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Large social gatherings among U. students spark controversy, calls to action

Peers take to online forums to express anger, disappointment, call for response from University

Following rumors of at least one large social gathering off campus the weekend of Feb. 19 and a subsequent spike in reported COVID-19 cases among the student body, community members have expressed concern and called for the University to hold responsible parties accountable.

One student, who requested anonymity for fear of disciplinary action, confirmed that they briefly attended one of these events in an off-campus student apartment. “I don’t know why I even went,” they said. “I didn’t think there would be so many people, and I left when things really started picking up,” the student added. They estimated that, when they left, there were about 50 students in attendance.

“It was a huge mistake,” they said.

This student has not tested positive for COVID-19 since the party, but spent time in isolation housing after exposure.

A student living off campus in the Providence area, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of personal repercussions, confirmed that his roommates had attended the social gathering. 

After learning that a student who had attended the same social gathering had tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the party, the anonymous attendee reported themself to the University as having been exposed. 

During the week following the alleged events, the University identified 60 cases of COVID-19 among students and faculty through its asymptomatic testing program, according to the Healthy Brown dashboard. This was a sharp increase from the week prior, during which the University had only seven positive tests, the fewest on campus since October.

“We do not at this time have a single explanation for the recent increase … We will of course report to the community again to add additional information and context to the daily dashboard numbers,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.

“Also, after contact tracing, we have not seen evidence of large groups of cases that are connected,” he wrote. 

Still, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes wrote in an email to The Herald that the University was “concerned about indications that some members of our community are relaxing their vigilance in observing health protocols during this pandemic.”

Alyssa Steinbaum ’23 said she was “very upset” upon learning about the large social gathering. Having only interacted with members of her pod and having adhered to responsible social distancing guidelines in public spaces, Steinbaum expressed frustration that others were not doing the same. 

“It was incredibly irresponsible and selfish to have attended a large gathering not socially distanced,” she said.

Steinbaum was not the only one disheartened by the events of the Feb. 19 weekend. Students took to online forums such as Dear Blueno and Blueno Bear Admirers to criticize students who attended the gatherings. 

Abbey Carbajal ’23 said she heard about two separate potential superspreader events and said that she feels that this violation of University guidelines “shows a level of privilege and ignorance that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.”

“The health and safety of our community is a top priority,” Estes said. 

“No one wants to revert back to Quiet Period conditions, but we will have to if we don’t all follow” public health protocols, he added. “Problematic decisions by a few students can have a significant negative impact on the health of the entire community.”

Clark echoed Estes’ sentiments. “Gathering size limits, the need for social distancing and face coverings are of course particularly crucial measures in protecting individual and community health,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.

While both Estes and Clark emphasized that they prioritize education over disciplinary action, “we have at times implemented sanctions including significant or immediate suspension and removal from campus,” Clark wrote. “We will continue to employ those measures when necessary if individuals make choices that endanger the health of the community,” he added.

Since the uptick in cases the week following the Feb. 19 event, the test positivity rate on campus has remained stable, Clark wrote. 


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