COVID-19 Update: December 19, 2021

COVID-19 response weekly update

Dear colleagues,

We’ve seen a sharp rise in positive COVID cases on campus over the past week. While there are two small clusters of infections, the majority of the positive test results are broadly distributed across all parts of the university. 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. You can see the testing statistics on our dashboard.

We don’t know how many of the Rice cases are the Omicron variant, but our testing providers report that one-third to one-half of all their positive results are the new variant. The Omicron variant is spreading exceptionally fast in the Houston area and presumably in the Rice community. 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.

Effective immediately, we’re making the following changes for the remainder of the calendar year:

  • We urge everyone who can work remotely to do so. Supervisors should provide maximum flexibility for all employees.
  • The indoor mask policy is reinstated. You can see it here.
  • Research activities can continue, but it is important to wear a mask and keep at least six feet apart from others. Research facilities and services will remain open but operate under our distancing protocols.
  • Indoor gatherings of more than five people are prohibited.
  • The following entities and services are modifying their hours of operation:
    • The Gibbs Recreation Center will be closed from Monday, Dec. 20, until the week of Jan. 3.
    • Fondren Library will be closed through Monday, Jan. 3. Fondren will reinstate its materials pick-up service Monday, Dec. 20 through Wednesday, Dec. 22 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. via the library’s east entrance (facing the Academic Quad). For more information, go to Fondren’s website or contact circ@rice.edu.
    • All dining services will be closed.
    • Shuttle bus service will be discontinued until the week of Jan. 3.

Vaccines. The evidence is becoming clearer and more compelling that if, like most of our community, you’re fully vaccinated with the two-shot Moderna or Pfizer regime, 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. We should now generally consider only those who have received a booster shot to be fully vaccinated. While we will be offering booster shots on campus in January, please don’t wait – they are widely available throughout the Houston area.

Testing. Here’s the on-campus testing schedule through the start of the spring semester.

  • Dec. 20—22: Regular testing hours at our regular testing locations.
  • Dec. 23—26: No testing available.
  • Dec. 27—29: Testing in PCF 1 will be available 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Dec. 30—Jan. 2: No testing available.
  • Jan. 3: Regular testing hours resume.

Spring Semester. The Crisis Management Team will meet several times over the winter break to monitor the evolving situation in the Houston area. Decisions about COVID policies and course delivery for the spring semester will be announced on Jan. 4.

Please be very careful over the next few weeks. Wear a mask at all times when you’re around other people and as you move about your community. And if you haven’t had a booster shot, it’s the best holiday gift you can give yourself and your loved ones – please don’t delay.

Kevin E. Kirby

Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee

Vice President for Administration