COVID-19 Update: Aug. 5, 2022

COVID-19 Update

Dear faculty, staff and students,

As we approach the beginning of the next academic year, we continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in our area and the recommendations of the CDC and local public health authorities.

The virus poses a very different challenge today than it did during the earlier phases of the pandemic more than two years ago. We now have effective vaccines, booster shots and pharmaceutical treatments to combat the effects of COVID-19, and we have a better understanding of how we can protect ourselves with simple precautions like wearing good quality masks (N95/KN95/KF94) in certain public settings. Vaccination remains the best measure to reduce serious illness from COVID-19. Data consistently shows that vaccination can reduce the severity of infection across all age ranges. Unfortunately, the recent SARS-CoV-2 variants BA 4 and BA 5 are more infectious than previous variants meaning that it is harder to prevent viral transmission. But again, the vaccines have proven effective in reducing the chances of serious illness.

Our fall semester is about to begin, and with that in mind, today we are announcing policies our university will adopt for the fall semester to reduce COVID-19 cases within our community, while continuing to deliver on our teaching and research mission.

Mask policy. We are strongly encouraging everyone to carry masks at all times on campus and use their best judgment on when it’s appropriate to wear one. Please take responsibility for protecting others. If a fellow student or a co-worker asks you to wear a mask, please consider doing so. A well-fitted KN95/KF94 mask offers much better protection than cloth or disposable surgical masks. Use this link to order masks (KN95 or surgical masks).

Faculty have the option of requiring students to wear masks in their classrooms and research spaces. Masking requirements in classrooms will be adopted at the discretion of each instructor. Similarly, the principal investigator of a research laboratory may choose to adopt a policy requiring masking in their lab.

Vaccines. The university will no longer require those who are unvaccinated to wear masks at all times and undergo regular surveillance testing. Nonetheless, we urge all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated and stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.

All students should take an antigen test when they arrive at Houston/Rice. On-campus students will be provided with antigen tests during move in. Off campus students can pick up test kits from their college coordinator’s office the weekend of move in.

Antigen test kit orders are limited to one kit (two tests) per month. Use this link to order a test kit.

In-person Instruction and Classroom Accommodations. Classes that are normally taught in face-to-face mode will continue to be taught in this manner. All instructors should be as accommodating as possible as they manage student absences related to illness. The goal should be to keep people who are not feeling well out of the classroom, but still engaged with their academic pursuits. Faculty are strongly encouraged to make accommodations for students who are ill and cannot attend in person by recording their classes for asynchronous delivery, or by providing additional instruction, support or materials so that students absent from live classes because of illness are not disadvantaged.

The Office of Technology Learning Environment Group is available to help faculty needing assistance with recording lectures. Dual delivery classroom information can be found at this link. Tech teaching assistants can provide support to faculty with the additional technology requirements needed to teach in dual-delivery mode (students in the classroom and online) or to record their classes upon request. Faculty with questions about the TechTA program should email TechTACoord@rice.edu.

Monkeypox. The university is also monitoring the spread of monkeypox both globally and in the Houston area. Monkeypox is a viral infection that spreads mainly through close contact, and federal authorities have declared the outbreak a public health emergency. We will continue to keep a close eye on the data and updates from local public health authorities, and we encourage you to learn more about it from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at this link.

We wish everyone who is traveling to the university in the next couple of weeks a safe trip, and we look forward to seeing everyone back on campus for the fall semester.

Rice University Crisis Management Advisory Committee