The past week has seen a significant decrease in positive asymptomatic COVID-19 cases on campus, with eight total confirmed cases during from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3., according to the Healthy Brown COVID-19 Dashboard.
The University is “really appreciative of everybody’s efforts to get back to where we should expect to be with a fully vaccinated population,” Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 said.
“I wouldn’t say that I could attribute (the decline in cases) to any one intervention; I think it’s a combination of factors, the most important being people practicing basic public health measures,” he added.
Due to the decline in positive asymptomatic test results, the University loosened COVID-19 restrictions last Wednesday, eliminating the five-person limit on social gatherings and the mask mandate at outdoor athletic events and during campus tours, The Herald previously reported.
The continued low positivity rate has stayed “consistent” Carey said, giving the University “that level of confidence that we could make those further changes.”
The five-person limit was the “highest priority” restriction for the University to lift “as soon as we felt comfortable” because of the impact it has on student life, he said. Its impact is particularly important for “new students who are connecting with friend groups and getting to know each other, (the) campus and the community,” he added.
Additionally, the University lifted the mask mandate specifically for tours and athletic events because “outdoor events are safe and we’ve had very few concerns from either of those types of activities,” Carey said. “Particularly at athletic events, it is difficult to enforce.”
Currently, the University allows events indoors to serve food; however, guidelines will change for the upcoming Family Weekend from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17, which invites student families to campus for various programming.
Carey said that the University will not have indoor dining for Family Weekend events as there will be a “large volume of people coming in from outside of the campus, and there’ll be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.” In the same vein, other University events both indoors and outdoors may see different levels of restrictions implemented, he added.
“It is a balance because there’s clearly a positive impact on maintaining a healthy and safe campus” with restrictions while providing faculty and staff greater levels of comfort, many of whom “are at different risk levels in terms of demographics and age” or have young children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Carey explained.
“The comfort levels for those members of our communities is really important to us; it’s not just testing positivity numbers — there are multiple factors that we consider,” Carey said.
“We’re doing more frequent testing than other institutions in Rhode Island, but I think our testing approach is pretty consistent with other large research universities, particularly Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Dartmouth,” Carey said.
He added that “it is certainly a possibility” that the next relaxing of restrictions will include an exemption from indoor masking for vaccinated individuals and the reduction of required twice-a-week testing similar to the loosened campus guidelines at the end of the summer semester, but he noted “there’s no specific timeline.”