The Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, which has been the primary asymptomatic COVID-19 testing site for students since they returned to campus last fall, closed yesterday. Two new sites — one in the lower level of Alumnae Hall on Pembroke campus and one in the former health services building, Andrews House, located at 13 Brown Street — will take its place starting today, according to an Aug. 26 community-wide email from Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.
The testing site at One Davol Square in the Jewelry District, which is meant to accommodate community members living at River House, will continue its normal operations.
The change in testing locations was primarily “driven by the need to return the (OMAC) to its normal, pre-pandemic use as a key Brown Athletics facility,” wrote Brian Clark, University spokesperson, in an email to The Herald.
The OMAC houses coaches and athletic staff, and has a track and facilities for basketball, volleyball and badminton teams. The facility is “an essential building for use by varsity, club and recreational sports participants,” Clark wrote.
“When the emergence of the Delta variant made clear that Brown would need to continue wide-scale COVID-19 testing into Fall 2021, the University looked for a solution that would allow the OMAC to return to its regular athletics and recreation use but enable convenient, accessible testing on College Hill,” Clark wrote.
Allison Spain, site lead at the OMAC, described the switch as the OMAC “dissolving into two sites.”
“We’ve got a lot to do,” Spain said Tuesday as she carried boxes full of test kits, personal protective equipment and tubes out of the OMAC. The process of moving supplies has been ongoing, but it’s still a challenge.
“This entire pandemic has been an exercise in doing the best we can,” Spain said.
Alex LaBeef, a team lead at the OMAC, said Alumnae Hall would be like “the new OMAC,” in that it would take the majority of the testing burden.
The site will accommodate more tests because it has more space and staff, Spain said.
Still, LaBeef acknowledged that much of the on-campus student body is housed closer to Andrews House. “We’re going to get overflow” of students at the Andrews House site, he said. “That will be an obstacle.”
But the testing staff has experienced adjustments like this before, LaBeef added. They had to adjust when One Davol Square and Health Services began offering asymptomatic testing last year.
Because the University’s campus is no longer de-densified, as it was for much of the pandemic, more students and faculty are enrolled in the testing program than ever before — 9,200 were tested last week, according to Clark.
But because vaccinated community members are no longer tested as frequently — just once per week, compared to twice per week for their unvaccinated counterparts — the University is conducting fewer tests than it was earlier in the pandemic. Clark wrote that 97.4% of students and 95% of faculty and staff are vaccinated. The University conducted around 14,000 tests weekly during the spring 2021 semester but conducted only 10,201 tests over the past week, according to the COVID-19 dashboard as of Tuesday.
Clark emphasized that it remains important for students and staff to visit testing sites at the times and locations of their appointments to avoid crowding and long lines. But, besides the change in testing location, there are “no other significant changes to the asymptomatic testing program in terms of the test administered, testing supplies, staffing or process,” Clark wrote.