Indoor masks, testing requirements reimposed and publics cancelled next fall
Rice will require everyone to wear masks indoors on campus, according to Kevin Kirby, chair of the crisis management advisory committee. Also, fully vaccinated people who come to campus must test at least once every two weeks, while unvaccinated people must test twice a week, Kirby wrote in a campus-wide email.
In a separate email, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman wrote that cross-college events that include alcohol, namely publics and crawls, are prohibited for the fall semester. Gorman added that smaller public gatherings with alcohol are permitted, so long as they are approved through the standard campus alcohol events risk management process, and that students are allowed to be in any residential college while wearing a mask.
Ryan Freidan, a sophomore at Duncan College, said he thinks these policies are important because new COVID-19 variants place vaccinated people at risk.
“As a rising sophomore who didn’t get the full Rice freshman experience it’s a little frustrating,” Freidan said. “But I do believe that it is something that needed to happen with the rampant spread of the delta variant.”
According to Kirby, approximately 90 percent of Rice’s 11,000 students, staff and faculty are vaccinated. The Crisis Management Team is investigating about a dozen breakthrough cases of vaccinated Rice people testing positive elsewhere in the past week.
Kendall Vining, the Student Association president, also said she agreed with the new restrictions.
“I’m disappointed that publics are being cancelled, but I also understand that Rice would be taking an unnecessary risk with our community’s health and safety if I got to attend one last Don’t Mess with Texas party,” Vining, a Martel College senior, said. “I think so far that student life will still look and feel great this fall … this also gives me hope that smaller, more intimate traditions like Dis-O will still be able to happen this year.”
However, Vining said she was displeased with what she called a lack of transparency from Rice regarding COVID updates.
“I remain concerned with the issue of transparency in how administration conveys information to students,” Vining said. “It’s been an issue in the past, so I’m not eager to see it re-emerge this year. … Learning from last year, it is important that students demand consistent and clear communication from administration.”
In his email, Kirby wrote that there are no changes to in-person classes, research and room occupancy limits. Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people must be approved by the Crisis Management Committee, aside from some specific classes that exceed the limit. The Crisis Management Team has been fully reactivated.
Gorman wrote Willy’s Pub will be closed through the end of September. Pub has remained shut since March 2020.
Prior to this update, only unvaccinated people had to wear a mask indoors and get tested. Masks are still not required outdoors.
Kirby’s announcement follows last week’s updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, which call for vaccinated people in counties with high or substantial spread of COVID-19 — including Harris County and the vast majority of Texas — to resume wearing masks indoors.
COVID-19 cases surged across the United States in July, in part due to the highly transmissible delta variant, which the CDC says accounts for 82.2 percent of recent cases. A CDC document shows that the delta variant is as transmissible as chicken pox, and some studies suggest this variant is as much as 225 percent more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus.
Confirmed cases in Harris County have increased by 491 percent and hospitalizations by 111 percent in the last two weeks, and Harris County raised its threat level to “significant” after being at “moderate” since May. Almost 7,000 Texans are hospitalized due to COVID-19, the highest total since February.
The vast majority of recent severe illnesses due to Covid-19 have been among unvaccinated people, according to the CDC, including some 99.5 percent of deaths and 97 percent of hospitalizations. Existing vaccines are almost equally as effective against the delta variant as against the original strain of Covid-19, studies show.
Rice will work to encourage unvaccinated community members to get vaccinated, Kirby said.
“We’re offering vaccine clinics on campus … to make it much more convenient for people to do that,” Kirby said. “We’ll do anything we can reasonably do to increase vaccination rates.”
In Texas, 43.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to state data, with Harris County slightly ahead at 45.2 percent. 30 states and Washington, D.C. have administered a higher rate of vaccine doses than Texas, according to the CDC.
[8/3/2021 at 6:15 p.m.] This story was updated with information from the Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman, as well as quotes from Ryan Freidan and Kendall Vining.
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