For the first time since students left for spring break on Friday, March 13, the University of Rhode Island has welcomed students back to campus.
Students began engaging in a hybrid of modified in-person and online learning – and living – starting on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Here’s an overview of what’s been going on behind the scenes and what you can expect now that you’re back.
Students living on-campus are tested upon arrival. Any student who is symptomatic will be able to get a test barrier-free, meaning that health insurance or other barriers will not impact their ability to get a test. The University will also conduct random testing of about 500 total students, faculty and staff per week. The goal of this, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Kathy Collins, is to try to catch an outbreak before it happens.
Cases & Quarantines
As of September 9, there were 18 students in isolation or quarantine, filling up 3 percent of the available spaces. Between September 2 and September 9, 2,282 tests were administered. 5positive tests were recorded and the positivity rate is under 1 percent. The school has now seen 22 positive cases and has administered 4,837 since January.
The University will work with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) on contact tracing and notifying students, faculty and staff in the event of any suspected or confirmed positive tests.
RIDOH is also working with the University to determine when it may be necessary to transition back to fully-remote learning.
According to Collins and Director of Health Services Ellen Reynolds, there will be a public online dashboard of COVID-19 and quarantine statistics at the school.
“We have approximately 400 of those [quarantine and isolation] spaces, so if they get close to getting full, we will evaluate as a University what kind of decision we need to make,” she said, “[and] the other metric we’ll be looking at is the positivity rate.”
Should those numbers go up, the school will work with the RIDOH to determine the next steps.
There are going to be strict penalties for student gatherings and parties, regardless of whether or not they are social events that are part of a student organization.
“We’re doing a moratorium on parties until there’s a vaccine,” Collins said, adding that “[we] get to decide as a University [if] you do or do not do off-campus conflicts, [and] that’s something we’ve been doing for years.”
If the school is notified by local police departments and those involved can be placed on an interim suspension until the conduct process is completed.
According to Collins, fraternity Theta Chi had a party on the weekend of August 29. It has since seen five members put on interim suspension from the University. The chapter itself is also on an interim suspension.
The University has added extra custodial shifts. There have been cleaning supplies placed in classrooms so students, faculty and staff who have been in the room can help wipe down the area in which they were sitting. The custodial staff have also all been provided with appropriate PPE.
All dining options this year will be grab-and-go. There are tents on Butterfield Road and by the Memorial Union where you can sit outside and eat.
In the event of an outbreak
In the event of an outbreak, the University has plans in place to respond to changing needs for testing, residence halls and others. They’re following and observing what other campuses across the country are doing, according to Collins. Collins did not specify specific procedures.
“We don’t start until after Labor Day, [which] gives us a little time to pay attention to schools [that] are already in their second or third week of classes,” she said.
The school will work very closely with the RIDOH in any outbreak that may occur.
Task Force & Rhody Connect
The school has had a COVID-19 task force working on a response since the pandemic began. The task force is run by Reynolds and Director of Emergency Management Samuel Adams and includes people from a variety of offices, including Housing & Residential Life and Dining Services.
“The senior leadership team, we’re kind of at the policymaking stage,” Collins said, whereas the task force and others at the University look more “at the procedures and the implementation”
There is also a “subcommittee” looking at buildings and facilities and another looking at events.
Collins is encouraging students to download the app Rhody Connect, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, to continue to get updates on the response to COVID. The app also allows students to view things like shuttle schedules and a list of socially-distanced study spaces.