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Brown urges students to be cautious as Providence College sees spike in COVID-19 cases

Brown administrators ask the community to maintain small pods of trusted friends

In the last seven days, Brown administered 10,000 COVID-19 asymptomatic tests to students and faculty with no confirmed positive cases among students. In total, Brown has announced 16 asymptomatic positive cases since Aug. 24. 

But, less than three miles away, students at the private Catholic school Providence College have entered a strict stay-at-home directive amid a spike in cases, according to Providence College Associate Vice President Steven Maurano, with 202 total positive cases as of Sept. 28.

While Brown is currently seeing low positive test rates, it has yet to move beyond Campus Activity Status Level 1, which restricts some student activity, or start in-person classes, and administrators are looking to the college across the river as a lesson to University students.

Once sickness starts, you can't stop it from spreading,” said a Providence College student who requested anonymity due to fear of potential personal repercussions. “It just started snowballing.”

She believes the college has done a good job testing the student body and enforcing social distancing, but it’s difficult to trust so many off-campus students to follow social distancing rules, the student said. According to Maurano, 993 students, about 100 to 200 more than a typical year for Providence College, are living off-campus this semester.

“A clear lesson from the opening of the academic year across the country is that a few seemingly small choices by individuals can very quickly have negative impacts on hundreds and thousands of people,” Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Eric Estes wrote in a campus-wide email Sept. 18. 

President Christina Paxson P’19 urged continued caution in an email to undergraduates last Thursday. The lesson from Providence College, she wrote, “is to create small pods of trusted friends who commit to socializing only with each other.”

The Providence College outbreak was not set in motion by a few large parties, she wrote. “Instead, the problem is that students weren’t keeping their social contacts limited to small, stable groups.” 

The surge in COVID-19 cases prompted three Rhode Island legislators to email President of Providence College Rev. Kenneth Sicard, calling on the college to “transition to remote learning for the rest of the 2020 Semester” to avoid spread to the surrounding communities, according to the email obtained by The Herald.

“These are diverse communities with minority-owned small businesses, working families, senior citizens, children and young adults,” State Senator Sam Bell (D-Providence), State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Providence) and State Representative-Elect David Morales (D-Mt. Pleasant, Valley, Elmhurst) wrote in the email.

Since students came to campus in late August, Providence College has tested the entire student body three times, Maurano wrote in an email to The Herald. Brown has required all undergraduates to be tested twice a week once they returned to campus, which  has been a large expense and contributed to Brown's growing deficit

A recent email to the Providence College community announced that the administrators plan on maintaining the stay-at-home directive until at least Oct. 3.

While the stay-at-home orders are in effect, off-campus students must stay on their property and keep in-person interactions limited to their roommates, according to the school’s website. On-campus students may only leave their rooms for essential on-campus travel, to access outdoor tent and pavilion spaces or for off-campus jobs. 

Brown has also imposed restrictions on student activities, limiting gatherings and restricting access to buildings, as well as waiting to begin in-person classes until Oct. 5. Healthy Ambassadors have been working in public spaces to remind students of these public safety measures. 

But, at Providence College, personnel, the Providence Police Department and people working with area landlords are patrolling the area to ensure compliance with the temporary restrictions, according to Maurano.

In an email to students, President Sicard indicated that positivity rates have been declining since the peak of the outbreak Sept. 16 and said that Providence College will continue to work with the Rhode Island Department of Health on a daily basis to contain the virus.

“We apologize sincerely for our part in exacerbating COVID-19 positivity rates in the state,” he wrote, “and for putting the health of residents at risk.”


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