Spring Semester Opening Guidance

In the context of the rise in COVID-19 infections in Rhode Island and on campus due to the Omicron variant, Brown has updated its COVID-19 health and safety guidance for the opening of the Spring 2022 semester.

The rise in reported cases of COVID-19 requires a number of changes in Brown’s previous COVID-19 strategy and approach. These changes in health and safety protocols are guided by scientific consensus on the effectiveness of high vaccination rates and mask wearing. While the University may need to make temporary modifications from time to time based on current conditions, there will not be any significant changes to University operations or activities for the opening weeks of the spring semester. This includes maintaining current policies for visitors and guests and travel.

While sections across this Healthy Brown site reflect significant updates to previous protocols, it’s also important to note that guidance on this page supersedes prior guidance on this website that may deviate from the operational details outlined here for the period that Brown continues to respond to the Omicron surge. We will continue to update other areas of this website as University protocols normalize in alignment with the public health situation.

This page describes the following for the opening of the Spring 2022 semester:

  • Scientific consensus guiding Brown’s COVID-19 strategy for the opening of the semester
  • Important changes to asymptomatic testing and testing requirements on campus
  • Changes to isolation policy for all students and employees, and isolation protocols for students
  • Updates to masking requirements, distribution of high-quality KN95 masks and guidance for replacing cloth masks
  • Academic planning and continuity
  • Guidance for providing flexibility for staff related to COVID-19 family care commitments

Scientific Consensus Guiding Brown’s COVID-19 Spring Opening Strategy

As communicated to the campus on Dec. 21, vaccinations plus boosters are very effective at preventing Omicron infections from developing into serious illness. In addition, the emerging scientific evidence indicates that Omicron presents a less serious risk for individuals, and given how widespread it has become, may represent an inflection point in the pandemic as society transitions to managing COVID as we do influenza and other serious respiratory viruses. This includes exercising caution, minimizing contact with others when sick, and taking care of ourselves and others.

The health protocols the University already has in place — requiring vaccinations and boosters for all members of our community unless an exemption is granted, maintaining an indoor mask mandate and following other public health measures — are highly effective at preventing serious illness from Omicron, which health experts have identified as a primary goal.

Omicron is highly transmissible and, like other respiratory viruses, very difficult to contain. Although reported Omicron cases have risen substantially locally and nationwide, the experience on campus and in New England is that for vaccinated and boosted people, the most common presentation continues to be mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Accordingly, Brown’s focus has shifted for the spring semester from counting positive test results as an indicator of campus safety to actions that will further reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization while maintaining our mission of teaching and research as a residential academic community.

Changes in Asymptomatic Testing and Updated Testing Requirements

Brown will end optional PCR testing for vaccinated community members on Friday, Jan. 14, and beginning on Monday, Jan. 17, make rapid antigen test kits and packs of KN95 masks available to all Brown students, faculty (including postdocs) and staff. Employees and students with approved exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination will continue to be required to PCR test twice a week as they currently do, and they continue to receive direct communication regarding these requirements.

Since June 2020, the University has maintained an on-campus routine testing program utilizing PCR testing for asymptomatic people, which has been largely optional for vaccinated community members since early October. While that program has served the campus well, it is clear from emerging data that PCR tests are no longer the best available tool to reduce the risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19 in a largely vaccinated and boosted population such as ours.

PCR tests are designed to detect fragments of viral RNA, and while they are highly effective at doing so, they cannot determine who is actively infected and contagious; who might have transient colonization that never turns into an infection; or who might have been infected and recovered weeks ago. A PCR positive test result for any member of our community on any given date could potentially mean they were infectious many weeks or even months earlier, and does little to help us reduce the risk of serious illness on campus now.

Rapid antigen tests answer the most important question in the Omicron era: “Am I infectious now?” They do so by detecting proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19. While no test is perfect, a positive rapid test result means that the person is very likely infectious at that point and must take steps to isolate themselves from others.

Detailed information about testing requirements and operations starting Jan. 17 are available on the Testing and Tracing pages of this website.

Updated Testing And Tracing Requirements

Isolation Policy for Students, Faculty and Staff

Brown has updated its isolation policy in light of recent guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The University now requires that community members who test positive for COVID-19 self-isolate for a period of five (5) days. The 5-day period applies regardless of previous infection, vaccination or booster status, and the presence or absence of symptoms.

