Frequently Asked Questions for 2020-21

Answering frequently asked questions on Brown’s actions to protect the health of the community amid the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

These questions are being updated as new information becomes available from government and health agencies that affect Brown and members of our community. Please also visit the University Updates page to review campus communications about changes in programming and operations. And for the most up-to-date information on the status of campus activities, consult the policies currently in effect on the Campus Activity Status page.

University Operations

For the 2020-21 academic year, Brown has established a three-semester academic calendar and other policies and practices that will reduce the density of students, faculty and staff on campus.

Undergraduate students will be on campus for two of the three terms, providing an environment with fewer students on campus at any one time. Employees who are able to continue working remotely will continue to do so for the months ahead.

Brown announced on August 11, 2020, a phased approach to bringing students back for the Fall 2020 semester in light of the shifting public health conditions of the global pandemic. In the first phase of the fall term, all undergraduate classes will be taught fully online until the week of October 5, and only a limited number of undergraduates will be permitted to return and have access to campus. The majority of undergraduate students will start the fall semester studying remotely. The majority of undergraduates are expected to return to campus in phase two, provided that health conditions allow. The University will announce a decision by September 11, 2020, about proceeding with phase two of bringing the majority of students back to campus. 

In accordance with guidance from public health experts, the State of Rhode Island’s reopening plan and the success demonstrated in resuming research on campus, the University continues to follow a gradual, controlled phase of approving faculty and staff requests to resume work on site.

The University is implementing a robust set of public health practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus and safeguard the health of students, employees and community members. Part of this includes an extensive education, training and prevention campaign to support community adoption of public health practices and protocols. Testing and contact tracing for all Brown employees and students will play an essential role in campus safety

All elements of Brown’s planning are based on the best expert advice for safeguarding the health of our community and maintaining Brown’s high standards of teaching and learning.

Brown’s current plans are based on the best current available data and public health recommendations. However, all members of the community have been advised about the need for flexibility, given the great uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve across regions of the country and the world, and the pace at which treatments and vaccines will be developed. Students, faculty and staff have been informed that the University may need to make mid-course changes or adjustments to workplace safety and how instruction is offered, research is conducted, and public health protocols are implemented on campus.

As always, the University will approach any changes based on community principles that place a premium on the health and well-being of all who work, study and live at Brown.

Central to Brown’s mission is teaching and research, and the University undertook several months of exploration and planning to determine how to continue to conduct these activities in healthy and safe manner for the 2020-21 academic year. Brown University bases all decisions regarding public health on the best available science and at all times follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Rhode Island Department of Public Health (RIDOH). Factoring into the July decision was the downward trend of cases of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, and the state’s move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

Brown announced on August 11, 2020, a phased approach to bringing students back for the fall semester in light of the shifting public health conditions in Rhode Island and nationally. In the first phase of the fall term, all undergraduate classes will be taught fully online until the week of October 5, and only a limited number of undergraduates will be permitted to return and have access to campus.The University will announce a decision by September 11, 2020, about proceeding with phase two of bringing the majority of students back to campus. 

In order to ensure that thoughtful and comprehensive study and planning took place to develop a plan for academic and administrative operations for 2020-21, President Christina H. Paxson formed and charged four COVID-19 planning groups in April 2020:

Healthy Fall 2020 Task Force: Charged with developing an effective public health plan for Brown University that will, if conditions permit, make it possible for the University to re-open its campus in Fall 2020 with the confidence that the health of its students and employees will be protected.

Academic Continuity Group: Charged with developing plans for reopening research laboratories and libraries, and implementing changes in the academic calendar, curriculum and modes of teaching that will enable Brown to continue to provide a high-quality academic experience for all students.

Personnel Group: Charged with developing plans to safely bring employees back to campus and making decisions about a range of issues affecting support for Brown staff during the pandemic.

Finance and Strategy Group: Charged with assessing the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and developing strategies to maintain Brown’s short-term and long-term financial stability.

The work of these groups led to the development of Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21. It represents the work of the faculty, students and staff on these groups and many others, all committed to ensuring that Brown operates in a healthy and safe manner throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

The University’s plans, policies and guidance to Brown community members may adapt and be updated as guidance from health agencies evolves with our understanding of COVID-19.

The expectation is that continuing undergraduate students completing their second semester or greater — sophomores, juniors and seniors — will return in the fall, as well as transfer students and those in the Resumed Undergraduate Education program. New first-year students will arrive for the spring term and continue to the summer term. During the fall, new first-year students will be able to take one Brown course remotely for credit, free of charge, and will also be able to participate in remote orientation, mentoring and enrichment opportunities.

Graduate students (doctoral and master’s) will enroll primarily in the fall and spring terms, although we anticipate that significant numbers of new international students may need to defer arrival due to expected delays in visa processing.

All undergraduate and graduate students will be given the option to enroll in their courses remotely, whether they are on campus or not, and all faculty will be given the option of teaching in person or remotely.

Medical education is substantively different from undergraduate and graduate programs in many respects, including the fact that third- and fourth-year instruction takes place almost entirely in Brown’s affiliated hospitals and is subject to the plans and policies of those institutions. The Warren Alpert Medical School (AMS) has adopted its own guiding principles for delivering the medical curriculum in the coming year.

Many faculty members at Brown already use digital teaching and learning tools in their instruction. The University advised faculty beginning in early March to prepare for the possibility of delivering course content remotely, to ensure continuity of teaching Brown students should the need arise. Staff in Digital Learning & Design and Computing and Information Services are now supporting faculty efforts directly and helping to develop plans for remote instruction.

Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21 outlines the public health steps that are being put in place to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on campus. These steps include extending the expectation that all employees able to telecommute will continue to do so at least through early fall. It also includes changes in modes of instruction, with most courses being delivered online, and only courses or sections with fewer than 20 students taking place in person.

Barring a major resurgence of coronavirus in advance of the academic year, Brown will follow a three-term academic calendar (fall, spring and summer) in which undergraduate students are on campus for only two of the three terms. This will make it possible for all undergraduates living in residence halls in the fall to have single rooms, and to “de-densify” classrooms, libraries and other spaces on campus. 

There will be modifications for undergraduate students in terms of housing, dining and extracurricular activities, and for all employees and students, the implementation of strict protocols for personal health, distancing, cleaning and regular testing that will be essential for safeguarding the well-being of our community.

All members of our community will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing when they are in public places. Large group gatherings will be limited — meeting and at time exceeding state guidelines limiting such gatherings — and activities that require travel to other locations will be restricted.

Events will be largely online, or shaped by reduced capacity of spaces, social distancing, hand washing, masks and other health protocols. And high-touch surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected routinely by Facilities Management and the individuals using those surfaces.

Employees approved to resume work on campus must complete workplace safety training requirements in advance of their first day of returning to campus. In addition, all members of the community who work or are approved to be on campus must follow safety guidelines at all times while working in their offices; traveling to and from campus buildings using the University’s shuttles or their own personal transportation.

Students, faculty and staff will be required to sign an acknowledgement form that they will follow required public health practices, and that they understand that disregard of public health practices is a conduct violation that could result in removal from campus for students and disciplinary action for others working on campus.

However, most important will be education, training and initiatives for prevention, conveying that each and every member of our community will be expected to take responsibility for their own health and the health of others. Brown is a caring community, and building on that strength to ensure that people embrace caring as much about others as they do themselves will be critical and essential.

All members of the community working or approved to be on campus will be required to be tested for COVID-19 when they return to Brown and, if asked, to participate in random testing. This randomized sample testing will help monitor for community spread of coronavirus, identify the proportion of asymptomatic positive cases and identify the proportion of members of our community with potential immunity to the disease over time. All of this testing will be free of charge.

Members of the Brown community will also be required to use a digital tool via their computers or mobile devices to schedule tests and record daily symptoms. This tool is designed to protect individual privacy. The University will not have access to information on individuals’ movements, and symptoms data will only be used after names have been removed. Data from the tool will be useful for identifying health trends on campus and informing the amount of routine testing that is needed. Anyone required to participate in the testing program will also need to monitor their symptoms for COVID-19 on a daily basis.   

Brown’s plans have been informed by epidemiological models, and the University will closely monitor evolving developments in testing methods to take advantage of the most effective testing strategies.

