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VP Carey: Despite increase in COVID-19 cases, ‘we don’t feel that we’ve seen spread on campus’

Carey and Clark pleased with progress to date, unconcerned by increase in positive test results

Executive Vice President of Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 and University Spokesperson Brian Clark discussed Halloween weekend, the election and the recent uptick in positive asymptomatic test results in conversations with The Herald Oct. 29 and Nov 5.

The University’s asymptomatic testing program has returned 27 positive test results in the past three weeks, a higher positivity rate than any other three-week increment. Despite these test results, “we don’t feel that we’ve seen spread on campus or anything that’s particularly concerning,” Carey said. “I do think it’s reflective of what’s happening in the state and country at large — that there’s an increase in positivity — and we are going to continue to say the same message about mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing and testing, which people are doing really well.”

This week, the testing program has returned 14 positive asymptomatic test results: nine from employees and five from students. Carey reiterated that “there is an increase in positivity in Rhode Island and we are going to be affected by that because people are in the Rhode Island community, particularly employees.”

“Our goal is to keep it at a level that is manageable,” Carey said, adding that the testing program is doing exactly that: identifying positive individuals through asymptomatic tests, isolating them, identifying and notifying their contacts. 

Even with the steady trickle of positive test results over the past two weeks, Carey said the University is not “observing anything that we need to change in terms of campus activity levels.”

Carey’s positive outlook is due largely to the absence of clusters of positive cases and the absence of spread on campus. “We continue to monitor that on a daily basis,” Carey said. “We are mainly focused on identifying anything on campus that would be cause for concern, particularly with regard to spread or people infecting each other, and we have not seen that.”

The University encouraged people to stay safe over Halloween “primarily through communications,” Carey said on Oct. 29. An Oct. 30 community-wide email reiterated the importance of following public health guidelines during Halloween and Election Day.

On Oct. 29, Carey expressed confidence in students’ abilities to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I think what we've seen all fall is students following that guidance very closely.” On Nov. 5, Carey reflected on how the weekend went, saying that his “overall take is that (Halloween) went really well … There (were) reports of noise complaints and gatherings, but I think that the general message is that people absolutely follow the guidances.” 

More recently, on Election day, operations at the polling center at Pizzitola “went very smoothly,” Carey said. Many people had voted early or by mail, so the number of people at the polling centers was less than previous elections, Carey said. “We had no reports of any challenges or bumps there at all … The University was glad to be able to continue to host that site safely,” Carey said.  

As of Nov. 5, the outcome of the election remains undecided. Carey noted that “People are anxiously waiting for some finality, but the folks in campus life are working with both the student centers, student groups, student leaders, students in general, to provide support as necessary.”

The Watson Institute and other departments continue to bring faculty, students and others together to discuss the election, he said. This is “directly connected to the academic teaching and research they do,” said Carey. “Programming that is more academic in nature … is part of (the University’s) mission.” 

“The University is a non-partisan, non-profit organization, but is not divorced from knowing that the election has a huge impact on both the Brown community, the state of the nation, and the world — and that there is a lot of stress and anxiety associated with it for a lot of people. Being aware of that and supportive of that is part of what Brown does as a community,” Carey said.  

Brown continues to monitor the possibility of any civil unrest or protests “pretty closely,” Carey said. A balance between public health concerns and community civic engagement is required: “Our institutional message is to prioritize public health,” but civic engagement is not discouraged because “that is both a fundamental right and a necessary activity, but continuing to do so safely is really important.” 

Carey said that “maintaining the success that they’ve already had and their continued adherence to public health guidance will do that and get us to Thanksgiving in a really positive way.”



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