73ºF

Update: Rice University says research employee being self-quarantined due to possible coronavirus exposure

HOUSTON – Rice University has asked a small group of employees and students to self-quarantine due to a possible coronavirus exposure, according to officials.

The coronavirus alert was posted on the university’s website Saturday night, noting that this action was “out of an abundance of caution.”

“The university is taking all necessary precautionary steps and working closely with and at the guidance of Harris County Public Health,” Rice University wrote in the release.

At this time, the university is not planning to suspend campus operations, events or classes.

“Going forward, we will follow the guidance of Harris County Public Health. We ask that all members of our community take steps to ensure that we all stay as healthy as possible,” Rice University wrote in the release.

The possible suspect case is a research staff member, officials said in a release Sunday afternoon. That individual’s contact with the Rice campus was limited and occurred on Monday, Feb. 24 and Tuesday, Feb 25. The university identified the people with whom the research staff member had direct contact. Those people, which include research scientists, postdoctoral fellows and doctoral-level graduate students, are now self-isolating off the main campus, according to the release.

Here is an update from Rice University released Sunday at about 5:30 p.m.:

The Crisis Management Advisory Committee is writing to follow up on our message sent last night.

The person under investigation is not a Rice student but a research staff member who recently traveled out of the country. This individual had contact with a possible COVID-19 positive case. The individual’s contact with the Rice campus was limited and occurred on Monday and Tuesday of last week (on Feb. 24 and 25). Rice public safety officers learned of the case on Saturday afternoon and took immediate action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those involved and the broader Rice community.

We know you are worried about the possibility that students have been exposed, and we can confirm that based on our investigation the staff member has not had direct contact with our undergraduate population. Likewise, the staff member has not been in any residential college or any classrooms since returning to Houston on Feb. 20.

Only one individual is being investigated by public health authorities, but out of an abundance of caution, Rice has identified those persons on our campus with whom there was direct contact, and we recommended that the 17 individuals self-isolate and follow heightened precautions in locations off the main campus. Those self-quarantined include faculty, doctoral students and staff. We are working closely with them to ensure their safety and well-being.

We are also reviewing all university-sponsored student trips scheduled for spring break and will make a determination shortly around the status of those trips.

We are working with Harris County Public Health and the Houston Health Department to manage the situation, and they have provided an update on the Rice situation this morning that outlines their approach. We will continue to update you as we have more information to share. The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority, and at this time, according to the public health authorities who we are working with, there is low risk to our campus.

See emergency.rice.edu for all updates and related information.

Here is the full statement released by Rice University Saturday:

Out of an abundance of caution, the Crisis Management Advisory Committee today has asked a small group of Rice employees and students to self-quarantine because of a Rice employee's possible exposure to the coronavirus while on overseas travel (to a country not on the CDC's restricted travel list). The university is taking all necessary precautionary steps and working closely with and at the guidance of Harris County Public Health.

At this time, we are not planning to suspend campus operations, events or classes. Going forward, we will follow the guidance of Harris County Public Health. We ask that all members of our community take steps to ensure that we all stay as healthy as possible, including:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, especially before eating or preparing food, after going to the bathroom and after you have been around someone who is sick. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you are unable to wash with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid sharing dishes, glasses and utensils.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw it away.
  • Stay home and do not go to class if you are sick. If you live in one of the undergraduate colleges, contact the senior operations manager for your servery to make arrangements for your meals to be delivered so that you do not spread germs in public dining areas.

Students, please contact Student Health Services (located in the Rich Student Health and Wellness Center next to the Brown College magisters' house) if you are sick. Student Health Services is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To make an appointment, call 713-348-4966. If the office is closed, you can find a list of nearby urgent-care centers on the website. Dr. McKelvey will also be available tomorrow (Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer any questions students might have (call 713-348-4966).

Rice EMS is always available for on-campus emergencies, 24 hours a day. The phone number is at 713-348-6000.

We would like to remind any student, faculty or staff member who travels for personal reasons to any country on the CDC’s level 2 and level 3 warning list that they must self-isolate and stay away from campus for two weeks after returning to the U.S.

As a precaution given the fluid global situation, we’re also requiring everyone in the Rice community who travels outside the U.S. to register their travel at this website: https://travelregistry.rice.edu. You’ll need to log in with your NetID, but it’s a simple process. If you have questions about using the application, please contact the help desk at 713-348-HELP (4357) or email helpdesk@rice.edu.

We understand that the Rice community will be rightfully concerned. The Crisis Management Advisory Committee will provide a further update within the next 24 hours or sooner as we know more. The safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff are our highest priority. Visit emergency.rice.edu for all updates and related information.

In the meantime, you can find information about the coronavirus at these websites:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/novel-coronavirus-hubei-province--china.html

https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus

A statement from the Houston Health Dept. said in part that there are currently zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city of Houston or Harris County.


About the Author: