From the DOU: Changes to on-campus COVID policies

COVID-19 response weekly update

Dear undergraduate students –

As you know, on Thursday of last week we shifted some of our campus COVID policies following a sharp rise in positive COVID tests on our campus during Orientation Week. As was then communicated on Sunday evening, over the days that followed we realized that a substantial number of these positive tests were due to a testing anomaly with one of our providers.

We all know that this is not how we wanted the school year at Rice to start. I want to express my appreciation to everyone who was on campus during Orientation Week – especially our student leadership, including O-Week Coordinators, Advisors, and Affiliates, as well as Presidents and Chief Justices. As always, your dedication to new students is impressive. Last week presented unexpected challenges for all of you, and I want to thank everyone for the effort put forth in creating a positive O-Week experience for first-year students.

As we have done since the pandemic began, and based on the data at hand, we are constantly evaluating the health status of our campus and the greater Houston area, and considering whether any adjustments to our operational posture should occur. As illustrated on the campus COVID dashboard, our positivity rate over the last 7 days is 0.53%. Although higher than last year, this level is substantially better than most population subsets around the country, and our robust testing ensures that it is not an underestimate. We benefit from the high vaccination rate that all of us have collaborated to establish, and some members of our community will be vaccinating for the first time in the days ahead (and for those of you not fully vaccinated, our vaccine clinics are happening in the East Gym on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week). Over the next few weeks, our testing program will continue to ramp up and remains an important metric to gauge the health of our campus as the size of our on campus community increases.

Today, I am pleased to announce that we are making two changes to our COVID policies relevant to undergraduate students:

  • Effective immediately, we are permitting students to eat indoors in college commons and surrounding areas, but at reduced capacity. Your college core teams are currently setting eating capacities for each table at half the designed occupancy. For example: a table designed to seat 8 would be set at a dining capacity of 4. As before, masks may be removed only when actively eating. Please note that we see this as a provisional change, one that we may edit further after our campus is fully populated and we have more information from our testing program. And, weather permitting, we continue to encourage outdoor dining in the time ahead.
  • Effective immediately, consumption of alcohol is permitted on campus, provided that students abide by the rules and expectations detailed in Rice’s Alcohol Policy. Please note: restrictions announced earlier this summer on cross-college events that include alcohol (“public” parties, crawls) remain in effect. Remember as well that it is your responsibility to consider carefully how your behavior may affect not only your own health, but also the health of the broader Rice and Houston community.

I hope you all are looking forward to the start of classes tomorrow, and the fall semester ahead.

Best wishes,

Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates