From the DGPS: Spring 2021 semester planning & COVID-19 safety

COVID-19 update

Sent: Fri. Jan. 22, 2021, 4:39 p.m.

Dear graduate students:

I write today to remind you of adjustments being made to the Spring 2021 semester in light of the communications sent Jan. 8 by President Leebronand the Office of Research.

While classes are still scheduled to begin this coming Monday, Jan. 25, the university has generally moved to an online format through mid-February. Some courses have been exempted from this requirement, including independent research courses, directed reading courses, others where students and instructors meet individually, and some courses in which the structure precludes an online format.  International students who need face-to-face instruction for visa purposes should remain in close communication with their directors of graduate study and the Office of International Students and Scholars and should continue to follow their advising closely. OISS notes that SEVP has confirmed that the guidance that was in place for F-1 students for Fall 2020 will continue in the Spring 2021 semester. Please see this link for more details.

Additionally, in order to protect our campus community, the university reverted back to Research Stage 2 guidelines, beginning Jan. 15. For those students conducting research, your PI should have notified you of what these guidelines mean for you. These plans reduce the overall campus population as a means to keep each of us safe, and so whenever possible, scholarship must be conducted remotely.

In consideration of these adjustments, I’d encourage you to start planning now so you can stay healthy and have a strong start to the new semester.  

We continue to update our Coronavirus FAQs, where you will be able to find resources to help you navigate life at Rice in 2021.  Please check there, consult with your graduate administrator, and review our past and upcoming newsletters for resources related to graduate student academics and graduate student life, everything from traveling for research to printing your thesis.  

Our Culture of Care Agreement remains in effect for the entire 2020-21 academic year; please take a moment to review our community expectations.  

Winter travel and flu shot requirement:

If you have been away from Rice for any amount of time, prior to returning to campus for the spring semester we ask that you be mindful to physically isolate yourself from others outside of your home for a few days. If possible, please get tested 2-3 days prior to leaving for Rice, especially if you will be flying, traveling by bus, train or in a vehicle with others. If you have not already done so, please remember that you are required to get your flu shot or show proof of waiver before coming to campus (if you have any questions on the flu shot requirement, please contact Student Health Services at hlsv@rice.edu).

If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, please refrain from traveling and contact your advisor or graduate program administrator to assist you with delaying your arrival at Rice until you are well. The CDC self-checker here can assist you with an assessment.

COVID-19 testing requirements upon return:

We ask that all graduate students who plan to be on campus during the spring semester schedule a COVID-19 test before engaging with the campus. Appointments through the end of January are now available. Once tested, please stay at home until you receive your results, which should be available within 48 hours.

As announced earlier this month, all faculty, staff and students who plan to work or live on campus two or more days per week are required by the Culture of Care Agreement to schedule COVID-19 testing twice a week through Feb. 15, with at least three days between tests.  You can schedule your tests at https://coronavirus.rice.edu/testing-resources.  After Feb. 15 we expect to return to our previous weekly testing requirement for all students on campus two or more days per week. Please note that testing sites have been consolidated to two locations: Baylor Genetics at the East Gym (self-administered) and Methodist Hospital at the Abercrombie site (staff-administered).

The value of frequent testing is that should you have been exposed on your way back to campus, we may be able to detect it and help you manage your case early.  Given the surge in positive test results in Houston and in the Rice community, frequent testing will also help the campus identify and prevent transmission within our community.  

Should you start to feel symptomatic at any time, please fill out the Health Reporting Form and you will be assisted. Please note, if you are symptomatic you cannot be tested at the regular testing locations. You must complete a Health Report Form to reach the contact tracing team and receive assistance in scheduling a symptomatic test.

At this time, please stay at home to the fullest extent possible, stay physically distant from others, consistently wear a mask when outside of your home or when others come to visit and maintain good hygiene with frequent handwashing. While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has begun nationwide, relatively few persons have been vaccinated and the disease continues to spread. It is important that you are diligent with your health behaviors, both to protect yourself and to protect others. The national outlook for COVID-19 will continue to challenge all of us throughout the winter and spring, and we must adhere to our public health strategy in order to ensure we protect each other.  As always, we are striving to improve the safety of our campus and we will adjust as needed, just as we did in the fall.

If we all work together and follow these guidelines, we will be able to promote a safe and successful start to the Spring semester. On behalf of everyone at Rice, we look forward to working with you during the new semester.

Best regards,

Seiichi Matsuda
Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
E. Dell Butcher Professor of Chemistry
Professor of BioSciences