March 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: 02/25/21 - 03/03/21


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:

As you likely are aware from last Friday’s update and you will read below, we have seen a recent increase in student positivity rates. While we feel this increase is manageable, we did want to provide the community with additional context and notes of caution.

Prior to this recent uptick, we had a period of eight days -- Feb. 11 to Feb. 18 -- with zero positive test results among students. That was an unusual stretch and we believe that it, along with the declining positivity rate in Rhode Island, may have led some members of the community to let down their guard. As noted in last week’s update, we received reports of some student gatherings over the long weekend of Feb. 13 to 16, and about a week later we saw a marked increase in student positive test results, including 14 on Feb. 23 and 24 on Feb. 24. Since then, however, the daily numbers of positives have declined or remained flat day over day. We have had very few employee positive test results over the past several weeks, and even with the increases among students the student positivity rate has remained at less than half a percent. 

In addition, some of the positive results are from students in quarantine. When students are identified as having been a contact with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms, they are placed in quarantine for 10 days and tested on day 5 and day 8. We would expect some of those students to test positive, and some have, but by definition they are not exposing anyone else while they are in quarantine and therefore not spreading illness on campus. That, combined with the fact that we are testing all undergraduate students twice a week (and our testing compliance among all members of the community authorized to be on campus is excellent), contributes to our confidence that we can safely manage an increase such as what we saw last week. Of course, we monitor all of the data and our experience on-campus on a daily basis, and we remain prepared to make adjustments as needed. 

With regard to reports of gatherings, I would note that those and all reports of alleged violations of the Student Commitment to COVID-19 Community Health and Safety Requirements are followed-up on by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and where violations are found to have occurred, students are held accountable.

All of that being said, it is critically important that none of us become complacent. Routine testing, mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick remain our best defenses against the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in the surrounding community. As vaccine distribution picks up speed in Rhode Island and across the country, we know that we can all see better times ahead, but we have to remain vigilant about our individual and collective health and safety until we get there.

Last week, 1 additional positive result was received after the summary update was completed, so the corrected number of asymptomatic positive test results for the week of Feb. 18 to Feb. 24 was 45 — 5 employees, 16 on-campus students and 24 off-campus students.

At Brown, since launching our routine testing program for the fall term on Aug. 24, we have conducted 269,935 asymptomatic tests to date. A total of 10,462 individuals have been tested in that timeframe, and the total number of positive test results is 422 (up 34 this week from a corrected total of 388 last week) — a prevalence rate of 4.0%.

Here are highlights of the testing program over the last seven days, Thursday, Feb. 25, through Wednesday, Mar. 3:

-- There have been 34 positive asymptomatic test results, 2 from employees, 18 from on-campus students and 14 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 0.06%, and the student asymptomatic positivity rate was 0.27%. The Rhode Island positivity rate during this same time period was 2.45%.

-- The average turnaround time for asymptomatic test results during this period was 24 hours.

-- University Health Services conducted 64 symptomatic tests of students. Of these, between 10 and 15 were 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 6.

-- 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 to make that change. Faculty and staff can email 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,, and faculty and staff can contact the employee testing support team (401-368-4828, 


Russell C. Carey
Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy