Edmonton campuses to implement COVID-19 rapid testing for unvaccinated students

Students, faculty and other staff at the University of Alberta must have two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to campus this fall, or face regular rapid testing, the university announced Wednesday. 

The U of A is requiring everyone declare their vaccination status on an online form and submit it by Aug. 30. 

Anyone participating in on-campus activities and classes should be ready to show that they’re fully vaccinated with an Alberta Health Services or other public health authority forms, the website says. 

Rowan Ley, president of the U of A Students’ Union, said the university will randomly audit students for proof of vaccination. 

“When you’re filling out the form, you know that you might be selected,” Ley said Thursday. “If you choose to lie then you’re consciously taking a risk of serious academic penalties, which could be as severe as expulsion.” 

Failing to provide documents or making a false declaration may result in discipline under the code of student behaviour and collective agreement for employees, the website says. 

Those who don’t have two Health Canada approved COVID-19 doses must get a COVID-19 rapid test each week before they can participate in on-campus activities.

People with valid medical or religious reasons to not get the vaccine may be exempt, the university says.

Ley said valid exemptions are understandable but he doesn’t sympathize with people purposely avoiding the vaccine because of misinformation on social media or elsewhere.

“If you refuse vaccination because you saw something on Facebook about how it’s going to make you infertile, then you’re just kind of out of luck, and you’re going to have to get something stuck up your nose once a week,” Ley said. 

Rapid testing sites will open on the first day of classes on Sept. 1 at four locations around the U of A. Students will be given a self-administered nasal swab screening test, where results show up within 15 minutes.

Strongly encouraged

MacEwan University is not requiring students and staff to prove they’re fully vaccinated but is asking them to fill out a survey by Aug. 27 so the school can gauge vaccination rates. 

In a post on the university’s website, president and vice-chancellor Annette Trimbee said the survey will help them plan the logistics of our rapid testing program, which they plan to roll out in September. 

Myles Dykes, president of the Students’ Association of MacEwan University, said people will be encouraged to wear a mask when physical distancing isn’t likely. 

“It’s largely a campus culture of masking and we’re hoping that no one has to be in the difficult position of enforcement on masking,” Dykes said.

Dykes said the student union is getting regular updates from administration but it’s still a wait and see reality on the details. 

“We’re trying to do it very intentionally and safely,” Dykes said. “We want to come out with a solid plan and not have to change it.” 

MacEwan will announce updates on the rapid testing program in the coming days, Trimbee’s post says. 

The university will offer special vaccination clinics — Sept. 14 and 17 — for those returning to campus still unvaccinated. 

NAIT is taking a similar approach to vaccinations, rapid testing and masks. 

Nicole Graham, a media relations specialist at NAIT, said vaccinations aren’t mandatory for students or staff.

“We strongly encourage the NAIT community to be fully vaccinated before the start of the fall term to help protect themselves and their communities,” Graham said in an email. 

NAIT is also working on a rapid testing program and will hold vaccination clinics on campus Sept. 22 and 23.

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