Indoor mask mandate, in-person gathering restrictions reinstated
Following a spike in COVID-19 cases last week, Rice has reinstated its indoor mask mandate and prohibited any in-person gatherings with more than five people, according to an email sent this morning by Kevin Kirby, chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee.
Effective now and until at least the end of this year, everyone on campus will be required to wear a mask indoors, unless inside their own dorm or office, or while actively eating or drinking, according to Rice’s updated coronavirus policies.
In his email, Kirby said that the administration is having to adapt policies to respond to the recent threat of the Omicron variant. Rice’s testing providers have attributed between 33 and 50 percent of their positive cases to this new variant, according to Kirby.
“The Omicron variant is spreading exceptionally fast in the Houston area and presumably in the Rice community,” Kirby wrote. “We’re entering a new and different phase of the pandemic – one that will likely require us to revisit and revise some of our COVID policies and practices.”
Over the past seven days, Rice has seen a 1.98 percent positivity rate in testing on campus, with 38 cases spread across undergraduate and graduate students, staff and others.
“Almost all of the people who’ve tested positive in these cases have had at least two vaccine shots and, fortunately, so far none of them are seriously ill,” Kirby wrote.
Facilities on campus are being affected as well, with the Gibbs Recreation Center, Fondren Library and the shuttles being closed or discontinued now and until Jan. 3. All dining options on campus will also be closed. Research is allowed to continue, though under proper distancing and safety guidelines, according to Kirby.
This latest change comes after a semester of lessening restrictions, including a majority of classes returning to in-person instruction and masks being required only in gatherings of 10 or more.
According to Kirby, Rice is considering only those who have received a vaccine and booster shot to be fully vaccinated. His email said that there will be boosters available on campus come January, but urged community members to get the shot before then if possible.
“Getting a third booster shot is essential to reducing risks from the Omicron variant, especially if you received your second shot more than 180 days ago,” Kirby wrote. “If you haven’t had a booster shot, it’s the best holiday gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.”
Information about policies and courses next semester will be released Jan. 4, according to Kirby.
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