We’ve all gotten used to dreading COVID-19 emails from Vice President Carey: the inevitable bearers of updates about new restrictions and surges in caseloads. But the past few weeks have turned that pattern around. Now, the emails are now announcing rollbacks of COVID-19 restrictions.
First of all: no more required testing. After upping the testing cadence to twice a week in September, then rolling it back to once a week in early October, Brown has now removed all testing requirements for fully vaccinated undergraduate students. Vaccinated students will still have the option to take a COVID-19 test, but no more than once a week. However, testing remains required twice a week for unvaccinated students.
Additionally, the Andrews House testing site (by Keeney) will be closed, while the Alumnae Hall and downtown One Davol Square sites will be operating at reduced hours. At One Davol Square, students can administer their own tests without the presence of a medical professional, though there will be testing staff present as facilitators. The university also announced it will require all students to test twice upon returning from Thanksgiving holiday, on the first and fifth day back.
The testing announcement may be a relief for many undergraduates, especially those for whom the testing locations were inconvenient. The lack of testing data, however, has also raised some anxiety about possible unidentified COVID-19 spread. Brown first-year Celia questioned the efficacy of “relaxing testing in the week before Halloween” and wondered if the choice to remove testing is also related to the high financial cost to the university of administering hundreds of tests per week.
After providing weekly testing updates since September 2020, Brown offered its hopeful final weekly update on Friday, October 29th. The update counted only 6 positive tests across the entire university: five students, and one employee. Remembering the second week of September, during which the university had 84 positive tests, these numbers seem to be promising.
On October 28th, Vice President Carey also announced the reduction of masking regulations. Professors may now remove their masks during lectures, conferences, and presentations during which they are speaking to an audience. Artistic performers may also remove their masks during stage productions, concerts, recitals, and even rehearsals. In both cases, audiences must still wear masks. Most importantly for the athletes reading this, the university announced that students may remove their masks when actively engaged in athletic and recreational activities at the Nelson Fitness Center, OMAC, or other indoor venues. Time to hit the gym!
All of these mask-wearing modifications apply only to individuals who are fully vaccinated. The reduction of testing availability, both by location and hour, does raise the question of whether the university will soon remove testing completely—and if they do, whether self-administered rapid tests (or any free testing) will still be available to students.
While expressing concern about the sudden removal of testing, first-year Celia also told me that she felt mostly reassured by how Brown has handled COVID. The “relative lack of contact tracing” organized by the school worried her, but she feels “overall, pretty safe.” More importantly, she noted that the student body “takes personal responsibility seriously,” indicating a hope that even without required testing, students will monitor their health, wear masks when required, and keep their peers healthy and safe.