Even with the extensive public health protocols and mitigation efforts Brown is putting in place, it is impossible to ensure that no one in the campus community will become ill with the coronavirus during the coming academic year. The University’s plan is based on the knowledge and acknowledgement that any college, university or community will likely see diagnosed cases of COVID-19 until the point that a vaccine is widely available, just as is the case in the general population.

In the event that someone in the Brown campus community tests positive, the University has trained contact tracers who will work with RIDOH to locate community members who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The University is setting aside special dormitory space for isolation (for students who contract the virus) and quarantine (for students who have been exposed).

If a cluster of individuals who are COVID-19 positive occurs on the Brown campus, we are prepared to take immediate, appropriate action in coordination with RIDOH. The University would immediately isolate and quarantine affected individuals, close and clean involved facilities, and take any other corrective measures guided by RIDOH and the CDC.

Given that all of Brown’s courses will be available online, students in isolation or quarantine will be able to continue with their academic work, making it easier for students to be out of contact with others. The routine testing program on campus will support the identification of incidences of COVID-19 across our community — including faculty and staff — allowing immediate action to reduce the chances of community spread.

The three-term academic calendar reduces density, allowing for largely single-occupancy of rooms in the fall term, and limiting and assigning the number of students using common restroom facilities. Brown expects to approximately half of its available residential capacity — as it pertains to the number of beds on campus — in the fall term.

Based on epidemiological models developed for our expected campus residence hall population in the fall term, Brown is preparing for approximately 180 quarantine/isolation rooms for students. However, the University expects that the numbers needed are likely to be far less for most of the term. Students who live in private off-campus apartments will be able to isolate in their apartments.

The efforts of dedicated Brown employees are essential for supporting the University’s mission of teaching and scholarship.

Brown’s telecommuting status, which began on March 16, has been extended through August 14. Brown remains open, only essential personnel should report to work in person, and all other employees who can telecommute are expected to do so. All employees will continue to be paid.

The only faculty or staff who should be working on site at their Brown work locations are those whose work has been deemed essential and can only be performed on campus. Faculty require permission from the Office of the Provost, and staff require permission from their managers.

Brown is in the midst of a gradual and controlled resumption of some on-campus activities, which began with approved laboratory-based research. As part of these efforts, Brown has established a COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy intended to manage all work that is authorized to take place on campus in a safe and orderly manner. This policy applies to all faculty, staff and students, and all members of the community are expected to become familiar and comply with it at all times. No member of the community will be able to return to campus, or continue to be on campus in the case of personnel already performing on-site essential work, until they have completed and signed an employee acknowledgement.

For security during this telecommuting period, doors for all Brown buildings will remain locked at all times, accessible only by individuals with existing card or key access.

Additional details, including enhancements to workplace policies to address the impact of COVID-19 (such as paid special leave measures) are available on the Workforce page.

The University will honor the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 during Commencement and Reunion Weekend on Friday, April 30, to Sunday, May 2, 2021. The Class of 2020 will be celebrated in Spring 2020 after their Commencement had to be rescheduled amid the public health crisis surrounding the global pandemic.

The timing for this year’s Commencement is earlier than usual, and this is to accommodate plans for a three-term calendar for the 2020-21 academic year. In light of the need to reduce the number of students on campus to align with distancing and other public health protocols, students will receive instruction in shorter fall, spring and summer terms this academic year, with seniors graduating on a date earlier than usual in the spring.

On this historic weekend, the Reunion 2020 classes (those ending in 0’s and 5’s) and the Reunion 2021 classes (those ending in 1’s and 6’s) will return to campus for a double Commencement and Reunion Weekend. The weekend will feature special events for reunion classes, a traditional Commencement celebration for the Class of 2021, and a uniquely Brown Commencement celebration for the Class of 2020.

This plan assumes that public health conditions will allow large events to safely take place. The University will closely monitor health guidance to adapt this plan if necessary.

The University will continue to update this website as new or updated information is made available. Additional notifications may also be shared through other campus communications channels, such as [email protected], the website and/or social media.

Additional FAQs and Information

More FAQs are being added as they are developed.

Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21

Brown’s “Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21” provides the roadmap for the steps Brown is taking to mitigate the impact of the global pandemic during the phased resumption of on-campus instruction and operations.