July 15, 2020
Provost Richard M. Locke and Executive VP Barbara Chernow

To Brown Community: Update on COVID-19 Routine Testing Pilot (07/15)

Updates

One month ago, we launched the pilot phase of a routine COVID-19 testing program on campus, starting with all graduate students, faculty and staff designated as essential on-site and essential-special for conducting work on campus. Today, we write to provide a brief update on the pilot, which has offered early insights that will inform our approach for the academic year on everything from the testing process to contact tracing protocols to how we keep the community informed of confirmed cases and COVID-19 prevalence on campus.

As Brown’s Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21 outlines in detail, COVID-19 testing and contract tracing will be among the most essential elements of Brown’s plans to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. We know that like any campus or community, we can expect to see diagnosed cases at Brown until a vaccine is made widely available — this fact is the very basis for many of the specific measures outlined in our academic year plan.

As we continue to test graduate students, faculty and staff this week, we have to date received results for nearly 1,200 routine tests. Based on those reports — as well as the results of tests conducted independently away from campus and self-reported to the University by students or employees — we are aware of fewer than five positive test results in total. As is customary when cases number between one and five, we are sharing this range to protect confidentiality. We have taken action in response to the positive case(s) in line with our contract tracing protocols, COVID-19 Workplace Safety Policy, isolation and quarantine procedures, and other measures outlined in the Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21.

The experiences of those tested to date, the feedback that students and employees have provided, and what we have learned through the notification of the positive test case(s) is shaping our ongoing work to refine and improve our testing approach. Among the areas of focus, we are working to improve the test scheduling process, speed turnaround times for test results, strengthen the process for delivering test results to participants, and refine the approach to the web-based screening survey through which participants report symptoms. Everything we learn from this summer pilot is providing information and lessons that will inform our public health testing strategy for the academic year.

Among the plans we continue to develop for 2020-21 is the best approach to keeping the Brown community informed about positive COVID-19 test results on campus (as a complement to the specific notifications that will be made through our contact tracing protocols to those with exposure risk). As we have shared previously, routine testing will be a critical tool in monitoring for community spread of coronavirus, identifying the proportion of asymptomatic positive cases and identifying the proportion of community members with potential immunity to the disease over time.

While we do not have plans to publicly report individual positive tests, we are committed to keeping the community informed of prevalence on campus. With the fall term approaching, Brown is currently in the early stage of exploring mechanisms to present overall data on COVID-19 prevalence, which can be used to measure community spread and to shape and adjust plans throughout the academic year. In the coming weeks, we expect to share additional details on how we’ll report data at regular intervals over the course of the academic year.

We will also keep the community informed as the pilot testing program progresses, and as researchers and other community members at Brown are approved to gradually resume activity on campus this summer. We deeply appreciate the assistance and cooperation of everyone who has participated in this initial stage of the summer testing pilot. And we hope that you are your loved ones remain healthy and safe.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Locke
Provost

Barbara Chernow
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration