To the Rice Community:
It has been three and a half weeks since we announced that all classes would be moved to remote format for the remainder of the spring semester, and two weeks since all nonessential research on campus was halted. Less than 10% of our undergraduates remain on campus and the same is true of our graduate students and staff coming to the campus for work. As I walk across the campus each day, carefully keeping a social distance of at least 10 feet from anyone I see, it is eerily quiet.
That is true not only of campuses across the country, but of cities and neighborhoods. Each of us must do what we can to prevent the further spread of this terrible disease through social distancing, rigorous and frequent hand washing and other measures. But it is in fact spreading, and rapidly — across the world, across our country and most especially in urban areas like Houston.
While protecting the safety of our Rice community is our first priority, we must do more. We will announce tomorrow new efforts to undertake and support research related to COVID-19, research that will help not only with this pandemic, but with future pandemics. We recently opened a parking lot to the Methodist Hospital so its workers could park near their workplace and avoid having to take public transportation. Now, as the hospitals of the Texas Medical Center prepare for the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations likely to occur over the next several weeks, we must do more.
When I sent the message out canceling classes on March 12, there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston. Now there are over 600, and twice that number in Harris County. Because of the lack of testing, that is undoubtedly a significant underestimate, and it is growing rapidly. Our hospitals are being stretched to their limits, and their medical personnel are working round the clock. But much worse will come as the number of infected in Houston grows into the thousands. And some of those will undoubtedly include members of our own community.
In response to the needs of the hospitals and the brave medical personnel working to minimize the toll this disease will take in Houston, Rice will offer temporary housing for medical personnel who work in Texas Medical Center hospitals. Enabling hospital staff to live nearby will give them a greater opportunity for rest and to work needed hours. We will do this by offering the use of two of our residential colleges, Wiess and Hanszen. This will require that we move approximately 50 students and resident associates out of those two colleges to other colleges on our campus. We have chosen these two colleges because of their location close to Main Street near the Texas Medical Center, because they are connected to each other, and because measures can be taken to separate those colleges from the rest of the campus. All current residents of those colleges will receive more detailed information from Dean Gorman soon.
As we continue to explore ways in which we can support our home community of Houston, and most especially those working in the medical center, our faculty, staff and students will engage, on a limited and authorized basis, in the research that will be critical in the fight against this disease.
We decided at the outset in dealing with the pandemic that although the vast majority of our students should leave the campus and return to their homes, students who faced certain hardships, including many international students, would be permitted to remain. We acknowledge and regret the inconvenience to some of those students who must now move to other campus locations as we prepare to make this housing available. But I hope we can all agree that it is the right thing to do in support of our neighbors who are undertaking heroic efforts literally across our street to save the lives of Houstonians.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge in particular those who have remained on our campus to support the students still living here, namely our magisters and resident associates. Their support of the students still on campus has been generous and selfless. I would also like to thank our housing and dining staff who have continued to provide meals and other critical services. Our campus is quiet, but it is not empty, and that continues to be the case because of the very fine and caring work of these dedicated people.
We have seen in the past how our Rice community in responding to a crisis has exercised both concern and action not only toward those on our campus, but also those in our community and around our city, our state, our nation and our world. That is who we are, and that is what we do. We thank all of you for reflecting the character of our university.