December 21, 2021
President Christina H. Paxson
Tags Undergraduates Grad and Medical Students Faculty and Staff

To the Brown Community: Planning Around COVID-19 Omicron Variant


Dear Brown Community Members, 

As we prepare for a new year and a new semester during this global pandemic, many members of our community have questions about the University’s plans for the Winter Session and Spring 2022 semester. We are writing to share how data on the emergence of the Omicron variant is guiding the approach we plan to take.

As we explain in more detail below, we do not anticipate any significant changes to University operations or activities in the coming weeks. Information on the Omicron variant indicates that the steps the University is already taking — requiring vaccinations and boosters for all members of our community, and maintaining an indoor mask mandate and following other public health measures — are effective at preventing serious illness, which is our primary goal.

Through the diligence of our community, we are fortunate that we are in a much stronger place than a year ago, when we experienced the first winter coronavirus surge. The combination of vaccinations and boosters and all that we have learned about COVID-19 provide the tools that we need to maintain our core mission of teaching and research while also protecting the health and safety of the Brown community and reducing the chances of severe illness and hospitalization.

We recognize that, in the coming weeks, members of our community may experience disruptions due to school closures or the need to care for ill family members. Accordingly, we are adding additional scope for flexibility in the weeks ahead to help employees manage these issues.

Brown’s Approach Based on Public Health Guidance

From the earliest days of the pandemic, a guiding principle for Brown has been the health and safety of our campus community and the Providence and Rhode Island communities of which we are a part. As we have remained steadfast in our commitment to our community’s well-being, we have adjusted our approach and University response as the coronavirus itself and the public health conditions in which it operates have changed over time. The emergence of the Omicron variant requires that we adjust yet again, and we are writing to explain how we will do so in January 2022 and beyond.

Brown is fortunate to have leading health and medical experts to advise the University as we develop plans. We encourage you to read Dean of the School of Public Health Ashish Jha’s article in The Atlantic earlier this week, which reflects the expert guidance he continues to provide nationally about taking a realistic and measured approach to the new variant. (Dean Jha also appeared on the Today Show earlier this week for those who may have missed his guidance for families anxious about holiday travel.)

Two features of the Omicron variant guide the approach we will take in the new year. The first is that the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants of the virus. We can expect a large number of infections in Rhode Island and across the nation over the next several weeks. Surveillance testing, contact tracing and isolation are unlikely to keep up with, much less stay ahead of, the spread of Omicron. However, masking and social distancing continue to prevent the spread of illness. Especially as we head into the holidays, we urge everyone to take sensible precautions to prevent the spread of illness, including wearing masks when you are around others who may not be vaccinated.

The second important feature of Omicron is that vaccinations plus boosters are very effective at preventing infections from developing into serious illness. Fortunately, we already have close-to-universal vaccination on the Brown campus, and we recently instituted a requirement of receiving a booster no later than Jan. 26, 2022, or within 30 days of becoming eligible. If you have not yet gotten your booster and you are eligible, please get it immediately — do not wait until the deadline. Once you have received your booster, upload your updated vaccination card to provide documentation of compliance. Instructions on how to do so for employees and students can be found on the Verify Your Vaccination page of the Healthy Brown website.

Although boosters are available in drug stores and doctor’s offices, the University has hosted three booster clinics and will host another booster clinic for Brown employees and students on Tuesday, Jan. 11, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Health and Wellness Center Multipurpose Room, 450 Brook St. A Brown ID must be presented upon arrival. Please remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card so that it can be updated with information about your booster dose. Registration will close at noon the day before the clinic or when all appointments have been filled:

Scheduled Reopening Jan. 4, 2022, and Increased Flexibility

Again, given the universal level of vaccination at Brown, and our increasingly boosted campus community, we do not anticipate significant changes to University operations in the coming weeks. The University will reopen as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 4. Classes for students in the Warren Alpert Medical School and the Gateways to Medicine program will start on Jan. 3. Winter Session classes will, as previously planned, be offered remotely. Although we will continue to monitor public health conditions and make necessary adjustments, we currently expect the spring semester to resume in-person with the first day of undergraduate and graduate classes on Wednesday, Jan. 26.

In the weeks ahead, we will likely see disruptions to individual schedules, especially for employees with children. The Winter Break and period between semesters will offer flexibility for families during periods of illness and, possibly, school or daycare closures. There are a variety of options in place for employees who have to care for children and others impacted by COVID-19, including special leave of absence, sick time and vacation to provide care for a dependent or a household member in need of quarantine.

In addition, throughout January 2022, supervisors will be directed to provide increased flexibility for hybrid and on-site employees to work from home, where possible, when necessary due to COVID-19-related family-care commitments. University Human Resources will provide additional guidance to HR Business Partners on this topic in early January.

For almost two years, an unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our campus community has helped shape countless decisions, policies, and planning guidance and has served the Brown community well. Working together, we have been able to persist as a teaching, learning and research community while avoiding severe illness, hospitalization and widespread transmissions of the virus on campus. Yet, in many respects, we understand that the pandemic feels unrelenting, and there has been a real impact on our collective and individual mental health and well-being.

Patience, adherence to reliable and trusted science and public health guidance, and caring for each other as a community are required now more than ever. We are committed to doing so and ask all members of the Brown community to do the same.


Christina H. Paxson, President
Richard M. Locke, Provost
Russell C. Carey, Interim Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy
Eric S. Estes, Vice President for Campus Life