Message from the DOU: Important Student Announcements and Updates

Message from the DOU: Important Student Announcements and Updates

October 2, 2020

Dear Students –

October has arrived, and I can hardly believe we are at the close of the sixth week of classes. By many metrics, we have much to be proud of around how the semester has gone so far. For courses and social events, we are engaging with others both online and in person. These experiences will undoubtedly lead to new traditions and ways of interacting that will stay with us even after the current pandemic has ended. For those of you who live on or near campus, the thoughtful and responsible attention you are showing toward your own health, and the wellbeing of others, is a critical component in our control of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) at Rice. I remain grateful, and humbled, at the collective way we are tackling this situation, and our good fortune to have a student body that serves as an example to others on how to successfully navigate this challenging time.

I am writing today with several important updates, so please read this message carefully. There are action items for each of you, detailed below.

Since before classes began, I have been meeting regularly with student leadership to discuss campus life and related topics. After much discussion, and in recognition of our successful start with controlling coronavirus spread among students, I have partially lifted the alcohol ban for undergraduate students. As I communicated to your college core teams, presidents, and Chief Justices, alcohol is limited to publically registered, outdoor events at the residential colleges. These events must go through our event risk management process and adhere to all rules described in Rice’s Alcohol Policy and the Culture of Care Agreement. Alcohol service and consumption remains prohibited in all indoor spaces, including student rooms and suites.

As we move through the remainder of fall and into the spring semester, our safety posture and policies may continue to evolve. As President Leebron has stated, we aim to be “flexible, agile, and adaptable”, and if the circumstances allow we will consider relaxing other restrictions – it just depends on how things go. To give you some sense of this, I hope you all are actively monitoring our testing results on our dashboard. As the editorial team at the Thresher noted earlier this week, while our fall start is going well, we are seeing a small uptick in cases over the last week or so.

This serves as an important reminder that we have a collective responsibility to remain attentive in how we protect ourselves and engage with others, both on and off campus. Stay attuned to how you are feeling. Take your temperature every morning when you wake up, and immediately complete the health reporting form, found on this page, if you are feeling unwell or have been in contact with a positive case. Also, if our contact tracing team gets in touch with you, be detailed and thorough in answering their questions about your contact with other persons – and please, do not hold anything back. The better the information they have, the better able they are to protect against potential spread of the virus.

TESTING PROGRAM: Sign up for testing next week, plus three important updates

As always, please continue to carefully plan around your testing appointment each week. A key component of our testing program is 100% testing of the eligible undergraduate population each week. Here is the link and security code, please sign up for testing next week, between Monday, October 5 and Friday, October 9:

Please take care in entering your data and review carefully before submitting. You will receive a confirmation email (including your QR code) immediately after submitting the appointment request. If for some reason you do not receive the confirmation email, or if you have any questions about scheduling your appointment, please contact covidtesting@rice.edu for assistance.

There may be rare times when you believe you have been in an environment (for example, a wedding) where your risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus was unusually high. If so, please call the Rice Community Call Center at (713) 348-4224, which is open Monday—Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., so that we can design a special health care protocol for you. This would typically involve health monitoring every day and testing more than once a week.

Testing updates:

  1. Starting next week, we are modifying the rules regarding weekly testing for our “remote” students. Currently, if an enrolled student does not come to campus they do not participate in weekly testing. However, our contact tracing efforts have shown that a portion of our “remote” student population is engaging directly with various members of our community off campus. Since this affects our ability to control disease spread within our community, we are dividing our “remote” student designation into two groups, as follows:

o Remote Group 1 (Interacting): If you are enrolled as a remote student, but have any contact with members of the Rice community who come to campus this semester, then weekly testing is required.

o Remote Group 2 (No Contact): If you are enrolled remotely and have NO contact with members of the Rice campus community who come to campus this semester, then you remain exempt from testing. So long as you remain remote and fully isolated from the Rice campus population (meaning you have no direct interactions with any person who lives on campus or comes to campus for classes, work, or other activities), this status applies to you.

If you are currently designated as a “remote student”, within the next hour you will receive a brief survey from my office asking you to update your status. This update will allow us to determine your new “remote group”, as described above. I would ask that you carefully reflect on your interactions with the community and respond promptly, and honestly, so we can ensure appropriate testing is provided. As I have stated, this is an important step in maintaining the safety of the community, and your response is required by end of day on Sunday, October 4.

  1. All testing locations (including The Roost at Reckling Park, East Gym in Tudor Fieldhouse, and Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory) will soon feature a new and required step when you report for check in: a QR code reader.Starting Monday, October 5, all persons must scan their QR code (included in your testing appointment confirmation email) upon entry to the testing location. We are adding this step to improve Rice’s ability to confirm daily attendance at each testing location.
  1. As you know, since the first day of classes we have been running a robust PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing program for SARS-CoV-2, administered using nasal swabs by two vendors (Baylor Genetics and Methodist Hospital). This week, we began the first steps of officially expanding this testing program. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Professor of Bioengineering, and her Rice team have begun an IRB-approved research study to evaluate a new SARS CoV2 nucleic acid based detection assay that uses saliva. We are very proud of her team’s efforts, which started early last spring and have now come to fruition. The test will be easier to administer, has a rapid turnaround time, and will be used to supplement (and not replace) our current PCR testing capacity. Overall, this will further bolster our public health strategy, and our intention is to steadily increase and grow this testing capability over the next several weeks. By the end of classes, we hope to be enrolling almost 300 people per day in the study at Rice.

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

Early next week, you will receive an invitation to participate in a mid-semester survey of students. As you’ll see, we are doing this to gather important information as we prepare and plan for spring semester, including feedback on your class experiences this semester (in dual delivery, online only, and in-person only classes). In addition, the University is currently considering a change to the Spring 2021 Academic Calendar, including a delay of up to two weeks to the start of spring semester classes. Because of this, we are considering and would like to gauge interest in a variety of curricular and co-curricular options for January, which we ask about on the survey. We also ask about your housing intentions for spring semester (on campus vs off campus). Your response is not binding, but it gives us a starting point for organizing room assignments for spring semester. More information on that process is forthcoming later this month. Participation in the mid-semester student survey is mandatory. Please look for the invitation in your email later today, your response is due by next Friday, October 9.

I also want to clarify procedures regarding the end of classes and travel around the Thanksgiving holiday. As you know, one of the reasons why we are ending class instruction the Friday before Thanksgiving, with all exams scheduled remotely, is to reduce the amount of back-and-forth travel that typically occurs around this holiday each year. Please know that you are not required to move out of your residential college by that date; the fall housing contract runs through the final exam period and ends on Thursday, December 17. If you do travel any distance away from campus for Thanksgiving, and then return to Rice, we will require additional testing on your return (and we will provide more information on this process by early November).

Finally, I end with two announcements about winter break and spring semester move in:

  • Similar to the process we used around on campus housing this past summer, later this month my office will circulate a petition for those who would need to remain living on campus over Winter Break (between December 18 and the start of spring semester move in). Additional room and board costs will apply for students approved to stay on campus over the winter break, which will include a meal plan.
  • After revisions for the Spring 2021 Academic Calendar are finalized, my office will communicate details surrounding spring semester move in. Similar to fall semester move-in, we will have staggered arrival dates/times, and required testing on arrival.

Thank you for reading to the end, I know it was a lot of information.

As always: take care, stay safe, and be well.

Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates