Education

Delta Surge Leads Rice To Retreat From In-Person Classes For Two Weeks

Rice University announced Thursday a retreat from its plans to start semester with in-person classes.
Rice University announced Thursday a retreat from its plans to start semester with in-person classes. Screenshot
In a recent message to Rice University students, faculty and staff, the school’s Provost Reginald DesRoches said that the rapid spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant has caused Rice to retreat from its plans to kick off the new school year with in-person classes, mere days before the semester was set to begin on August 23.

DesRoches announced Thursday that not only will all of Rice’s classes be held online only for at least two weeks, but that the first day of class will be delayed by two days to August 25 “to provide additional time to prepare for this change” for students and professors.

“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 percent of the total cases nationwide just two months ago, and now about 90 percent) has made that challenging,” DesRoches wrote, mere days after Rice’s new freshman class moved on campus.

“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,” DesRoches wrote. “For these reasons, we will move to online instruction for at least the first two weeks of the semester.”


Prior to Thursday’s announcement, Rice’s brass had authorized full in-person classes for the soon to begin school year, with mask rules in place for students and professors regardless of vaccination status. While masks were made mandatory for students, professors had the option to lecture maskless, but only if they’re vaccinated and “if they maintain a distance of at least 10 feet between themselves and their students,” according to guidelines posted to Rice’s website August 13. Professors teaching classes with 100 or more students were given the option to start the semester with online classes, but were told they “should plan to resume face-to-face instruction” by September 13.

In a separate message to the Rice community, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said the shift to online classes, albeit temporarily, was made “in response to the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases in the broader Houston area and found on our campus through our testing program.”

“I’ll be blunt: the level of breakthrough cases (positive tests among vaccinated persons) is much higher than anticipated,” Gorman wrote. “And while it’s important to recognize that we can expect illness to be much milder among the fully vaccinated, it has become clear that as a campus community we need to take steps to further assess and recalibrate how we will manage this illness at Rice this year.”

“While it’s important to recognize that we can expect illness to be much milder among the fully vaccinated, it has become clear that as a campus community we need to take steps to further assess and recalibrate how we will manage this illness at Rice this year.” - Bridget Gorman, Rice University Dean of Undergraduates

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Gorman also announced that through September 3, students will not be allowed to eat meals indoors in groups, and said all meals must be eaten either outside or inside students’ dorm rooms. She also said that through the second week of classes, “Consumption of alcohol, in public and private spaces, is not permitted.”
click to enlarge As of August 16, most Rice community members said they'd taken a COVID-19 vaccine. - SCREENSHOT
As of August 16, most Rice community members said they'd taken a COVID-19 vaccine.
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Rice has asked all students, faculty and staff to fill out a survey indicating their vaccination status. As of August 16, Rice's crisis management chairman Kevin Kirby said that "approximately 230 people (1.8 percent of our total population) who have filled out the survey have indicated they do not intend to be vaccinated."

Earlier this summer, Rice reversed its policy that fully vaccinated individuals didn’t need to wear masks when indoors on campus, reinstating indoor masking for all staff and faculty unless alone in a private office. While Rice hasn’t required vaccinations, it has stepped-up testing requirements for those who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinated Rice community members are only required to test once a week, while unvaccinated people (or those who refuse to fill out Rice’s survey on vaccination status) are required to test twice a week,

Also, on Tuesday, Rice's Suzanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies which had been set up for in-person classes this fall, announced they were moving all their Community Learning and Engagement courses online.

DesRoches said Thursday “It remains our intention to return to fully in-person instruction this semester” at a later date and time. Gorman acknowledged that Rice students likely “feel a sense of disappointment that we find ourselves in this situation — I know that I do.”

“But, as much as our vision for our fall start is shifting, I remain optimistic that these changes reflect a relatively short-term opportunity to pause-and-reset, rather than permanent alterations to how life on campus will be this semester,” she continued.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards