Members of the Brown community:
Given the March 14 announcement about the University’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, many members of the Brown community, understandably, have questions and concerns about potential exposure. The following overview includes information on how community members would be made aware of any likely exposure.
In a public health emergency such as the one brought on by novel coronavirus, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) serves as the lead in our state on tracking cases and advising individuals about potential exposure. RIDOH has a thorough case tracking and management process, and Brown’s health officials coordinate closely with the department on any cases that directly involve University community members.
In regard to the first confirmed case at Brown, RIDOH has communicated directly with each and every individual that may have risk of coronavirus infection based on contact with the diagnosed individual. If you have not been contacted, you are not considered by RIDOH as someone likely to come down with illness. The process will work similarly if subsequent cases emerge at Brown — RIDOH will communicate directly with all individuals who are deemed to be at risk given contact with a diagnosed individual.
It’s also important to make clear for any positive case at Brown that none of the contacts of the diagnosed individual are considered infectious or dangerous to anyone else, just by mere fact that they have been identified as a contact. The medical approach to isolation is to place people who may have been exposed to the virus into a solitary setting such that if they become ill, they do so in a controlled environment where no one else will get infected. And therefore, the “contacts of a contact” — people who did not interact with the diagnosed individual, but interacted with a contact of the diagnosed individual — are not deemed to have any risk at all, unless they are contacted by RIDOH.
To reinforce essential concepts of contagion, it’s important to remind everyone that coronavirus is not spread in moments of casual contact — such as passing in a hallway or brief interactions in a common area. Our most current medical understanding is that COVID-19 is predominantly spread by close contact with an infected person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close contact is defined as being within approximately 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time, or having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on).
Please also know that despite the specific questions that many in our community have, we must always honor the privacy and confidentiality of the health information of our Brown students and colleagues. This is both a legal and ethical obligation — and for those reasons, Brown cannot share specific health details related to individuals and their circumstances, unless instructed by RIDOH to do so.
Finally, please rest assured that the specialists at RIDOH are doing everything in their power to limit the spread of disease. If you believe that you have had close contact as defined above with a known COVID positive individual, we encourage you to reach out to your primary care provider or to RIDOH directly at 401-222-8022 for information, instructions and additional reassurance.
Adam Pallant, MD, PhD
Clinical Director, Brown Health Services
Vanessa Britto, MD, MSc, FACP
Associate Vice President for Campus Life, Executive Director, Health and Wellness