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News, University News

Brown sees highest number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases in single week. Administrators ‘watching it carefully’

VP Carey believes desire to return home for Thanksgiving break will encourage continued vigilance from students

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2020

The University saw its greatest number of COVID-19 cases in a single week so far during the week of Nov. 8, with a total of 26 cases reported from the asymptomatic testing program.

Brown saw its greatest number of COVID-19 cases in a single week so far during the week starting Nov. 8, with a total of 26 cases reported from the asymptomatic testing program. With this increase from 17 positive asymptomatic test results the week of Nov. 1, administrators hope that students will take more caution as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

“I would describe our level of concern as: We’re watching it carefully,” Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 told The Herald, explaining that the University is monitoring the situation to observe any community spread. Most of this past week’s cases were employees and students living off campus in Providence, he added.

From Nov. 5 to Nov. 11, 49 symptomatic tests of students were performed. Of those tests, roughly six came back positive for COVID-19, Carey said. Symptomatic testing for undergraduate students who are exhibiting possible symptoms of the virus is performed by University Health Services separately from the testing programs held at the OMAC and Jewelry District site.

The relative rise in cases on campus reflects what’s happening in the Providence community at large, “but at a much lower positivity rate,” Carey said. 

Compared to city- and state-wide rates, Carey noted that the positivity rate of testing on campus is “still really low.” 

As of Nov. 15, Brown’s seven day asymptomatic test positivity rate is 0.2 percent while Rhode Island’s positivity rate in the same time frame is 5.8 percent.

Carey noted that the University is not seeing cases spread “from one pod to another” nor cases connected to specific gatherings or academic activities. “We’ve had a couple instances where people in the same pod are infected,” he said, “but that’s to be expected.”

“We recognize that everybody’s tired of having to deal with this and that shows in people’s individual behaviors … regionally and nationally,” Carey said. Still, he urged community members to continue safe practices including mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

With Thanksgiving approaching, these precautions are especially important. In an October email Carey sent to undergraduate students and families, he wrote that “if you test positive for COVID-19 in the two weeks before the Thanksgiving break or are exposed to someone who tests positive, you will be required to isolate or quarantine and will not be allowed to travel.”

In a typical year, many students would leave for and return from Thanksgiving break on their own schedules. This year, however, students were asked to share their travel plans and dates to the University. 

If students leave campus for Thanksgiving, “the expectation is that … they are not to come back,” Carey said. The University will also require anyone who remains in Providence to continue enrollment in its testing program. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing will continue beyond Thanksgiving and into winter break. 

A variety of support services will also continue alongside COVID-19 testing, including public safety, dining, health services, student support services and administrator on call, Carey said. 

If students leave Providence for Thanksgiving break and return, it “would be a violation of the commitment form that people have signed,” Carey said.

Carey likened the expectation that students will be truthful in their intentions to leave campus and not return — and the repercussions if they are not — to the University’s previous communications with students who had “classified themselves as remote” but continued to reside in Providence. “We clarified with them that that’s not what remote means, and they came into the testing program,” he said. 

“The expectations that students have taken on have been very clear and the vast majority have been living up to those very well,” he said. “I’d expect that to continue.”

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