KINGSTON, R.I. — After an extended holiday break to allow for quarantine time, University of Rhode Island Students resumed in-person classes this week with more COVID testing and safeguards in place.
On Wednesday, the university’s COVID-19 tracker showed a 2.64% positive COVID-19 test rate over the past seven days. URI is testing between 600 and 1,000 people daily.
The final week of January brought 80 positive cases. As of Jan. 31, none of URI’s isolation or quarantine beds were in use, although 379 people were reported to be in isolation. The numbers reflect all URI campuses.
Since January 22, 2020, the university has administered 83,054 COVID tests and had 1,190 positive cases, with a 1.43% positivity rate.
“Last semester went very well, and that’s really a tribute to folks who worked hard when we moved from a full in-person experience to an all-remote learning experience for the last several weeks of the semester,” URI spokesman Dave Lavallee said.
Student move-in for the spring semester began Jan. 19, with virtual or online-only classes starting Jan. 26. The in-person learning was scheduled to get under way Monday, but there was a one-day delay because of the snowstorm.
Even before students had set foot back on campus, the university outlined a rigorous procedure of COVID-19 testing and quarantine that will stay in effect during the spring semester.
The school advised students that they should test for COVID within 72 hours before returning to campus and to provide those results to the health services department.
“We wanted to make sure everybody was appropriately quarantined and separated from their previous community so that we wouldn’t bring disease to campus,” Lavallee said.
All students attending face-to-face classes or studying remotely but living in Rhode Island are required to test every other week at the Memorial Union in Kingston or the Shepard Building at the Providence campus. Students living outside of the state and not coming to campus are exempt from testing.
The tests are intended to identify asymptomatic students who are unaware they are infectious and to limit outbreaks.
“We heard from several students last semester who said the testing was the best part of the COVID response,” Lavallee said. “That system has really worked well.”
On-campus resident students who test positive will isolate in the hotels the university has rented for the purpose. Off-campus resident students will isolate in their homes off campus.
“We’re still using the hotels for quarantine, though not at the same number,” Lavallee said.
All URI students, both on and off campus, were required to complete a 10-day quarantine if arriving from a domestic location and a 14-day quarantine if arriving from abroad.
“If you’re a student and don’t feel well, we’re saying call Health Services,” Lavallee said. “They’ll do a screening first and then set up symptomatic testing. If you’re sick, the university really doesn’t want you coming to campus.”
The university also continues to operate its dorms at reduced capacity, just as it did last semester.
As of Jan. 26, URI reported 3,067 dormitory residents, at an occupancy rate of 66.83%.
Looking ahead, the university has been working closely with the state on vaccine plans and other aspects of the COVID-19 response that include testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation.
Most of the university’s Health Services team, emergency medical services, emergency management personnel, and university police, as well as Kingston Fire Department personnel have received their second doses of the vaccine, Lavallee said. Clinical students with patient care responsibilities have been prioritized as well and have begun to receive vaccines.
URI anticipates that the vaccine would be available for students in the spring. Once that happens, URI would run a dispensing site at the Kingston campus. The vaccine will not be mandatory for students, URI said.
In the classroom, instructors and students have adjusted to the changes brought by COVID, including classes on Zoom.
In-person classes have been modified since last fall. The changes include spacing to keep attendees socially distanced and technological improvements to meet the needs of students learning remotely, Lavallee said.
“That prepared us well for the spring semester,” he said. “Much of what we did in the summer and fall carried over.”
Of the more than 2,900 classes at URI this spring, 64% are online, 26% are in person and 10% are a blend of both.
Political Science professor Marc Hutchison said that of the 18 recitation hours his students have this semester, 12 are face to face, and six are online. Additionally, his three-day a week international politics lecture is online.
“I have all these video lectures and lecture slides and quizzes,” he said. “It’s not perfect. My class is usually lively and we have lots of fun, and I miss that environment. But we do what we have to do.”
There’s also a silver lining – attendance for special online events, such as guest speakers and forums, has shot up.
“Some of the ones we’ve done over Zoom have been the most widely attended in our history,” Hutchison said.
Sean Rogers, the Spachman Professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations at URI, used online teaching well before the pandemic.
“I was able to relatively quickly shift from in person to online when the pandemic hit,” Rogers said. “I needed to make sure the students who couldn’t be in the classroom get the same learning experience via whatever electronic tools we’re trying to use. The shift has been relatively smooth for me.”
The adjustments to classes and living arrangements because of the pandemic are almost at the one-year mark for URI. In March 2020, students left campus for spring break and did not return to in-person classes. A remote learning regimen was set up for the rest of the semester.
Face to face classes resumed in September, and were largely a success, administrators said. The classes concluded just before the Thanksgiving break.
“It’s only the first week back, but everyone seems to be in good spirits and motivated,” Rogers said. “They’re showing up at class and we’re learning a lot.”