Rice University did a good enough job this fall of keeping the coronavirus in check within its tree-lined campus that it was planning to raise the number of students allowed in any given in-person class for the upcoming spring semester.
But in a message to the Rice community Friday morning, university president David Leebron announced that in-person classes won’t be getting bigger in January after all. In fact, there won’t be any in-person classes at all to start the semester thanks to the worsening local pandemic and a record-high number of positive cases.
“Given the situation with the pandemic, which is unlikely to improve substantially over the next month, we are making a number of important modifications that reflect the current and anticipated environment through mid-February,” Leebron wrote in his message to the Rice community.
Those modifications include moving all classes online only for the time being, and delaying move-in day for on-campus students from January 19 to February 15. Before these restrictions, Rice was planning to offer a hybrid of online and in-person courses as it did in the fall.
Leebron also said Rice is for now barring all in-person group activities indoors with more than five people, and said outdoor gatherings are only permitted for 10 or fewer people, as long as they’re all wearing masks and stay at least six feet apart.
Classes will still start on January 25 as planned — already a two-week delay from normal years.
“At Rice, approximately 25 percent of all of our positive cases since we started testing on campus five months ago occurred in the last two weeks alone,” Leebron wrote, noting that this increase happened “while there was almost no activity on campus” since students were home for the holidays.
Since August 1, Rice’s on-campus coronavirus testing centers have reported 188 positive tests among students, staff and faculty. 28 of those positive tests came within the past week.
Leebron explained that the new restrictions announced Friday are due to the record-high number of COVID-19 cases in Houston, the “sharp spike in positive cases and hospitalizations that started in early December, and that has been accelerating over the holidays,” the steady increase in the local COVID-19 test positivity rate, and the fact that “Daily new hospitalizations for COVID-19 have more than doubled since just before Thanksgiving.”
The one bit of good news for Rice Owls Leebron shared was that the university “has applied to the State of Texas for enough doses of the vaccine to inoculate every student, faculty and staff member of our community,” which is likely music to the ears of many Rice affiliates given the chaotic, confusing local vaccine rollout.
He said that there’s still no word from the state on when those doses will arrive, but that Rice’s leaders “are hopeful they will arrive sometime in February.”