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Rice University employee to be tested for coronavirus

The employee traveled outside of the United States but not in an area that was on the CDC's restricted travel list, Rice says.

HOUSTON — A Rice University employee will be tested for the coronavirus, according to Houston health officials.

On Sunday, Harris County health officials received approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the employee, who Rice identified as a research staff member. 

The specimen is collected from the nose and deep in the throat. It will be sent to the Houston Health Department and then to the CDC.

KHOU 11 was told the employee wore a face mask Monday and Tuesday of last week while on campus. 

The university's spokesman said the employee did not feel well, so the employee chose to not come back to campus after Tuesday.

The employee came in contact with 17 people while on campus. Those people are now self-isolating away from the main campus.  

The university said the employee has no contact with undergraduate students. 

Students who attend the university tell KHOU 11 they feel safe. 

"I think that Rice University is handling it very well. They do a good job of addressing their students and faculty and making sure that there isn't a fear that isn't necessary," said Rice University student Ashley Pena.

Rice University officials said the employee's overseas travel destination was not on the CDC's restricted travel list.

The university is not planning to suspend campus operations, events or classes.

Students are asked to contact Student Health Services if they are sick.

Rice University is also requiring everyone in the Rice community who travels outside the U.S. to register their travel at this website.

For the latest KHOU 11 coverage on the coronavirus, text 'VIRUS' to 713-526-1111 or visit KHOU.com/coronavirus.

Here is the full statement released by Rice University early Sunday evening:

Coronavirus alert for Sunday, March 1

Dear Rice students, faculty, staff and parents,

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.

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