COVID-19 response weekly update: A 'systems approach' to create a safe campus environment

Covid 19 update

Monday, June 1, 2020 - 1:05 p.m.

Dear Colleagues,

Much of the public discussion to date focuses on specific disease-prevention strategies – e.g., face coverings, which I wrote about last week. Over the coming months you will hear the crisis management team referring to a systems approach to creating a safer environment to mitigate against a potential spread of COVID-19 on the Rice campus. This term refers to a layered defense, each intervention working in collaboration, with no single strategy as a silver bullet.

What will constitute this system at Rice? Some methods will focus on individuals: testing for the COVID-19 virus and temperature checks; personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields, and engineered barriers; and, personal hygiene such as hand-washing and staying home if ill. Other methods will focus on the community and campus infrastructure levels: population health procedures such as physical distancing, reducing gathering sizes, and case management (contact tracing, isolation, quarantine); and building strategies such as cleaning and disinfection of high touch points and improved ventilation.

Today we want to elaborate more on physical distancing. We specifically use this term, not the more common “social distancing,” because our goal is not to socially isolate people – in fact, just the opposite. Physical distancing means keeping space between you and other people outside of your home, and it’s one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is a particularly important practice if you are a member of a higher-risk group as defined by the CDC.

While on the Rice campus everyone should, whenever possible, stay at least 6 feet away from other people. When this is not possible, a face covering must be worn both indoors and outdoors at all times when you’re within 6 feet of someone else (except when you’re in your residential dorm suite or when you’re in your own office or space used only by you).

Physical distancing is particularly important for gatherings, and you should limit your participation in groups and stay out of crowded places. This is why the university is limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, both indoors and outdoors, coupled with a requirement for appropriate physical distancing and face coverings.

All of the above methods are scientific and technical matters, based on the guidance issued from the CDC. But of equal importance is our need to care for each other, and every person taking responsibility for our collective environment. The first person in Houston to test positive for COVID-19 was a Rice employee. That individual did exactly what we hope and expect every member of the Rice community would do – staying home when ill; reporting when a travel companion tested positive for the virus; providing a list of all Rice people who they had contact with, who in turn self-quarantined for two weeks; and, finally, returning to work when fully recovered.

We have put in place some extraordinary, and temporary, policies (e.g., face coverings, limitations on gatherings) and there will be others over the coming months. Some members of our community would have us go further; others would prefer no rules at all. But we must have some, and they must be reasonable to ensure the collective cooperation we vitally need.

Kevin Kirby
Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee
Vice President for Administration

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