Dear Members of the Brown Community,

We are writing to update you on our plans for the remainder of the fall semester at Brown. As you know, in August we announced that, in light of the public health situation involving COVID-19, the University would take a phased approach to bringing undergraduate students back to campus. We are writing to share that we have decided to move to the next phase of inviting remaining undergraduates (sophomores, juniors and seniors) to campus and beginning in-person undergraduate courses on Oct. 5. In this letter, we provide the basis for this decision, as well as relevant information for students and employees as we transition to increased on-campus operations.

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. 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 wellbeing of our students will benefit from engaging with a thriving college environment.

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. 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.

We have seen an improved public health situation in Rhode Island over the past several weeks. As participation in testing has increased statewide, the number of new cases continues to trend downward, along with the state’s test positivity rate.

We have also had a good experience with our routine asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program at Brown, which has been mandatory since Aug. 24 for all of our employees authorized to be on campus and students who live in residence halls or in the Providence area. Undergraduate students are required to be tested twice a week. To date, the fraction of tests for students that are positive is very low — about 1 in 1,000, or a test positivity rate of 0.10%. Test positivity for employees is 0.05%. In addition, test results in most cases are returned within a day.

The current low utilization of isolation and quarantine rooms is also a major consideration. We know that we must be prepared for the strong possibility of clusters of positive COVID-19 cases, just as we see in the general population. But the University is currently utilizing only a small fraction of its quarantine and isolation capacity and, so far, we have seen very few violations of our COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy. Graduate and medical students have been on campus over the summer, and while most undergraduate students have been on campus for just a few weeks, we are encouraged that they have overwhelmingly demonstrated a desire to keep the University community and the greater Providence community safe.

Given these circumstances, we have determined that we will move ahead with the second phase of welcoming students to campus and in-person instruction. Graduate courses will begin in person Sept. 16, and sophomores, juniors and seniors who wish to return to Providence will be allowed to do so beginning Sept. 18, at which time they will be subject to the mandatory Quiet Period. In-person instruction of small undergraduate classes will begin the week of Oct. 5, which is after the 14-day quarantine ends. All undergraduate students enrolled for the fall semester under this year’s three-term model have the choice to return to Providence or study remotely, and all courses for undergraduate and graduate students will accommodate remote learning.

Extensive information about how this phase of reopening will affect students, faculty and staff follows this letter. Please be sure to read this letter and the addendum in its entirety for details on telecommuting, academics, residential life, COVID-19 testing, and various campus services, policies and protocols.

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 — reflected in the move to this phased approach to welcoming students back to campus and in-person instruction, which created the time for health indicators and testing and prevention resources to improve. Throughout the semester we will carefully monitor the public health situation on campus and in Rhode Island, and remain prepared to make adjustments to the activities that are possible on campus.

To guide this decision-making, Brown has launched a COVID-19 Campus Activity Level Review Team, which will allow us to move quickly from one level of campus activity to another as the public health situation demands. We have also created a public COVID-19 dashboard that provides daily updates on asymptomatic test positivity in the Brown community among other factors.

As I’m sure you know, to date, colleges and universities across the country have had mixed success with returning to in-person instruction. We are heartened to see that a number of our peer institutions that have testing and public health plans similar to Brown’s are faring well, and demonstrating that it is possible to learn to live with a virus that, unfortunately, may be with us for some time.

To a large degree, how the semester will unfold is up to us. Brown has prepared extensively to support the health of the community with its comprehensive testing and contact tracing programs and added cleaning and safety protocols. But, these measures alone will not stop the spread of the virus. It remains essential that all members of the Brown community embrace personal responsibility in following public health guidance, including mask-wearing, social distancing and increased cleaning. We must care about each other and all the people whose lives will be affected by our actions. We all must stand ready to make sacrifices in our social lives to protect Brown and the greater community, and to have a successful semester.

Whether you choose to study at Brown or remotely, we look forward to a semester that is intellectually engaging and socially supportive.


Christina H. Paxson, President
Richard M. Locke, Provost
Barbara Chernow, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration