Rice University turns to online courses to fend off virus

Rice University, a private institution in Houston, has done its best to build a wall against the Delta variant that engulfs the state of...


Rice University, a private institution in Houston, has done its best to build a wall against the Delta variant that engulfs the state of Texas.

Unlike the state’s public universities, which cannot impose vaccines or masks, Rice said she expected students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus – adopting language that does not violate the law from Texas – and imposed strict requirements to be on campus. It requires students and faculty members to wear masks indoors.

But as the virus emerged in Houston, Rice became the second university in the state to move classes online. On Thursday, the university announced that it had deferred the start of the fall semester two days until August 25 and that classes would remain online until September 3. Students can stay on campus, but those who had not yet arrived were encouraged to stay at home.

He also said members of the Rice community had tested positive for the virus despite high vaccination rates – 98.5% – among students.

“I’ll be frank: the level of breakthrough cases (positive tests in people vaccinated) is much higher than expected,” wrote Bridget Gorman, the dean of undergraduate students, in a letter to the 8,000 graduate students and first cycle of school. The university has not released figures on the breakthrough cases.

More … than 12,000 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Texas, where authorities have banned both masks and vaccines, and where Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, recently tested positive, despite being vaccinated.

“We’re in a hot spot right now,” said David W. Leebron, president of Rice, who described the decision to temporarily move to distance learning courses as a way to give the university time to assess results. of his recent tests.

“Having new worrying information, as people worry about breakthrough infections, like people with children worrying about these issues, we wanted to have some time to collect data and look at it more carefully,” did he declare.

Rice, known for her strong science agenda, had adopted strict anti-coronavirus protocols, even though he struggled to keep his campus open during the pandemic.

Mr. Leebron announced in May that all students should “come back to campus for the fall semester vaccinated.” People with medical or religious exemption would be tested weekly.

Rice also demanded indoor face coverings for students, staff and faculty, even advising faculty members to mask themselves during their classes.

Detailed advice included details on the construction and fit of the mask. “A face mask should be multi-layered, snug against the sides of the face and under the chin with no gaps, and completely cover the nose and mouth,” the university said, adding that it was best to have a “mouthpiece. moldable nosepiece to ensure a snug fit.

Rice’s strict protocols had led to a low rate of coronavirus positivity even before the vaccines. And Mr Leebron announced last year that the low prevalence of the disease on campus was proof Rice could operate safely.

A. David Paltiel, a public health expert at Yale, said the new cases at Rice were not a sign that the university’s strong mitigation plans had failed, pointing out that even places with vaccination rates high would have cases.

“This will test everyone’s resolve when the number of cases starts to climb on the dashboards,” Dr Paltiel said in an email. “But let’s try to focus on the outcomes that matter: total infections, hospitalizations, intensive care use and death. The Rice Campus is possibly one of the safest places in Houston. “

Rice was the second university in Texas to announce the switch to distance learning. Last week, the University of Texas at San Antonio said it would start with mostly distance learning courses, citing the city’s high infection rate.

North Illinois University reached an agreement with its faculty this week that the school would switch to distance learning courses if the coronavirus positivity rate reached 8%. And professors at a number of other colleges across the country have requested a switch to online classes as they brace for the possibility of coronavirus outbreaks.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where classes began this week, hundreds of faculty members signed a petition request distance learning courses for at least a month.

Christopher M. Johns-Krull, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice who is also chair of the faculty’s Senate, said the university was evaluating data on newly discovered cases, as well as contact tracing.

“We wanted to pause on this to make sure,” Dr. Johns-Krull said. “Putting online allows us to spread the arrival of students and allows us to have less diversity.

With its urban campus, Rice is surrounded by a community where the coronavirus is surging. Houston-area schools reported on Wednesday that nearly 3000 students tested positive for the virus. Hospitalizations have also increased again in the state, near last year’s highs, but Mr Abbott has resisted calls for new mandates and doubled his ban.

Orientation for freshmen at Rice began on August 15, with regular classes scheduled to start on August 23. The delayed in-person classes were a bummer for students who eagerly awaited a semester resembling normalcy.

Jacob Duff, a sophomore who had come to campus as an orientation week counselor, said counselors and incoming students were not immediately tested for the coronavirus. He criticized the university for what he saw as a failure, as well as for failing to provide a dedicated building for students who needed to be quarantined. Instead, he said, there was a room in his dormitory for the quarantined students.

In a statement, Mr Leebron said the university did not require immediate testing due to the high vaccination rate among students, but did require testing in the first week.

Regarding a separate dormitory for quarantined students, he said, Rice had never used more than 10 quarantine beds at a time – so a full dormitory seemed unnecessary – and now uses an empty residence and hotel rooms.

Rice informed the students on Thursday that she had instituted a return-to-campus testing requirement regardless of immunization status.

“The Rice administration has had all summer to realize that the Delta variant would be a problem,” said Mr. Duff, a music major from Georgia.

But at the same time, he said, it was difficult for anyone to know what kind of precautions to take.

“None of us thought it would be like this,” he said.

Rice student association president Kendall Vining was preparing to return to campus after more than a year of virtual learning. Then she learned that the students had tested positive.

Now, with the possibility of other breakthrough cases, she fears the deadline may not exceed two weeks.

“This is what it looks like to me: another semester of virtual learning,” said Ms. Vining, a senior, who has decided to stay at home in Louisiana until class resumes in person.

“I’m afraid of these long-term effects that we don’t know about,” she added. “I’m just afraid of getting sick, period.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Rice University turns to online courses to fend off virus
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