Rice University to require vaccine boosters for spring semester – Houston Chronicle

Rice University will require its employees and students to get booster shots as a surge in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant causes schools across the country to change their health policies before the spring semester.

The Houston research institution will still begin the semester on Jan. 10, but with modifications – including a shift to online learning for the first two weeks of classes, according to university officials. Students are being encouraged to stay home until Jan. 24, if possible, and employees are being asked to work remotely if they can, partly to give time for people to get their booster shots before a return to campus.

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“These booster shots are critical, because in light of the rapid spread of the omicron variant, it probably will not be possible to maintain the full quarantining policies we have previously implemented,” university President David Leebron and Provost Reggie DesRoches said in a letter to students and employees on Sunday.

COVID-19 did not cause serious illness in Rice’s population over the past year, the leaders said. As of Nov. 19, more than 90 percent of the 12,000-person campus was vaccinated.

And since Aug. 13, at least 322 people tested positive out of more than 89,000 tests administered — a 0.36 percent positivity rate, according to university data.

Rice has counted numerous breakthrough infections on campus since the omicron variant’s emergence in Houston, Leebron and DesRoches said. At least 65 people tested positive in the last week, for a higher positivity rate of 4.12 percent, data shows.

The changes beginning Jan. 10 include the requirement to receive a vaccine booster if it has been six months since finishing the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna sequence, according to the university. People who received Johnson & Johnson, no matter when, will be required to get their booster shot, all unless they have medical or religious exemptions.

Most courses will move online for the first two weeks of the semester – a requirement for classes with over 50 students, Leebron and DesRoches said. Any instructors with less than 50 people per class can teach in-person, but must provide online options for students who stay home.

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Students are being encouraged to delay their return to campus, although research activities can continue.

Other indoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people through Jan. 24, and staff is also encouraged to work remotely – partly to accommodate people with childcare needs, according to the university.

Rice’s mask policy will remain in place, with face coverings required indoors.

“The Rice community has demonstrated we can live with the virus in a relatively safe manner, and that will remain so with the omicron variant,” the statement reads. “For that reason, we will begin to shift our policies to a posture that recognizes COVID-19 as endemic and facilitates our ability to deliver the best education and opportunity to our students, while still taking reasonable precautions.”

People who receive a booster shot are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and are less likely to become seriously ill if a breakthrough does occur, according to federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rice already instituted a vaccine requirement for all employees, citing President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for government contractors. A federal judge temporarily blocked the mandate, but Rice officials said the policy would remain unchanged – even as Gov. Greg Abbott has an executive order banning public and private entities from enforcing vaccine mandates.

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Source: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/education/article/Rice-University-to-require-vaccine-boosters-for-16734466.php

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