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Rice rescinds outdoor mask requirement, testing no longer required for fully vaccinated community members


By Hajera Naveed     4/23/21 3:56pm

Rice announced today that there will no longer be a mask requirement in outdoor spaces and that fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to take weekly COVID-19 tests, in an email sent to the Rice community by Kevin Kirby, chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee. The announcement follows the results of a community survey of vaccination status, which revealed that 74 percent of the Rice community members have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to the email, masks will not be required outdoors as long as individuals remain at least 3 feet away from each other. For testing requirements, according to the email, fully vaccinated individuals will be able to opt out of testing.

Currently 87 percent of Rice undergraduates, 61 percent of graduate students, 72 percent of faculty, and 72 percent of staff are vaccinated based on survey responses, according to the email. According to the email, 82 percent of Rice’s core population of 11,000 has responded to the survey. 

Last week, the Thresher reported that less than half of the student body had responded to the vaccine survey, impeding Crisis Management’s decision making regarding lifting of COVID-19 policies. As of today, 94 percent of undergraduates have responded to the survey and 69 percent of graduate students have responded. 

According to Kirby, everyone at Rice has had the opportunity to receive a vaccine if they wanted one. Some members of the community have stated that they do not have the intention of getting the vaccine on the vaccine survey, but, according to Kirby, this number is low. 

These policy changes were made in light of an increase in the number of individuals at Rice that are vaccinated and the knowledge that is now known about the virus, according to Kirby. 

“We know it's safer to be outdoors … [A year ago] we were teaching all of our staff to wipe down surfaces and things like that,” Kirby said. “Turns out that the ability of the virus to be passed on through surface transmissions are very low, possible, but still very low. The primary transmission is aerosols. And so if you're outside … it's better.

Kirby said students should use their best judgement to decide whether or not a mask is needed in an outdoor space, depending on the situation they are in. 

“If all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of 100 people all packed together, get out of there or put on a mask,” Kirby said. “If you're just walking by somebody and you're within a foot, you're not going to get the virus from them. But if you're lingering and you're in very close proximity, just take a step back.”

Kirby said that for many people on campus the requirement to wear a mask outdoors is burdensome and could possibly be unhealthy. 

“For some groups, people who [are] exercising vigorously, student athletes who [are] training, grounds crew who [are] taking care of … our beautiful campus, it’s really hard. So that's not really necessary,” Kirby said. 

According to Kirby, Rice waited to announce that vaccinated individuals do not have to be tested till now to ensure that everyone had the chance to be vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals were encouraged to get tested before because it was difficult to distinguish between who was vaccinated and who was not, according to Kirby. 

According to Kirby, COVID-19 tests will still be offered at reduced capacity. The Abercrombie testing site will be permanently closed on April 30, according to the email. 

As of now, Rice has been able to offer vaccines to the entire Rice community due to the increase in vaccine supply, according to Kirby. 

“We're running our last [vaccine] clinic on Tuesday because we have no more demand,” Kirby said. “Almost everybody who's wanted a vaccine now has gotten at least their first dose and most of them have gotten their second dose as well. Most people are now past that time. So, this requirement of regular testing is really not needed anymore.” 

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