From the Dean of GPS - Important information about Rice’s spring start, please read

From the Dean of GPS - Important information about Rice’s spring start, please read

Dear graduate students,

Due to the surge in COVID cases occurring across the country and globe, President Leebron and Provost DesRoches recently announced some updates to how our campus will operate at the start of spring semester. As their letter to campus states: “There is emerging evidence of what we should expect from the rapidly spreading omicron variant. It’s extremely contagious -- two to three times more than the delta variant. It’s better at evading immunity conferred by past infection or vaccination without a booster, and the incubation period from infection to the onset of symptoms is much shorter. People who contract this variant, especially if vaccinated, generally experience less severe symptoms than people who’ve contracted the other variants. Some experts predict the current wave will recede substantially by the end of January.”

If you have not read that message, please take a moment to do so. I write today to provide additional details regarding the spring semester.

Virtual Courses

As noted in the message linked above, most classes will be conducted virtually until standard presentation resumes Jan. 24. Please watch for specific announcements from your instructors.

Research

Research facilities and services will remain open, and research activities can continue. Masks must be worn indoors in accordance with our updated policy.

International Students

Students on F-1 and J-1 visas are generally required to study in-person to maintain their legal immigration status. However, there are some exceptions to DHS/ICE/SEVP laws to support universities’ needs due to COVID-19 accommodations. The Office of International Students & Scholars (OISS) is sending relevant messages to international students via the OISS-announce listserv and other group-targeted emails to keep students updated regarding changes and how this may affect students’ legal status. Please read their emails and be sure to respond quickly to any surveys that come to you, so the OISS and GPS can best advise students regarding changes and how we can best help you.

Indoor Dining and Drinking

As we make every effort to manage the virus surge, everyone must refrain from dining indoors in group settings. Graduate students, faculty and staff may eat inside an office or another indoor space that affords as much isolation from others as possible. All other dining on campus must occur outdoors through Jan. 23.

Additionally, through Jan. 23, indoor alcohol use is prohibited on campus. Valhalla will be permitted to operate, but will be limited to outdoor consumption only. Willy’s Pub will be closed until Jan. 24.

Arrival COVID Testing and Vaccination

Students who have been traveling will be expected to schedule a COVID test on arrival and should refrain from interacting with the Rice community until they receive a negative test result. A follow up test should also be scheduled 3-4 days after your first test is completed. Tests are available for scheduling online through the week of Jan. 10, and tests for the remainder of the month will be available for sign-up Jan. 5.

The high transmissibility of the omicron variant is another reason why getting your booster shot is very important: disease symptoms are much milder if boosted. As stated in the President’s email, booster shots are now required for eligible students (generally those who received their second vaccination more than six months ago) who come to campus effective Jan. 10. All students must fill out the student vaccine form to provide updated information on your status. Please note that on this form students may indicate they are not vaccinated/boosted for religious, medical, or personal reasons. If you have not already updated your vaccine data with your booster information, please do so on the student form here. You can update your current form by scrolling down to the bottom of the form page and clicking on your previous entry. Over the next few days, please watch for updates to the online FAQs related to boosters. While there are an abundance of options in the Houston community to get vaccinated, Rice will be offering two additional vaccine clinics (one in January and one in February). The previous communication for details on how to sign up can be found here.

The added protection of boosters should improve the campus’ health and safety moving into the spring semester. These policy changes continue our general approach of being “flexible, nimble and adaptable” and we will continue to adapt throughout the spring semester. For updates and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit https://coronavirus.rice.eduand continue to monitor your email.

Reminder: Mandatory Flu Shots

As previously announced, flu shots were required for all students as of Oct. 15, 2021. Getting your annual flu shot is more important than ever. Influenza and COVID-19 are both potentially serious, contagious respiratory illnesses that share many of the same symptoms. Many of you have gotten your shots and provided documentation already - thank you. For those who have not completed the vaccination survey by submitting documentation that you did get the flu shot or requesting a waiver from the vaccine requirement, please do so by Jan. 24. Do not delay; get your flu shot and complete the survey as soon as possible.

Students should submit proof of flu vaccination at the following link: https://veoci.com/v/p/dashboard/j6ce8duchj

If you would like to opt-out for religious or medical reasons, that should be noted on the form. Please note that Student Health Services has flu vaccines available and students may also use insurance at any pharmacy or outpatient provider.

The Rice graduate community has done well at keeping on the safe side through the pandemic. I know the circumstances have not always been easy, and I’m grateful to each of you for your perseverance in pursuing your scholarship through these difficulties. Thank you for your care in protecting the health of the community, and I look forward to the new semester.

Best regards,

Seiichi Matsuda
Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies