Rice colleges to house Texas Medical Center personnel on front lines of COVID-19 fight

Houston, Texas

Rice and the Texas Medical Center have long enjoyed a unique closeness, thanks to decades of partnerships and proximity. And now the university is doing what any good neighbor would in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: helping out.

Rice will soon offer Texas Medical Center hospital personnel temporary housing at two of its residential colleges, Wiess and Hanszen, which are both directly across Main Street from the Medical Center campus.

Houston, Texas
Wiess and Hanszen Colleges, across Main Street from the Texas Medical Center, will soon house medical personnel on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. (Photo by Brandon Martin)

“Enabling hospital staff to live nearby will give them a greater opportunity for rest and to work needed hours,” Rice President David Leebron said in an email to the campus community April 5.

When Rice canceled classes March 12, there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston.

“Now there are over 600, and twice that number in Harris County,” said Leebron, who noted that an overall lack of testing means that number is significantly underestimated.

Rice recently opened a parking lot close to Houston Methodist Hospital to provide its workers a nearby place to park without having to take public transportation.

“Now, as the hospitals of the Texas Medical Center prepare for the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations likely to occur over the next several weeks, we must do more,” Leebron said. “Our hospitals are being stretched to their limits, and their medical personnel are working round the clock. But much worse will come as the number of infected in Houston grows into the thousands.”

Approximately 50 students and resident associates in the two colleges will move to other housing across campus, but they will remain in single rooms with their own bathrooms, appropriately distanced from the other undergraduates who remain at Rice.

Texas Medical Center officials will coordinate decisions on who will move onto campus.

distancing sign
The Rice campus will continue to enforce social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

“As the city’s leading research university, and as neighbor and partner to the hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, Rice has an obligation to do whatever it can to help Houston stem the tide of COVID-19’s advance,” Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman wrote in an email to affected students. “This includes providing assistance to the Medical Center as those institutions strive to help those who have fallen ill.”

Students in Wiess and Hanszen will move to their new room assignments this weekend. Boxes and packing are being delivered to them and movers will transport their belongings across campus.

Gorman sought to reassure students that bringing health care workers onto campus would not mean exposing the Rice community to the coronavirus. Extensive precautions, she said, include restricting health care personnel staying in either college to Wiess, Hanszen and their designated parking areas.

“You have already dealt with so much that was unexpected and unpleasant this semester, and now we are asking you do to more,” Gorman wrote, thanking the students who are packing up to make room for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

“It is difficult, but I hope you will see that it is the right decision,” Gorman said.

“In times of national emergency, it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to help others. I very much appreciate the part all of you are playing in helping Rice be a good neighbor to everyone.”