The University will require undergraduate students to take self-administered rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 during the spring semester, the results of which they will self-report to the University, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 and Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes wrote in a campus-wide email Wednesday.
Amid a national rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, the University plans to distribute testing kits to the student body and implement a revised isolation period of five days for those who test positive for the virus.
The University plans to commence in-person classes Jan. 26 as previously scheduled, Carey and Estes wrote.
“While we may need to make temporary modifications from time to time based on current conditions, there will not be any significant changes to University operations or activities,” they wrote.
As of Jan. 17, the University will switch from optional PCR testing to self-administered rapid antigen test kits for vaccinated undergraduate students, Carey and Estes wrote. All undergraduate students will be required to test twice weekly and report results. Students with approved vaccine exemptions will be required to continue PCR testing.
The University will distribute rapid test kits for pickup at Alumnae Hall and One Davol Square starting Jan. 17. Carey and Estes noted the kits are “similar to the at-home tests many of you have likely used in recent weeks,” and that initial distribution will depend on supply.
Undergraduate students must also test negative with a PCR or antigen test within two days of their return to campus for the spring semester, The Herald previously reported. Students who test positive will need authorization to return to campus. All students will also be required to take two tests upon arrival — one the day they return to campus and one two days later.
Testing will continue to be optional for faculty, staff, graduate students and medical students, Carey and Estes added.
The change in testing protocol aims to prioritize detecting when individuals are actively contagious, Carey and Estes wrote. PCR tests, they explained, can return positive results for individuals who may have been contagious weeks or months prior.
“Rapid antigen tests answer the most important question in the Omicron era: ‘Am I infectious now?’” they wrote. “While no test is perfect, a positive rapid test result means that the person is very likely infectious at that point and must take steps to isolate themselves from others.”
The University will stop updating its COVID-19 dashboard, which has been active since Aug. 24 2020, because of “the decreased efficacy of the dashboard as a measure of COVID-19 prevalence on campus,” Carey and Estes wrote. Instead, University Health Services and University Human Resources will collect self-reported test results. The campus community will be updated on the number of positive tests and other public health updates through weekly Today@Brown announcements.
In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the University updated self-isolation requirements to five days for individuals who test positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms, according to Carey and Estes. The five-day protocol begins the day after symptoms emerge or the student first tests positive.
If an individual has improved symptoms and tests negative after five days in isolation, they can leave isolation. If an individual still tests positive after five days, they must continue to isolate for five more days or until they test negative and have improving symptoms — whichever comes first.
Carey and Estes also announced new isolation protocols for students who test positive. Students who live in single rooms, including in suites, will self-isolate in their rooms, as will those in doubles or triples whose roommates also test positive. The University will prioritize designated isolation housing for students who test positive but whose roommates test negative. Students who live off-campus and test positive are expected to remain in their off-campus residences.
The University will resume distributing KN95 masks at testing sites, Carey and Estes wrote. They advised community members to wear high-quality masks such as KN95 masks or disposable surgical masks. Indoor masking will remain a requirement for in-person classes and in communal spaces including libraries, dining halls and the Jonathan Nelson '77 Fitness Center, where masks were previously optional.
While classes will remain in-person, according to Carey and Estes, professors will be asked to make course materials available online during the early weeks of the semester.
Despite concerns about the spread of Omicron, Carey and Estes wrote that they see the Brown community’s high vaccination rates as cause for optimism. The University will be requiring COVID-19 vaccine booster shots prior to the start of spring semester for those eligible, The Herald previously reported.
Carey and Estes added that, because of the University’s high rate of vaccination, the protocols are built around preventing severe illness. “Our focus will shift this semester from counting positive test results as an indicator of campus safety to actions that will further reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization while maintaining our mission of teaching and research as a residential academic community,” they wrote.
Carey and Estes concluded the email by offering a tentative timeline of what they expect the early weeks of the spring semester to look like. “We expect the current Omicron rates in Rhode Island to peak later this month and decline rapidly in early February,” they wrote. “As always, we will continually assess public health conditions on and around campus and make adjustments as necessary.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.
Peter Swope is the senior editor of digital engagement for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. He previously served as a Sports section editor and has also written stories for University News. Peter is a senior from New Jersey studying history.