Dear Brown Community Members,
With the spring semester now in full swing and increasing optimism among health and medicine experts about COVID-19’s impact in the months ahead, we appreciate the continued diligence of students and employees in adhering to mask requirements and other public health measures and reporting instances of positive test results. While we do report below an increase in students reporting positive tests over the last week — something we’ve expected to see given the transmissibility of Omicron locally and nationally — we are reassured by the fact that the underlying public health conditions remain the same as earlier weeks in the semester: individuals are generally reporting mild or no symptoms, there have been no reported instances of severe illness or hospitalization, and there is no indication of widespread transmission on campus. There have been few positive tests among faculty and staff, and we’ve seen no significant evidence of transmission in classroom settings. All of this is consistent with what we expected given that the Brown campus community is highly vaccinated — to date, 96% of all undergraduate, graduate and medical students have documented their compliance with Brown’s COVID-19 booster requirement, and we will report on employee compliance in future updates.
In total, students reported 361 positive test results in the past week, and we received 10 reports of positive test results from faculty and staff. While the student results represent a substantial increase over the prior two weeks, it is important to emphasize that given Omicron’s high transmissibility but generally milder impact on health, positive test results are no longer the best indicator of campus safety. While we continue to monitor the level of positivity closely among a variety of other factors, our focus is on actions that further reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization.
There are a number of important announcements and context to provide this week:
-- Continued availability of rapid antigen tests: We had previously announced that community members can pick-up two (2) rapid antigen tests each week through the week of Monday, Feb. 14. We are announcing today that we will continue to make available two (2) rapid antigen tests each week through spring recess (the week of Monday, March 28). We will assess public health conditions at that time and make a determination about further availability.
-- Importance of indoor mask wearing: As members of the community are aware, many states, including Rhode Island, have made recent announcements regarding loosening or eliminating indoor mask wearing requirements. We are not yet at that point on the Brown campus and the mask wearing requirements on the Campus Activity Status page of the healthy.brown.edu website remain fully in effect. Mask wearing is a simple and effective method of protecting ourselves and others and all community members must adhere to the requirements at all times. Please respect and support the staff, including student employees, in venues like the campus center, libraries, dining halls and fitness center, who ask you to comply with the mask wearing policy — it is important for your health and safety and others.
-- Departmental events with food: On Jan. 14, we had advised departments to avoid indoor events in which attendees will need to be unmasked for extended periods of time, including group meals, through Wednesday, Feb. 9. Now that we are past that date, departments can resume those activities, including group meals with job candidates in recruiting activities. We do advise continued prudence and common sense with regard to such activities and taking steps to minimize the time of close contact indoors without masks while actively eating or drinking.
-- Context regarding employee absenteeism: Each week we report employee absences due to COVID-19, which can be for a range of reasons. It is important to note that these numbers represent employee absences reported to University Human Resources and do not necessarily reflect all of the disruptions currently impacting faculty and staff due to K-12 school closures and remote learning, care for a family member, or other challenges to daily routines. In addition to the overall employee absence numbers, we also carefully monitor staffing levels in critical operations like dining, facilities and public safety on a daily basis, and we are grateful for the dedication of staff in those areas providing essential care and support to students. As cases continue to decrease in Rhode Island, we anticipate the level of disruption to schedules and routines will also decline, but we did want to acknowledge that these have been challenging weeks for staff and faculty on many levels.
In regard to test results reported to the University over the last week: From Thursday, Feb. 3, through Wednesday, Feb. 9, 361 students reported positive test results (up 234 from a corrected total of 127 last week). Approximately 196 students are currently in isolation in on-campus or in designated isolation housing off-campus (note that the number of students who report positive tests results and the number in isolation will not be the same each week, as students may isolate in their off-campus apartments or at home if they live nearby, and the isolation numbers fluctuate as students begin and end their respective isolation periods). In the same timeframe, 10 employees reported testing positive (down 21 from last week). We also monitor employee absences due to COVID-19 — which can be for a range of reasons, including care of a child or family member or quarantine due to a known exposure — and the number of such absences for the most recent full work week was 7.
As noted above, Brown community members can continue to pick-up two (2) rapid antigen tests each week. Through Wednesday, Feb. 9, we have distributed 21,941 test kits. Operating hours for the test kit pick-up sites can be found on the testing page of the Healthy Brown website:
If you are visiting the test pick-up sites for additional tests and you have already taken a pack of ten (10) KN95 masks, please leave the masks for others. The bag of masks you have already received is sufficient for most people for about a month.
As previously communicated, rapid antigen tests are becoming increasingly available from the federal government supply as well. Insurance companies are now reimbursing the costs of tests, and tests will be available in the coming weeks at pharmacies and other locations with no out-of-pocket expense. Tests can also be ordered directly at https://www.covidtests.gov/. We encourage all members of the community to take advantage of these resources. Information for employees regarding options through participating insurance carriers can be found on the University Human Resources benefits page:
And information for students participating in the student health insurance plan can be found on the United Healthcare Student Resources website (see the Feb. 9, 2022, updated titled “COVID-19 Home Test Member Reimbursement):
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. For questions or support regarding the testing program, students can contact the student testing support team (email@example.com), and faculty and staff can contact the employee testing support team (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Russell C. Carey
Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy