August 28, 2020
Provost Richard M. Locke and Executive VP Barbara Chernow

To Brown Community: COVID-19 Testing Pilot Results (08/28)

Updates

More than two months ago, we launched the pilot phase of a routine COVID-19 testing program, starting with all graduate students, faculty and staff designated as essential on-site and essential-special for conducting work on campus. Today, we write to share key takeaways from the pilot, which have helped inform our approach for the academic year on everything from the testing process and contact tracing protocols to how we will keep the community informed of confirmed cases and COVID-19 prevalence on campus.

As Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21 outlines in detail, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing will be among the most essential elements of Brown’s plans to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. We know that like any campus or community, we can expect to see diagnosed cases at Brown until a vaccine is made widely available — this fact is the very basis for many of the specific measures outlined in our academic year plan.

Over the course of our summer pilot, which began in June, we received results for nearly 3,100 routine tests. Based on those reports — as well as the results of tests conducted independently away from campus and self-reported to the University by students or employees — we are aware of less than five positive test results in total. As is customary when cases number between one and five, we are sharing this range to protect confidentiality. We have taken action in response to the positive case(s) in line with our contact tracing protocols, COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, isolation and quarantine procedures, and other measures outlined in our 2020-21 plan.

The experiences and feedback of those tested in the summer pilot have informed the development of our routine testing and tracing protocols, which began this week as we prepare for the coming academic year. Together with Verily, our third-party COVID-19 testing vendor, we have worked hard to improve the test scheduling process, speed up turnaround times for test results, strengthen the process for delivering test results to participants, and refine the approach to the web-based screening survey through which participants report symptoms.

Throughout the pilot, we have continuously evaluated tests that are accurate and reliable and labs that can provide fast turnaround of test results. This fall, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will process our tests. The Broad Institute has processed tests for many New England colleges and universities since late spring and has demonstrated that it is able to return results in a timely manner. The Broad test is a self-administered (under supervision) anterior nasal swab, which is easier and significantly less uncomfortable than the mid-turbinate nasal swab the University used for most of its summer pilot. CDC guidance indicates that the two testing techniques are comparable in accuracy. We will continue to monitor developments in testing technology and assess new options as they become available.

Moving forward, routine testing of all members of the Brown community who plan to work and study on campus, as well as undergraduate students who live on campus or in Providence during the academic year, will be mandatory. By the end of this week, all community members subject to mandatory testing will have received an email prompting them to schedule an initial baseline test in late August, early September or the point at which they come to campus. Those who undergo testing will also be required to respond to regular symptom tracking surveys.

Routine testing for the fall term will happen at two locations, with the majority of asymptomatic tests taking place at the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center (OMAC) and a secondary site at One Davol Square. Adhering to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practices for patient safety in indoor testing locations, the OMAC site is a very large venue with ample ventilation and space required for social distancing. Additionally, the space allows for collection areas to be physically separated and partitioned for both privacy and distance.

While we do not have plans to publicly report individual positive tests, we are committed to keeping the community informed of confirmed cases and COVID-19 prevalence on campus. We plan to report aggregate data at regular intervals over the course of the academic year via a public dashboard on the Healthy Brown website.

We deeply appreciate the assistance and cooperation of everyone who participated in the summer testing pilot, and we hope that you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe this fall.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Locke
Provost

Barbara Chernow
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration