January 21, 2022
Andrew G. Campbell, Dean of the Graduate School
Tags Grad and Medical Students

To Graduate Students: Spring Instruction and Testing for Graduate Students


Dear Graduate Students,

I hope you are doing well and are looking forward to the start of the spring semester. This message is a follow up to recent communications regarding COVID-19 testing and academic instruction for the spring semester and responds to questions shared by some graduate students in recent days. This message responds to questions regarding in-person instruction, rapid antigen testing and University reporting of positive test results, as well as providing links to videos and other resources outlining the public health basis for Brown’s approach to spring opening.

In-Person Instruction

We have offered instructors a range of flexible options for their approach to teaching as we open the new term. As was announced in the provost’s January 19 message, instructors may choose to teach their class sessions remotely for the first week of the spring semester, Wednesday, Jan. 26, through Tuesday, Feb. 1, among other alternatives they may choose for managing attendance in their classes. The option to teach remotely is intended to help manage classroom density during the first week of the semester

We encourage all graduate students to review the FAQs related to teaching this spring. We recognize that instructors — both faculty and graduate students — may have to be absent in order to deal with personal or family situations over the course of the semester, including if they or their dependents test positive for COVID-19. Instructors should exercise their best judgment and follow the advice of their health care provider, even if that means staying home for a period of time. Additional guidance on managing potential absences as instructors is provided on the Healthy Brown website.

In addition, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to watch this video from Dean of the School of Public Health, Ashish Jha, which articulates why we believe in-person instruction is safe given Brown’s nearly universal campus vaccination rates, booster mandate, indoor masking requirements, and continuing testing program. You are also welcome to view the recording from the town hall on Friday, Jan. 14 in which Dean Jha also spoke about the current situation with the Omicron variant (he starts speaking at the 5:15 mark), and which also features University administrators discussing the basis for decisions about testing protocols for the spring.

As a reminder, a number of resources for in-person and remote instruction were shared in the University’s Jan. 14 message to the campus on academic instruction for the spring semester.

Rapid Antigen Testing

As you know, Brown began distributing rapid antigen test kits and packs of KN95 masks on Monday that are available to Brown students, faculty and staff.

While our prior PCR testing program served the campus well, it is clear from public health data that PCR tests are no longer the best available tool to reduce the risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19 in a largely vaccinated and boosted population such as ours. The University made the transition to rapid antigen tests based on the advice of our public health and medical experts. In fact, the CDC recommends against doing routine, asymptomatic testing in a vaccinated population. To emphasize the salient considerations:

  • PCR tests are designed to detect fragments of viral RNA, and while they are highly effective at doing so, they cannot determine who is actively infected and contagious; who might have transient colonization that never turns into an infection; or who might have been infected and recovered weeks ago. A PCR positive test result for any member of our community on any given date could potentially mean they were infectious many weeks or even months earlier, and does little to help us reduce the risk of serious illness on campus now.
  • Rapid antigen tests answer the most important question in the Omicron era: “Am I infectious now?” The rapid antigen tests are extremely sensitive in determining if you are currently infectious. They do so by detecting proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19. As reference, please see a recent study from the University of California San Francisco, citing a 95% accuracy rate in infectious individuals. While no test is perfect, a positive rapid test result means that the person is very likely infectious at that point and must take steps to isolate themselves from others.

We continue to emphasize that testing of any type is not a substitute for monitoring and paying attention to the onset and development of symptoms. All Brown community members must stay home from work, class and/or other University events and functions if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Brown has procured ample rapid antigen tests and began distributing them on Monday, Jan. 17, at the Alumnae Hall and One Davol Square testing sites. You can find more information on hours and locations on the Healthy Brown website. The University has maintained a full supply all week and is prepared for further distribution of tests in coming weeks. While some graduate students have suggested that the University ran out of tests on Monday, this is simply not correct.

For our very small unvaccinated population (those who have received exemptions from the vaccination requirement), we continue to require PCR testing twice per week as part of an integrated reporting program, as we have since August 2021. Continuing this limited PCR testing program offers a structured — and uninterrupted — means of identifying coronavirus in the unvaccinated, whether or not symptoms are present. This allows the University to monitor for testing compliance and detect COVID-19 in this population as early as possible before they are symptomatic. Continuing the PCR testing and compliance program that we have maintained for the unvaccinated since the summer is one of many measures we have taken to safeguard the health of our campus community and is based on the advice of our medical experts.

The University will share information on positive test results and other campus public health conditions with the community through reinstated weekly Today@Brown COVID-19 updates, as explained in the University’s Jan. 12 message on spring semester opening. The first of these messages in advance of the spring semester was distributed today, Friday, Jan. 21.

Please see the Testing and Tracing section of the Healthy Brown website for additional information. Should you have concerns about any of the guidance shared to date, please do not hesitate to contact the Graduate School at graduate_school@brown.edu.


Andrew G. Campbell
Dean of the Graduate School
Professor of Medical Science
Molecular Microbiology & Immunology