Dear Rice Community,
A few weeks ago, we expected to be back to a more normal posture for the fall semester, but COVID-19’s delta variant (8% of the total cases nationwide just two months ago, and now about 90%) has made that challenging. As our students are arriving on campus, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the Greater Houston area is increasing. We are also seeing a substantial increase in the number of cases within our Rice community, which is predominantly vaccinated. In Houston and across the nation, “breakthrough” cases are occurring among those who are vaccinated. However, it is important to recognize that vaccination substantially reduces the spread of COVID-19 and makes serious illness extremely rare. Vaccination remains the single most effective method to protect yourself, your family and everyone on campus.
Much remains to be learned about the delta variant and we need to pay close attention to the current surge that is especially pronounced in Texas. We need time to test and assess the prevalence of COVID-19 in the Rice community and its related health outcomes, and to implement any appropriate risk mitigation actions, keeping in mind the effectiveness of vaccination in preventing serious illness. For these reasons, we will move to online instruction for at least the first two weeks of the semester. In order to provide additional time to prepare for this change, classes will begin Wednesday, Aug. 25, and instruction will be online through Friday, Sept. 3. By that time, we will have reassessed our instruction and other mitigation policies. It remains our intention to return to fully in-person instruction this semester.
Instructors can choose to teach in either synchronous or asynchronous mode. Instructors may come to campus and utilize their office or classroom if they wish to better facilitate remote instruction. Instructors can also host in-person office hours, keeping in mind the requirement of masking indoors. Instructors are asked to please update their syllabi as soon as possible to reflect how their courses will begin in the fall. Instructors who wish to be exempted from the online requirement and teach in person for the first two weeks should send a request to me with a brief explanation of why they want to be exempt. Courses, such as graduate research, that can be conducted with masking and appropriate physical distancing will remain in person.
We hope everyone understands the need to adjust our COVID-19 posture in the days ahead. We will continue to monitor the situation on campus and in Houston, and make appropriate adjustments. Thank you for your support in keeping the health and safety of our Rice community a top priority.
Reginald DesRoches, Howard Hughes Provost