  • To calculate your 5-day isolation period, day 0 is your first day of symptoms OR your asymptomatic positive test date (whichever is earlier).
  • Day 1 is the first full day after your symptoms developed or positive test result.
  • On day 5 you can take a rapid antigen test and if the result is negative and you have no symptoms or improving symptoms, you are released from isolation.
  • If the day-5 test is positive, you must continue to isolate until you have a negative result on a rapid test AND have no or improving symptoms OR reach day 10 (whichever is sooner).
  • If you are able to end isolation on day 5, it is important to wear a well-fitting mask around others for 5 additional days, even at home.

Isolation Protocols for Students

Given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, the University expects to experience periods of significant test positivity in the student community over the coming weeks. Brown’s primary focus, especially during surges in cases, will be on supporting students who test positive and experience significant illness. Brown also will work to provide all students who report positive test results with basic support as needed.

Where students who test positive isolate will depend on their current living arrangements.

  • Undergraduates students who test positive and live on campus in private bedrooms (i.e., a single room, a single within a suite, or as the sole occupant of a double room) will isolate in their residence hall room, as will students who live in shared bedrooms and have roommates who have also tested positive.
  • For students who test positive and share a bedroom with a student who tests negative, designated isolation housing (i.e. dorm rooms set aside by the University or in a hotel) will be a primary option. In these cases, University Health Services will prioritize designated isolation housing based on a number of factors including the severity of symptoms and the ability to move roommates who test negative to alternative housing options.
  • Students who test positive and wish to leave campus to isolate will be able to do so only if they can use a private vehicle to leave campus and travel to their isolation location.
  • Undergraduate, graduate and medical school students who live off campus and test positive will continue to be expected to isolate at their off-campus residence.

Updated Masking Requirements; Replacing Cloth Masks

The transmissibility of the Omicron variant underscores the importance of high-quality masks worn correctly. The KN95 masks the University will be distributing again starting Monday at the testing sites (See the Testing and Tracing section for more details) meet these criteria, and all members of the community should wear KN95 masks (or KF94 masks) or disposable/surgical masks while on-campus. Cloth masks generally do not provide adequate protection unless they are paired with a surgical mask.

Mask fit is important and highly individualized. The masks that the University can procure and provide will not be a perfect fit for every member of the community, but an excellent resource for information about types and sources of masks is the Project N95 nonprofit organization.

Mask wearing remains one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect ourselves and others from virus spread, and mask wearing indoors continues to be required in all Brown University buildings. All members of the community must review and adhere rigorously to the mask wearing requirements.

All who live, work and study at Brown are asked to redouble your efforts to comply with masking requirements, particularly in spaces where students gather less formally for academic work and recreation. These include the University Library, Stephen Robert ‘62 Campus Center, Dining Services, and the Nelson Fitness Center. This is for your safety as well as for that of the employees who provide services in these facilities. Please be respectful of and cooperate with faculty in classrooms, and with staff in these and other settings.

Mask wearing requirements also apply to all visitors and guests as described in our Visitor and Guests Policy.

Academic Planning and Continuity

We continue to believe that in-person instruction is safe, given our highly vaccinated population and compliance with the requirement for wearing masks in academic and other buildings. Our experience during the fall semester — and the experiences of other universities in recent weeks — suggests that the risk of transmission in classroom settings is low. We therefore will adhere to the plan that was communicated before the Winter Break to resume undergraduate and graduate classes in-person on Jan. 26.

We also recognize, of course, that there will be circumstances in which it may be difficult for individual instructors and/or students to participate in-person: instructors or students may become ill or need to isolate following a positive test result or may have increased caregiving responsibilities at home. Provost Richard M. Locke is asking all instructors to take steps to ensure that students are able to access course materials online (for example, through Zoom recordings posted on Canvas or lecture capture if your course is scheduled in a room with that capability) during the early weeks of the semester. Please review Provost Richard M. Locke's Jan. 14 letter to the campus, "Approach to academic instruction this spring," for more detailed information, including sources of support.

Flexibility for Staff

As noted in the University’s Dec. 21 communication, we continue to see disruptions to individual schedules, especially for employees with children. Supervisors have been directed to provide increased flexibility for hybrid and on-site employees to work from home throughout January, when possible, in circumstances where they have to care for family related to COVID-19.

University Human Resources has provided additional guidance to HR Business Partners (HRBPs) to disseminate to supervisors and managers in their areas. If a supervisor is unsure what to do with regard to an employee under your supervision, please be in touch with the HRBP for your area. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Sarah Latham is working with senior officers to ensure contingency plans are in place for critical functions to continue in the event of increased absenteeism due to Omicron.