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Barred from University testing, students on leave and living in Providence must find alternative COVID-19 testing

Students discuss difficulties of accessing testing to mitigate community spread of COVID-19

Facing an uncertain semester, many students decided to declare leave this fall, and some have decided to live in Providence. But amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, their leave status has precluded them from enrolling in the University’s COVID-19 testing program.

“Students on leave are not actively enrolled in the University and the nature of their access to the resources on campus and expectations of them changes,” said University Spokesperson Brian Clark. The University does not allow students on leave in Providence to participate in its testing program, even as these students have sought access.

This stands in contrast to the recent decision by President Christina Paxson P’19 to open the testing program to students who have opted for remote status but are secretly living in Providence, urging them to come forward while reminding them that their decision to live near campus while studying remote is an explicit violation of the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy.

“Because these students are not enrolled in the testing program and may therefore spread the virus without detection,” Paxson wrote, “they pose a danger to the entire community and could undermine everyone’s efforts to have a healthy and successful semester.”

But when students who are on leave and living in Providence have asked to enroll in the University’s testing program, Brown has maintained that because these students are on leave, they do not have access to the same resources as enrolled students and therefore are ineligible to participate.

Students on leave are “not being tested on campus because they don’t have a presence on campus every day,” Clark said, adding that if their presence on campus were to change, “their participation in the testing program would also evolve.”

Nathan Mugerwa ’21.5 is currently on leave and living in Providence while working remotely, both to be with friends as well as to fulfill the obligation of his lease, which he signed before the pandemic began.

He described his decision to take a leave of absence as an easy one. “Just thinking about the opportunity cost of spending my last year online versus doing internships, making some money and getting some professional experience — it just didn’t make sense for me to be enrolled this semester,” he said. 

Mugerwa lives with two other Brown students, one of whom is enrolled in classes and one of whom is also on leave. Mugerwa reached out to the University at the beginning of the semester to request access to the testing program and was informed that he was ineligible. His enrolled roommate is participating in the University’s testing program, while he and his other roommate are getting tested at the Rhode Island Convention Center downtown through the Rhode Island Department of Health. 

COVID-19 testing through RIDOH is offered at no charge, regardless of insurance or immigration status, according to RIDOH’s website.

“It’s definitely not as quick as Brown’s program,” Mugerwa said, noting that it has taken up to a week for him to receive his test results. “It’s also a lot more of a hassle either getting Ubers or walking the half hour down there,” he added. Mugerwa also said he is worried about increased difficulty commuting to the convention center for testing during the winter.

Maya Polsky ’22.5 also decided to live in Providence while on leave for the semester due to the obligations of her previously signed lease. She is currently living with three roommates, one of whom is also on leave.

Like Mugerwa, Polsky reached out to the University regarding its testing program and also received a denial.

“Students who are on leave are not active students and are therefore not eligible for testing or many other university resources, including University Health Services,” according to a Sept. 17 email from Brown Student Testing sent to Polsky and reviewed by The Herald. “Students who have some commitment on campus should make sure those overseeing their commitment are aware that they are on leave and not eligible for testing. In general, the University does not support students on leave engaging in other campus commitments.”

Polsky and her other roommate on leave are getting tested roughly once per week through RIDOH at Ocean State Urgent Care. “I understand (the decision) because I assume it’s coming from a financial place,” she said, but Polsky believes the University should open testing to students on leave in Providence, especially if they are living with enrolled students, because “it’s sort of a blind spot to deny testing to them.”

A student currently on leave in Providence, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of disciplinary action from the University, is not participating in regular testing because they have chosen to self-quarantine in their apartment for the semester.

“It seems like a bit of a contradictory message (from the University) because they said we could continue participating in the clubs we’re in while on leave, and I still get Today@Brown in my email, so I don’t feel like I’m completely cut off,” the student said.

The student decided to take leave mainly for financial reasons, believing that online classes were not worth the high price of tuition. They also decided to stay in Providence because getting back to their home on the West Coast would have been difficult, and they did not want to put any of the high-risk members of their household in danger of contracting COVID-19. 

In addition, the student feels that other students on leave in Providence, by living with currently enrolled Brown students, are putting the community at risk due to the relatively increased difficulty of accessing testing for them.

Another student on leave, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of disciplinary action from the University, highlighted the difficulties of getting tested outside of the University for those who do not have access to a car in Providence. 

“I’ve been going to Walgreens in Cranston for their free drive-through testing,” the student said. “A lot of testing in Rhode Island is drive-through, and while I’m pretty fortunate to have a car here, if you don’t have access to a vehicle, it’s a lot more difficult.”


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