Contingency planning

While we hope that the measures outlined will mitigate any widespread outbreak of COVID-19, we are prepared for various scenarios in which an outbreak might occur and have planned how we should respond, including circumstances that might warrant moving to remote learning.

Public health triggers and scenario planning

RISD will monitor infection levels in Rhode Island and the surrounding area. As part of this oversight we will pay attention to hospitalization levels, conditions on neighboring campuses and availability of resources.

In case of an outbreak on campus (10+ cases in one week) RISD may need to tighten restrictions on a temporary basis to assess an imminent threat to public health. This may include:

  • increasing surveillance testing.
  • limiting gatherings and student activities.
  • moving to remote learning for a specific length of time.

In case of a significant degradation of the public health context on campus, RISD might be compelled to pivot temporarily to the “Vaccine Failure” scenario, outlined in the AY 2021/22 Planning Report.


Information that the Public Health Task Force continuously monitors, including but not limited to:

  • # of positive student cases
  • # of positive employee cases
  • # of students in isolation
  • # of students in quarantine
  • # of employees in quarantine
  • # of new cases per 100k in Rhode Island
  • Infection rate on-campus and in Rhode Island
  • Positivity rate on-campus and in Rhode Island
  • Turnaround time for test results on campus
  • Turnaround time for tests in Rhode Island
  • Availability of PPE and cleaning supplies
  • ICU and hospital capacity


Over the summer, we conducted a series of “tabletop exercises” under the leadership of Director of Risk and Emergency Management Jen Howley to review and prepare for various potential scenarios. Potential situations we have developed plans for include:

  • if RISD cannot satisfactorily obtain the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) needed to ensure the safety of the community, including disinfectant, face coverings and higher-level PPE for clinical workers and first-responders.
  • if RISD cannot satisfactorily meet the testing requirements and testing turnaround time (which we’ve capped at a maximum of 72 hours, although our current aim is no more than 48 hours) for the community.
  • if RISD experiences an outbreak in its student population and cannot satisfactorily house affected students in quarantine or isolation.
  • if RISD experiences an outbreak in its faculty or staff population and cannot satisfactorily teach or provide essential services to students, such as dining or health services.
  • if the surrounding communities experience an outbreak to such a level that the health and safety of our on and off-campus students is threatened.
  • if the CDC or RIDOH changes protocols or guidance that we cannot meet in a satisfactory or timely manner.
  • if the State of Rhode Island issues an executive order or regulatory mandate that impacts our operations.


Based on what we know now and have planned for, we believe it to be highly unlikely that a complete shutdown of campus and requirement for students to evacuate will happen again. While that does remain possible, we have many other levers that we can implement first to respond to any changing circumstances. These include: 

  • moving to online learning for portions (departments, residence halls) or all of the campus, with students remaining on campus and continuing to have scheduled access to workshops and studios. 
  • tightening restrictions, which may or may not be combined with a move to online learning, including further limiting gatherings, limiting student activities, moving to drop-off only dining, restrictions on access to shared spaces and services, or full quarantine for a period of time. 
  • increasing staffing, testing capacity and hours of operation at the student respiratory clinic.
  • increasing surveillance testing through the Broad Institute to account for larger portions of the campus community.
  • increasing staffing for contact tracing to identify and quarantine close contacts in conjunction with testing.
  • closure of sections, wings, floors or entire buildings for a period of time.
  • closure or alternative delivery methods of some services (dining, store, mailroom) for a period of time.

Preparation for online learning

If any portion of the curriculum is required to move to online learning, each faculty member has been instructed to prepare alternative course delivery methods specific to their discipline and syllabus. We have asked faculty to prepare for a spectrum of possible future scenarios, ranging from individual students requiring special support because of a required period of quarantine, to short-term closure of a particular shop or building zone, to temporary closure of an entire building. The variations are almost without limit, but we feel confident in stating that RISD’s pedagogies have built in a degree of contingency planning and extra resourcing that will allow faculty to adopt to a wide range of conditions. RISD has also adjusted institutional and academic policies and procedures to accommodate various contingencies necessitated by the pandemic, including new sequencing of assignments in studio courses, new online pathways for fall semester linked to specific Wintersession coursework,  and revised absentee policies

Tuition implications

We do not have plans to refund tuition. Our hope and belief  is that because of the planning and protocol we’ve put in place to respond to the various scenarios described above, we will not have to close the campus. However, we have stated that if we are forced to move so far on the spectrum of reactions to the pandemic that we conclude we are no longer able to offer a full RISD education, which we believe is unlikely, all relevant issues would be open to reconsideration.