Rice University students required to mask up again due to rise in COVID cases on campus

A Houston university is requiring masks once again in its classrooms regardless of vaccination status.

Rice University has reported an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases on its campus in recent days, the school released in a statement Thursday. The school says there are 145 reported cases with 90% of those cases impacting undergraduates. As a result, students are required to wear masks in all classrooms.

“I’m for it,” said student Aditya Ragesh. “I think it keeps people safe and especially with the recent covid cases which we have.”

Overall, COVID-19 cases in southeast Texas are down, according to Dr. Philip Kaiser with Galveston County’s Health District.

Kaiser said hospitalizations are low too despite the rapid spread of the BA2 variant of the Omicron strain, which is hitting countries like Canada and the United Kingdom hard.

“It really hasn’t hit us badly yet,” he said. “We monitor how many cases that we get and it’s still very, very low although about 70% of the viruses that were finding are in fact this new variant.”

Infectious disease specialist with Memorial Hermann Hospital Dr. Linda Yancey said the fact that a large majority of Americans are vaccinated and have built up immunity, has a positive impact.

Yancey said unlike Europe and Canada, which are just easing restrictions, the U.S. did that months ago.

“You have a scenario where you have a bunch of people who are going to be newly in public and newly at risk alongside a highly contagious variant,” said Yancey. “So they’ve had a much harder time than we have.”

Kaiser said reaching for our masks when the community spread grows is like grabbing rain gear when there’s rain.

“There are going to be times we’re going to have to go back to masking,” he said. “There are going to be times that we’re going to have to reduce our indoor exposure. Right now we’re in a good spot.”

Rice University said it will have at-home antigen tests available for students who want them. The school said a majority of the positive cases reported this week were detected by the at-home tests.