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COVID outbreak could have been mitigated with proactive testing

By Thresher Editorial Board     4/12/22 11:03pm

On Dec. 26 of last year, President David Leebron and future president Reginald DesRoches sent an email to the Rice community regarding plans for this spring semester. The email proclaimed that Rice had “entered a new and different phase of the pandemic.” Specifically, the email stated that the university would “begin to shift our policies to a posture that recognizes COVID-19 as endemic and facilitates our ability to deliver the best education and opportunity to our students, while still taking reasonable precautions.” 

While we understand that the cancellation of public parties scheduled for the rest of the semester was deemed necessary due to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases on campus in the last 10 days, we find that decision is not reflective of the endemic outlook professed in the Dec. 26 email, nor is it consistent with the thorough communication that we have seen from administration up to this point.

The call for “reasonable precautions” in the Dec. 26 email has not been heeded. The campuswide testing requirement was eliminated on Feb. 10, and at no point before Beer Bike were students or alumni asked to take a rapid test to confirm they weren’t contagious. Eliminating social activities for multiple weeks after a sudden rise in cases is the definition of reactive, not proactive. 

The way we see it, the removal of a testing regimen was inevitably going to lead to a rise in cases on campus — though it should be noted, no such rise occurred until after hundreds of alumni descended on campus during Beer Bike Week. Antigen testing should be required ahead of large events, in the interest of preventing the sudden and uncontrolled spread we saw begin last week. And if a spike in cases does occur, provided there is no evidence of severe illness, those who test negative should be allowed to attend events and those who test positive should isolate, in the same way that someone who has the flu or a cold shouldn’t attend a public party in the first place. 

Implicit in the Dec. 26 email is the notion that COVID-19 is not going anywhere and there will continue to be waves of cases on campus. Canceling social activities for the final two weeks of the semester in response to an entirely predictable and preventable spike in cases after Beer Bike does not reflect the endemic policies outlined in that email. We should be proactive in preventing these waves by requiring negative antigen test results before large gatherings, otherwise we’ll enter a continuous cycle of haphazard policy implementations every time a big event causes a spike in cases. 

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Nayeli Shad, Talha Arif, Morgan Gage, Daniel Schrager and Brandon Chen.

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