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Campus COVID-19 cases trend in an ‘encouraging direction’ while state vaccine eligibility expands

Students reminded to adhere to public health guidelines; University continues plans for in-person Commencement for students

As the University reported relatively steady levels of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases among community members from last week through its testing program, Rhode Island saw vaccine eligibility open up to two new groups. 

The University saw 23 positive COVID-19 cases through the asymptomatic program this week from Mar. 7 to Mar. 13, according to the Healthy Brown COVID-19 Dashboard. The number of cases has not risen back up to the level of cases reported during the spike last month. 

The state opened vaccine eligibility to two new groups Thursday: those ages 60 to 64 years old, as well as those ages 16 to 64 years old with underlying health conditions, according to an announcement by the Rhode Island Department of Health. Qualifying underlying conditions include diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease and other conditions that weaken the immune system. 

The University alerted employees who fall within the 60 to 64 year old category shortly after the announcement, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 told The Herald in a Mar. 12 conversation. Though the University does not possess information on underlying health conditions linked to individual community members and therefore cannot directly communicate with them, “hopefully people are paying attention and seeing that the eligibility criteria in the state is widening,” Carey said.

Pre K-12 teachers, staff and licensed child care providers also became eligible for vaccinations starting mid-March. “There’s been a lot of movement on the state side,” which “goes hand in hand with their confidence about supply levels being both maintained and increasing,” Carey said. Additional supplies of the recently approved Johnson and Johnson vaccine have aided in increased distribution.

People ages 16 to 59 without underlying health conditions will become eligible in the coming months, according to RIDOH’s eligibility timeline

“All the advice that we've seen from faculty experts at Brown and elsewhere is whatever vaccine you can get, you should get,” Carey said. If the University runs a vaccine clinic in the future, “I would expect we will be providing whatever vaccine we’re supplied” with, he added, which is standard practice across vaccine distribution sites in the state. 

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without masks or social distancing. Changes in healthcare guidance that allow greater activities for those who are vaccinated “will hopefully continue to incentivize people to get it as soon as they can,” Carey said. 

The University still remains at Campus Activity Status level 2, in which students must wear masks indoors when around others, unless they are only with members of their pod. 

As Providence experienced warmer weather this week, many students took the opportunity to spend time outdoors, lounging on blankets in socially-distanced circles outlined on the grass of the Main Green and other public areas on campus. 

Though there is less concern around transmission of the COVID-19 virus outdoors in comparison to indoor socialization, “even outside, (students) should continue to be masked and socially distant” if they are not in their pods, Carey said.

“Our ongoing general concern (about gatherings), as we saw coming out of the long weekend in February,” is that they “can be a source of an increase in positivity” rates, and can also inconvenience  students and their contacts who need to isolate or quarantine, Carey added.

The University feels “really pleased” with the number of cases trending in an “encouraging direction,” Carey said

The University announced that it will hold in-person Commencement for graduating students this year, with guests and alumni attending events virtually, The Herald previously reported. Because Commencement plans for all universities in the state need to be reviewed and approved by RIDOH, the University is waiting to hear back about the status of this proposal around late March or early April, Carey said. In the meantime, the University will “continue planning in that direction; we think that can be done safely,” he said.

For any family members still preparing to attend in person, “my expectation that circumstances would allow for families and guests is very, very low,” Carey said. “We have said, going back to January, that (if) public health conditions changed, we obviously would want to allow for families and guests. But we’ve been very clear to people not to count on that,” he said.

The University’s “highest priority” when planning is giving students the opportunity to celebrate in-person together, as well as the tradition of walking through the Van Wickle Gates, Carey said. Though students normally walk through the gates with thousands of onlookers, the University will need to manage the number of students present at one time this year, he said.

“We fully expect the procession in May of 2022 to be what it has been in the past and going forward, so people will still have that opportunity in future years,” he said.



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