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Rice University asks “small group” to self-quarantine due to employee’s possible exposure to coronavirus

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A man walks past a notice for passengers about new coronavirus that has broken out in China, at Seoul railway station in Seoul, South Korea on Jan. 23, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS

Saying the move was out of an abundance of caution, Rice University on Saturday asked a "small group of students and faculty" to self-quarantine because a university employee might have been exposed to the new coronavirus while traveling overseas.

The university didn't disclose who the employee is, where in the university the person works or where the employee traveled — other than to say it was not to a country on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's restricted travel list. The university community was notified of the quarantine in a campus-wide alert late Saturday night.

"At this time, we are not planning to suspend campus operations, events or classes," the alert said. "Going forward, we will follow the guidance of Harris County Public Health."

As of Saturday, there have been 70 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States, according to The New York Times. Eleven of those have been in Texas — all of them in San Antonio where federal officials have set up a quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base for people returning to the country from high-risk areas. State health officials say the risk for average Texans remains low, as those infected in Texas have not interacted with the general public.

Still, worries about the virus continue to spread. On Sunday, CERAWeek 2020, an international energy conference in Houston, was canceled "in light of developing circumstances." Delegates from more than 80 countries were expected to attend the event, which was scheduled for March 9-13.

"Our number one concern is the health and safety of delegates and speakers, our partners, our colleagues and vendors," said the event organizer, IHS Markit, in a statement. "We have spent the last several weeks focused on this question, established a medical partnership with Houston Methodist Hospital, have been in continuing dialogue with experts on infectious disease, and established an extensive protocol. But the spread of COVID-19 is moving quickly around the world.

At Rice, officials are requiring anyone at the school who travels overseas to notify the university. Those who travel to places where the risk of contracting the virus is elevated are being asked to stay away from the university for two weeks. The school indicated it will update the campus community on the situation sometime Sunday.

"We understand that the Rice community will be rightfully concerned," the university alert said. "The safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff are our highest priority."

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