March 26, 2021
Russell Carey, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy
Tags Undergraduates Grad and Medical Students Faculty and Staff

To the Brown Community: COVID-19 Testing Update: 03/18/21 - 03/24/21


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 will see below, we are seeing a troubling increase in Brown community members -- primarily undergraduate students -- testing positive for the virus, both in asymptomatic and symptomatic testing. As has been the case previously during the year when positivity rates have increased, there is no single cause or source -- it is a combination of many individual decisions and behaviors, largely in unstructured and social settings, that can enable the virus to spread. To be clear, we are not seeing any indication of spread occurring in classrooms, laboratories, libraries, work locations or University-hosted events. We believe students are being exposed to the virus largely in informal settings and social gatherings where they let down their guard and do one or more of the following: not wearing a mask with people outside their immediate pod or household; forgetting to wash hands frequently; eating too close to other people; having too many social contacts -- these are individual choices that can seem harmless at the time, but can have a significant impact on individuals and on the community as a whole.

We are locally and nationally in a race between the distribution and positive impact of the COVID-19 vaccine, the presence and virulence of variants, and individual choices and behavior. All of us can contribute to winning that race by getting the vaccine as soon as we are eligible to do so, moderating our behavior by following the public health guidance that is so familiar by now and preventing the spread of COVID-19 within and outside our community.

With regard to vaccinations, the State of Rhode Island has launched a Vaccine Interest Notification List. If you live, work or study in Rhode Island, you can get the vaccine here when your age group becomes eligible. Register at

Once you have received any COVID-19 vaccine, if you have been exposed to COVID-19 or travel to Rhode Island from out-of-state, you do not need to quarantine if you meet all of the following criteria: you received, at least 14 days before your last exposure or out-of-state travel, a final vaccine dose that is either FDA-approved or received an Emergency Use Authorization; it has been less than 90 days since your final vaccine dose; and you haven’t had symptoms of COVID-19 since your last exposure or out-of-state travel.

At Brown, since launching our routine testing program for the fall term on Aug. 24, we have conducted 314,250 asymptomatic tests to date. A total of 10,566 individuals have been tested in that timeframe, and the total number of positive test results is 499 (up 33 this week from a total of 466 last week) -- a prevalence rate of 4.7%.

Here are highlights of the testing program over the last seven days, Thursday, March 18, through Wednesday, March 24:

-- There have been 33 positive asymptomatic test results: 4 from employees, 17 from on-campus students and 12 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 0.13%, and the student asymptomatic positivity rate was 0.25%. The Rhode Island positivity rate during this same time period was 2.50%.

-- The average turnaround time for asymptomatic test results during this period was 17 hours.

-- University Health Services (UHS) conducted 38 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 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 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