Over the course of two days this week, 84 students at Providence College tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting school officials Thursday night to issue a stay-at-home order for all students and end in-person instruction at least until Sept. 26.
By Friday, the state Department of Health had identified a total of about 120 students who live off-campus in the Providence College area who had tested positive for COVID-19. All Providence College students are in the process of being tested, the department said in a statement.
State health officials are urging anyone who lives in the Providence College area, as well as those who live in other areas, to monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus.
Health officials also said they "strongly encouraged" COVID-19 testing for students who live in the Providence College area who do not attend the school, and employees of area businesses who regularly interact with Providence College students.
Health officials are investigating each case of the virus and doing "aggressive contract tracing" to limit or prevent its spread, the statement said.
Providence College had been open for in-person instruction since the beginning of the semester. Students living on campus are not allowed to leave the school premises; students living off-campus have been told not to leave their apartments.
“There must be no indoor or outdoor gatherings of any kind,” College President Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard said in a statement Thursday night. “There must be no travel whatsoever to bars, restaurants, clubs, or neighborhood businesses.”
Students who violate the restrictions could be subject to interim suspension, according to the college. “College staff, in conjunction with the Providence Police Department and private security, will be monitoring PC houses in the off-campus neighborhood on a 24/7 basis,” Sicard said.
Providence College officials said most of the students who tested positive for the virus live off-campus, though the school was unable to provide specific numbers. The school has not linked the outbreak to any one individual incident, though staff are looking into possible sources of the outbreak. Providence College staff are also conducting contact tracing.
Providence College, which is now testing all of its students for COVID-19, previously was testing only symptomatic students, and conducting periodic surveillance testing of those with no symptoms.
Students living off-campus who have tested positive are required to self isolate, as are their close contacts. The college has asked students who can return home to do so. Those who cannot will be provided a space to self-isolate by the college.
“We recognize how serious and difficult these directives are, but this is our last chance to remain together in person for the fall semester,” said Sicard. “We are out of options.”
In late August, the school placed 17 students on interim suspension for violating new college policies to stem the spread of COVID-19.
With reporting from RIPR Health Reporter Lynn Arditi.
This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by The Public's Radio (RIPR) on Sept. 18, 2020.