Effective Jan. 17, 2022, Brown’s testing program for COVID-19 will use rapid antigen tests as part of a comprehensive strategy for supporting community health.
The University is making rapid antigen test kits and packs of KN95 masks available to all Brown students, faculty (including postdocs) and staff for the opening of the Spring 2022 semester as part of its health and safety protocols. Friday, Jan. 14, is the final day any vaccinated asymptomatic community member can schedule an optional PCR test through Verily.
Employees and students with approved exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination will continue to be required to PCR test twice a week as they currently do, and they will receive further direct communication later this week.
Collecting information on positive test results remains an important part of Brown’s COVID-19 response. The use of antigen tests for routine testing of vaccinated members of the community reflects emerging data that PCR tests are no longer the best available tool to reduce the risk of poor health outcomes from COVID-19 in a largely vaccinated and boosted population such as the Brown campus (which has achieved near-universal vaccination rates).
Since June 2020, the University had maintained an on-campus routine testing program utilizing PCR testing for asymptomatic people, which became largely optional for vaccinated community members in early October 2021. While that program served the campus well rapid antigen tests answer the most important question in the Omicron era: “Am I infectious now?” They do so by detecting proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19. 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.
PCR tests are designed to detect fragments of viral RNA, and while they are highly effective at doing so, they cannot determine who is actively infected and contagious; who might have transient colonization that never turns into an infection; or who might have been infected and recovered weeks ago. A PCR positive test result for any member of our community on any given date could potentially mean they were infectious many weeks or even months earlier, and does little to help the University reduce the risk of serious illness on campus in a current moment.