13 individuals test positive for COVID-19 on campus but negative through state lab

No determination on whether initial tests were false positives

Isabella Gentile, Editor-in-Chief

Of the 20 positive COVID-19 test results discovered last week with ties to the Marine and Natural Sciences (MNS) building, 13 individuals were retested through the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) state lab. University Chief of Staff Brian Williams reported this morning the state’s testing produced a negative result for each of those individuals.

The negative results can only confirm there is not presence of the virus detected at the time of the test. Per RIDOH’s guidance, Williams said the university is required to treat all positive results as positive cases, so all individuals who tested positive last week must continue to follow isolation protocols in accordance with state guidelines, with close contacts remaining in quarantine.

“Because no viral material was collected in any of these tests, there is no way to distinguish if these cases were truly a positive or if the presence of lab material was the signal of a positive result, therefore a false positive,” Williams said.

RWU has not used the actual COVID-19 virus for research at any point in campus labs, but university officials have been focused on research involving non-viral lab materials in MNS on Oct. 10, working with RIDOH to determine if there were any connections between the cluster of positive test results and this research activity. Williams said this morning that the university has not found a definite causal relationship between these variables. However, the non-viral lab materials used were designed to mimic the virus and can return a positive result in tests such as the university’s testing with the Broad Institute. Despite this potential, Williams said the research material did not pose a direct safety or health hazard at any time.

The university has begun an external review of the lab protocols surrounding this research and is coordinating this review with Broad Institute researchers along with the manufacturers of the lab materials used on Oct. 10. Williams said they will continue consulting with RIDOH and gather expert information on proper cleaning and disinfecting of MNS, which will remain closed until proper treatment is completed.

“RWU continues to follow state guidance to keep the safety and health of our campus community as the top priority… we are managing this spike with all the same protocols that have kept our community safety at the forefront all along,” Williams said.