With an improved public health situation in Rhode Island and early success with a COVID-19 testing program on its own campus, Brown University will open its residence halls to additional students and resume in-person undergraduate instruction for some small classes in October.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors who wish to return to campus residence halls will be permitted to do so from Sept. 18 to 20, at which point they will be subject to a mandatory 14-day “quiet period” before the start of some in-person undergraduate classes of fewer than 20 students beginning on Monday, Oct. 5.
The decision comes as part of Brown’s phased approach to welcoming students back to campus for the fall semester of its 2020-21 academic year. Brown announced in early August that instruction would be remote for undergraduate students for the start of the year with a move to some in-person classes in October, provided the public health situation would allow.
Many graduate and medical students at Brown were on campus this summer or arrived in August, and they will continue their instruction this fall.
Brown President Christina H. Paxson, Provost Richard M. Locke and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow conveyed the University’s decision to increase on-campus operations to the Brown community in a Sept. 10 letter, one day after fall classes began with all undergraduate instruction being held remotely.
“Over the last several weeks, we have continued to consult with public health experts, closely monitor the public health data at campus and statewide levels, and engage in extensive analysis of several other important factors impacting our ability to keep the Brown community and the greater Providence community safe,” Paxson, Locke and Chernow wrote. “You have heard us say many times from Day One of this pandemic that the health and safety of our community has been our top priority. We also believe that the well-being of our students will benefit from engaging with a thriving college environment.”
They noted that essential factors in the decision to invite additional students back to campus included a reliable COVID-19 testing program with rapidly available results, a low number of COVID-19 cases on campus, availability of quarantine and isolation spaces, and positive trends in Rhode Island’s cases.
“We and other leaders in higher education well understand that nowhere in this country will the public health conditions be anything approximating ‘normal’ for a long time, considering the trajectory of the pandemic and the projected timeline for the widespread distribution of an eventual vaccine,” Brown’s senior administrators wrote. “Yet for our own campus, what Brown and Rhode Island are currently experiencing is a set of conditions that may be among the most conducive to bringing more students back to campus that we’re likely to experience for up to a year.”
Brown launched a routine asymptomatic testing program for the fall term on Aug. 24, mandatory for employees on campus and students who live in residence halls or in the Providence area. With more than 14,000 tests completed since, the test positivity rate remains below 0.2%, and Brown has used only a small fraction of its isolation and quarantine capacity.
“It is important to note that a data-based and public health-based approach has driven and continues to form the foundation of every decision about operations since the onset of the pandemic,” Paxson, Locke and Chernow wrote. “Throughout the semester, we will carefully monitor the public health situation on campus and in Rhode Island, and we remain prepared to make adjustments to the activities that are possible on campus.”
To guide decision-making on what levels of activity will be permitted on campus, Brown launched a COVID-19 Campus Activity Level Review Team, which will allow the University to move quickly from one level of campus activity to another as the public health situation demands. The University also created a public COVID-19 dashboard that provides daily updates on asymptomatic test positivity in the Brown community among other factors.
Even with some in-person instruction eligible to begin, faculty will have the option to teach remotely, including for small courses, and all undergraduates will continue to have the option to study remotely should they choose. All courses for both undergraduate and graduate students will accommodate remote learning.