students next week as most in-person learning returns after a delayed start due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

While the university is providing supplies, there has also been a student-led effort to make N95 masks available for those who want them.

The Alma Mater Society’s vice president of academic and university affairs Eshana Bhangu said the society has sourced and purchased 65,000 KN95 masks, which it will begin handing out Monday at the student union building.

“It really was inspired by the lack of communication on masks and what’s going to be provided,” Bhangu said. “When we’re not getting that sense of clarity from the university, we decided to take this on our own, and have some masks for students just in case.”

Meanwhile, UBC’s director of university affairs Matthew Ramsey said the institution recently shared plans to provide medical masks, with 1.2 million ordered and 500,000 already on campus.

“We’ve provided those to our residences. We’ve provided them to departments and faculties, to hand out as they see fit,” Ramsey said. “Starting Monday, we’ll also have student ambassadors who will be walking around campus with backpacks, handing out packages of 10 masks to whoever wants them.”

Rapid tests will also be made available for symptomatic students. Ramsey said the initial supply is leftover from what the province provided for asymptomatic testing of students living in residence and athletes, but the university is expecting more from the province. He added UBC has also also ordered 30,000 test kits from a private provider.

Weekly rapid testing will also continue for those who do not have full vaccination, or have not shared their vaccination status with the university.

Ramsey said about 98 per cent of those who have shared their status have indicated they’ve received two shots.

“We’re fairly confident our community is as safe as it could be,” he said. “I don’t think it’s possible to guarantee 100 per cent protection, but what we have in place is the best that we can do.”

Bhangu said the Alma Mater Society wants to see more, and has been pushing for hybrid learning options – allowing either online or in-person classes – to be available across the board.

“There are many students who are struggling with mental health being online, and then there are students worried about their own health, their family members, immunocompromised students, students with disabilities,” she said. “It certainly is happening across the university, but in a fragmented way.”

The university is expecting the rest of its medical mask supplies to arrive over the coming weeks.

Bhangu said the student society is also prepared to order in more N95s to distribute if need be.  

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