COVID-19 Response weekly update: Nov. 8

COVID-19 response weekly update

Dear colleagues,

Over the past five weeks our positivity rate through Rice testing has remained steady at a very low level of about 0.15%, with very little on-campus transmission, none in classrooms, and no clusters of infections. Meanwhile, there’s more good news that the overwhelming majority of Rice people with positive test results have shown either no symptoms or minor ones similar to a cold or flu. None of the COVID-positive individuals have been hospitalized, which is consistent with the evidence that vaccines prevent serious illness. As a result, we were able to return in early October to a much more normal semester in terms of our COVID policies.

Many public health experts have postulated there will not be a clear end to the pandemic. Instead, they’re suggesting there will be a long transitional period in the United States, shifting more towards COVID becoming an endemic condition rather than a pandemic. That suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be with us for some time, but with lower levels of transmission and lethality, and sporadic outbreaks. This outlook underlies many aspects of our policy and operational decision-making.

Returning to a more normal posture is essential to fulfilling Rice’s mission, but it must be balanced with reasonable public health measures. So we’ve been gradually shifting from strictly defined policies for limiting a deadly pandemic to a limited number of common-sense precautions against a virus for which we now have extremely effective vaccines. We’re also analyzing whether we should change some of our operational procedures, such as conducting contact tracing only in cases where there is a likelihood the virus will spread to a large number of people.

We’ve all learned to adapt to the pandemic, but the high number of cases in the U.K. over the past couple of months shows that much remains unknown about the evolution of this virus and that we need to continue common-sense measures to stop it from spreading. We all know the precautions that work: Getting vaccinated and getting a booster shot (all Rice students, faculty and staff are eligible); wearing a mask when you’re in a group setting; and taking more of your activities outdoors to enjoy our beautiful fall weather.

Vaccine Requirements. The federal government and the State of Texas have recently issued stipulations about vaccine mandates. The federal government is telling us to do one thing and the state government is telling us to do something else. Rice’s Office of General Counsel is evaluating the voluminous and conflicting requirements and we’ll issue guidance shortly.

Vaccine Clinics. Almost all of our 900 available appointments were used during the on-campus COVID-19 vaccine clinics last week. Additional vaccination clinics will be offered on campus Friday, Nov. 12 and Friday, Dec. 3. More information about these clinics will come from the Crisis Management Team later today.

Kevin E. Kirby

Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee

Vice President for Administration