February 5, 2021
Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey
Tags Undergraduates Grad and Medical Students Faculty and Staff

To the Brown Community: COVID-19 Testing Update: 01/28/21 - 02/03/21


Dear Brown Community Members,

Below, please find our weekly update on Brown’s testing program for COVID-19, with additional information and context to complement the data shared via our public dashboard:


Prior to reviewing the data from the past week, please read carefully the following overall updates, including an important policy change regarding quarantine detailed in the first bullet:

-- In December 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Rhode Island Department of Health issued guidance allowing for the reduced duration of quarantine periods for individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. At that time, we announced that we would maintain the University’s policy of a 14-day quarantine period and that we would reassess that policy at the end of January. We have now concluded that assessment, which included an examination of the latest medical guidance and a review of our experience at Brown with student testing in quarantine. Based on the assessment, we have determined that effective Feb. 4, 2021, the University will require students, faculty and staff who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine for a period of 10 days from the date of last known exposure. At the end of the 10-day period, if the individual has no symptoms of COVID-19, they will be allowed to resume normal activities on campus, including routine asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. All policies and guidance related to quarantine on campus will be updated to reflect this decision.

-- We have received a number of questions regarding indeterminate test results. An indeterminate generally occurs when the sample collected is unsuitable for processing. It does not necessarily mean that the person being tested is any more or less likely to be positive for COVID-19. The most common reason for indeterminates we have seen at Brown are samples that are too viscous to process. This most often happens when the patient does not effectively blow their nose before collecting the sample, resulting in excessive mucus on the swab.The Broad Institute, the laboratory that processes all of our test samples, has reported higher rates of indeterminates across many institutions in the winter months, potentially due to colder weather. Over the past two weeks, the seven-day average indeterminate rate at Brown has been just below 4% for students and just below 3% for employees, which is higher than what we saw in the fall. We recommend that you blow your nose well, immediately before swabbing, and then slowly rotate the swab in a circular path against the inside of your nostril at least 4 times for a total of 15 seconds in each nostril. More information from the CDC about how to collect an anterior nasal swab sample can be found here:


-- As you will see below, the metrics on campus are generally headed in the right direction. While we should all be grateful for that, it is critical that we continue to follow the COVID-19 campus safety policy and all public health guidance to maintain this progress. It is especially important to wear your mask, wash your hands, maintain social distancing and in particular please keep your close contacts to as small a group as possible.

-- Last week, 4 additional positive results were received after the summary update was completed, so the corrected number of asymptomatic positive test results for the week of Jan. 21 to Jan. 27 was 34 — 9 employees, 12 on-campus students and 13 off-campus students.

At Brown, since launching our routine testing program for the fall term on Aug. 24, we have conducted 212,781 asymptomatic tests to date. A total of 10,278 individuals have been tested in that timeframe, and the total number of positive test results is 348 (up 13 this week from a corrected total of 335 last week) — a prevalence rate of 3.4%.

Here are highlights of the testing program over the last seven days, Thursday, Jan. 28, through Wednesday, Feb. 3:

-- There have been 13 positive asymptomatic test results: 3 from employees, 4 from on-campus students and 6 from off-campus students. As a reminder, our student testing program includes undergraduate, graduate and medical students.

-- Over the past week, the employee asymptomatic positivity rate was 0.08%, and the student asymptomatic positivity rate was 0.09%. The Rhode Island positivity rate during this same time period was 3.65%.

-- The average turnaround time for asymptomatic test results during this period was 23 hours.

-- University Health Services conducted 22 symptomatic tests of students. Of these, less than 5 have been positive for COVID-19. Exact results for symptomatic students who are tested by UHS are not reported (and do not appear on the public dashboard) to protect the confidentiality of the small numbers of students who are tested. We will report on ranges and any concerns regarding trends in these weekly summaries. 

-- The University does not directly test symptomatic employees, as they receive health care from their individual providers. We do 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 11.

-- It is important to note that with regard to all positive cases, we have taken action consistent with our contact tracing protocols, COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, isolation and quarantine procedures, and other measures outlined in Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21.

As a reminder, if you are currently being tested once a week and would like to change to twice a week, you are welcome to do so. Students can email studenttesting@brown.edu to make that change. Faculty and staff can email employeetestinguhr@brown.edu for guidance on how to increase their testing frequency.

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 (401-863-6500, studenttesting@brown.edu), and faculty and staff can contact the employee testing support team (401-368-4828, employeetestinguhr@brown.edu). 


Russell C. Carey
Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy