January 8, 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: 12/16/20 - 01/06/21


Dear Brown Community Members,

Welcome to the spring term of the 2020-21 academic year, and a special welcome to the new and returning students who are joining us on campus this weekend. As we enter the Quiet Period to begin the term, we encourage those who are on campus for the first time this year to rely on the guidance available on https://healthy.brown.edu and the experience of and support from students, faculty and staff who were here in the fall. The routines of mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, COVID-19 testing and other important public health practices will help to ensure that the spring term is as successful as the fall. We look forward to continuing to work together to keep the campus — and the Providence community of which we are a part — healthy and safe.

Each week we publish this update on Brown’s testing program for COVID-19, with additional information and context to complement the data shared via our public dashboard:


The weekly updates typically cover the previous week (Thursday through Wednesday). This particular update will cover the three weeks that have elapsed since our final update of the fall term on Dec. 18. Our hope is that in tandem with the COVID-19 dashboard, these updates will provide useful information to the Brown community.

Prior to reviewing the data from the past three weeks, please read carefully the following overall update:

COVID-19 vaccinations began in Rhode Island last month. Priorities for vaccination are determined by the Rhode Island Department of Health with advice from experts, including Brown faculty members. Some members of the Brown community — including first responders, health care workers, medical students in clinical rotations — are eligible in Phase 1 of the state’s vaccination program and are receiving information about how to register. We strongly encourage all community members who are eligible to take advantage of the vaccination program as soon as possible. We are in the process of developing mechanisms for students, faculty and staff who receive the vaccine to notify us that they have done so, and more information about how to do so will follow soon. Widespread distribution of the vaccine will take some time, and all current policies regarding access to campus and mandatory participation in the University’s routine testing program will remain in place until further notice, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. More information about the state’s vaccine distribution plan can be found here:


At Brown, since launching our routine testing program for the fall term on Aug. 24, we have conducted 162,295 asymptomatic tests to date. A total of 7,784 individuals have been tested in that timeframe, and the total number of positive test results is 239 (up 41 from the Dec. 18 update) — a prevalence rate of 3.0%.

Here are highlights of the testing program over the last three weeks, Thursday, Dec. 17, through Wednesday, Jan. 6 or, where specified, the past week:

-- There have been 41 positive asymptomatic test results: 29 from employees, 1 from on-campus students and 11 from off-campus students. As a reminder, our student testing program includes undergraduate, graduate and medical students.

-- Over the past week (with lower than normal testing volume given the Winter Break), the employee asymptomatic positivity rate was 1.03%, and the student asymptomatic positivity rate was 0.36%. The Rhode Island positivity rate during this same time period was 8.24%.

-- The average turnaround time for asymptomatic test results during this period was 29 hours.

-- Over the three-week period, University Health Services conducted 26 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 10.

-- 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