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Most students support randomized COVID-19 testing, technology-enabled contact tracing for 2020-21 academic year

Students support for routine testing, contact tracing in on-campus scenarios, key findings of survey results show

Most University undergraduate students expressed strong support for randomized COVID-19 testing and technology-enabled contact tracing in any on-campus scenarios for the upcoming academic year, according to the results of the Undergraduate Student Preferences Survey on 2020-21 Academic Year Scenarios.

Sent to all returning undergraduate students May 17, the survey garnered an 84 percent response rate, accruing 4,475 responses. Another 1,234 incoming first-year students — 70 percent — also gave responses.

The survey was developed to “gather information to guide and refine Brown’s plans for the fall in conjunction with a wide variety of additional factors, data points and considerations,” Provost Richard Locke P’18 wrote in a June 18 Today@Brown announcement regarding the key findings from the survey. 

The University is still considering three options for the 2020-21 academic year: a tri-semester model in which students would enroll in two semesters out of the three offered; an entirely remote fall with a decision about the spring semester to be made during the fall; or a normal academic calendar allowing all students to return to campus — an “optimistic scenario that is largely dependent on broader progress in testing and treatment,” Locke wrote. 

“Student preferences will serve as one factor in the complex effort to develop solutions that protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the extended community, while maximizing teaching, learning and research operations to the greatest extent possible,” he wrote.

President Christina Paxson P’19 has committed to sharing an official decision on the University’s plans for the fall by July 15, The Herald previously reported.

For scenarios including an on-campus component, the University plans to conduct “surveillance testing” of COVID-19 to monitor any changes in the rate of infection on campus, according to the key findings report. This would include testing of several hundred randomly selected students each week.

On tracking the spread of the virus, Paxson previously indicated that the University would also pursue testing of all students and employees upon their return to campus and testing for all symptomatic students and employees throughout the year.

A full 88 percent of student survey respondents said that they believe random testing is “extremely” or “very important,” with just 10 percent believing random testing is “somewhat important” and only two percent saying it is “not important.” Nearly all respondents — 95 percent — said they would be willing to be tested if asked. 

Most students also expressed support for “technology-enabled contact tracing,” which would require the installation of a mobile app that would alert students if they had been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and track those with whom students have been in contact in case they test positive. 

Over three quarters — 76 percent — of students said that it is “extremely” or “very” important to “make this technology available to all students, faculty and staff,” and 78 percent of students said they would be willing to install contact tracing technology on their mobile devices. 

Beginning this summer, the University has contracted with life sciences and health care company Verily to “test all essential on-site and essential-special graduate students, faculty and staff” in a routine testing pilot program, Locke and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow ’79 wrote in a June 14 Today@Brown announcement.

“We anticipate that what we learn from this summer pilot will provide essential information that helps to inform our public health testing strategy for the coming academic year,” they wrote. 



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