University message shares important updates to COVID-19 response policy

Lovette Hall at Dusk

Dear colleagues,

We had been anticipating a more normal fall semester, but the Delta variant, the now dominant COVID-19 strain in the United States, is posing new challenges, particularly to anyone who is unvaccinated.

The COVID-19 situation in the Houston area is getting worse with the highly transmissible Delta variant, but it is not as dire as it was when the spring semester started last January. This development requires us to change some of our policies for the beginning of the semester. We still intend to have as rich and vibrant a semester as possible and we want to avoid imposing the same level of constraints we had during the spring semester.

We’re sending this lengthy message to address many of the aspects of our COVID-19 response. We realize many people will have questions raised by special circumstances. Additional details will be forthcoming during the next week from the Provost, Dean of Undergraduates, Dean of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, and the Crisis Management Team.

Throughout the pandemic, our top priority has been the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors. We as a community have laid a strong foundation for the fall semester. These three factors are among the keys to our response going forward.

· Based on prior survey information, we expect that about 90% of our 11,000 students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated during the fall semester.

· All of the buildings on campus have been modified to reduce transmission of the virus through maximum air flow settings, high-efficiency filters and UV-C lights in air circulation systems.

· The policy changes outlined below are intended to further reduce the chances of on-campus transmission. (These policies apply to the main campus, including the BRC, Data Center, Library Service Center, and the graduate student apartments.)

Vaccination status of Rice community. We need to ensure we have the most accurate and up-to-date vaccine status information to inform our policies and actions. All undergraduate and graduate students who will be enrolled at Rice for the fall 2021 semester, including those who will study in an online or remote format, must fill out this form, if you have not already. All faculty and staff must review and update their current vaccine status by completing this short form no later than August 15.

Alternative work arrangements. Two months ago, when we announced that we expected a mostly normal fall semester, we anticipated that the vast majority of employees would return to campus full time by the end of July. Although an overwhelming majority of the Rice community is vaccinated, we believe that in light of recent developments the plan can be adjusted. As of today, we will adopt a more flexible policy for work arrangements until we can better assess the evolving situation after the fall semester begins. Alternative work arrangements may be appropriate for some employees, jobs, and organizational units, but they may not be appropriate or possible for others. Any alternative work arrangements must be approved by the employee’s supervisor, and then by the appropriate senior administrator (e.g., Dean, Vice President), with the expectation that all offices will have some presence on campus. This more flexible work environment will remain in place until Sept. 30, when we will reassess the situation.

Stay at home if you’re feeling ill. We want everyone who feels ill to stay home. Effective Aug. 3, Rice will implement a temporary sick leave program that will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2021. All full-time and part-time staff will receive two days of sick leave, in addition to normal paid time off. The sick-leave days will be available for staff to use until Dec. 31, 2021.

Change to indoor mask policy. Masks are required indoors at all times for faculty, staff, students and visitors, with the following exceptions:

· When actively eating or drinking.

· When students are inside their own rooms in a residential college.

· When faculty, staff or students are alone inside a private office.

· Faculty lecturing in a classroom are advised, but not required, to wear a mask. If they’re not masked, instructors must maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between themselves and their students. Unvaccinated instructors must wear a mask at all times.

Masks are not required outdoors.

Classes. In-person classes will continue as planned in the rooms in which they are scheduled. Additional guidance to be issued by the Provost later this week will address the special circumstances of each school.

Research. There are no changes or limitations to research activities.

Gathering size limits. Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people must go through a review and approval process by the Crisis Management Team, with the exception of Registrar scheduled classes.

Room occupancy limits. We are not currently reestablishing the COVID-19 occupancy limits on rooms, nor will there be any changes to university housing levels at this time.

Rental of space to external groups. Until further notice, there should be no new commitments made to rent space to outside groups. Existing contracts need not be canceled.

Vaccine clinics. We urge every member of our community to get vaccinated if they have not already done so. This is the single best thing all of us can do for our own health and the health of our community. We will conduct more vaccine clinics, on or close to campus, probably the week of Aug. 16. Further details are forthcoming.

Testing. Our large-scale testing program will ramp up again for the fall semester with Baylor Genetics, Methodist Hospital, and our own LAMP testing. Symptomatic testing will again be offered on campus.

· Fully vaccinated people coming to campus, and coming into routine contact with others, must schedule a test at least once every two weeks.

· Unvaccinated people coming to campus must test twice per week, regardless of whether they come into contact with other people.

Details on locations, hours and scheduling tests will be forthcoming.

Testing results. During the past seven days, we administered approximately 230 tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the Rice campus. Two people tested positive through the university’s testing program. We have also received reports that about one dozen vaccinated Rice people tested positive elsewhere over the past week. We are working through the process of verifying those cases.

Reactivation of the Crisis Management Team. The CMT COVID-19 response team was fully reactivated yesterday. The CMT will resume full testing and contact tracing capability, conduct vaccine clinics and lead infection control management efforts.

Communications. We will again post Rice’s testing statistics, along with isolation and quarantine data, on the COVID-19 website. Regular updates will be issued each week.

We will continue to closely monitor the situation and make changes as necessary. Thank you for all you do to keep our community safe and healthy.

Kevin E. Kirby

Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee

Vice President for Administration