While the rest of the state is trending downward, COVID-19 cases at URI spiked last week. Photo by Greg Clark.

The University of Rhode Island saw a spike in COVID-19 cases last week, with 181 positive tests and 81 percent of quarantine spaces occupied, according to URI’s COVID-19 Tracker.

Ellen Reynolds, the director of Health Services, said that multiple factors contributed to the rise in cases.

“I think what we were experiencing is overall fatigue,” Reynolds said. “We weren’t hearing about a lot of large gatherings, but just routine small gatherings, students going from house to house and not adhering to the mask guidelines.”

The new variant of COVID-19 that originated in the United Kingdom made its way into Rhode Island in February, according to Reynolds. While there is no way to prove it, she suspects that this variant is on campus. Studies have shown that this variant spreads faster than the common variant of COVID-19.

URI’s Greek Life community, which makes up 22 percent of undergraduates, has had the highest COVID-19 positivity rate out of all student groups, being responsible for 64 percent of all positive cases on campus, according to Reynolds.

In order to combat the rising cases in Greek Life, Health Services put Greek chapters with a positivity rate higher than 5 percent and a testing rate lower than 85 percent in a “shelter-in-place order.” Reynolds said that putting the chapters in lockdown was a last resort.

“The academic success and mental health of our students matter, and we worry about that every time we decide to put any students in a lockdown,” she said. “We didn’t do it lightly, but we did use our data, and decided to only put certain Greek chapters into shelter-in-place to lessen the chances of more students being affected than necessary.”

Students who have already received vaccines or who have previously had COVID-19 did not have to shelter-in-place, according to Reynolds.

She hopes that this decline in positive cases will motivate the community to keep getting tested and adhering to guidelines in order to avoid similar situations for the rest of the semester.

Dr. Christopher Nasin, the medical director for Health Services, stressed that the guidelines are to keep the URI community safe but also to keep the outside community safe as well. 

“If the virus is able to replicate in our community, it will start to spill out into our outside community, causing cases to rise in our area,” Nasin said. “We want to avoid that happening as much as we can. So we really stress that students continue doing what they’re doing.”

Reynolds said that the last option for URI is to send students completely home, moving all classes online again and repeating similarities to the Spring 2020 semester, where in-person instruction ended early due to the pandemic.

“My team every morning makes a pinky-promise that we are not going to go home,” she said. “We have to give kudos to our athletic department, we just made it through an entire basketball season without having to take a pause once.”

Both Nasin and Reynolds stressed the importance of the vaccine, emphasizing its importance in stopping the spread of COVID-19. The Rhode Island government has been distributing the vaccine quickly and they are advising students to receive it as soon as it’s available to them.

Nasin said that the vaccine is the “single-most important thing we can do” to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our community safe. 

“It is super super important for our students to get vaccinated, whether it is at the end of the semester or over the summer, for us to get any sense of normalcy back on campus next semester,” Nasin said. “We could have a way different experience than we are now if more students are vaccinated come fall.”