It was less than a week ago that Rice University announced it was going fully online amid a COVID outbreak. The decision made national headlines, including an article in The New York Times.
“Rice University Turns to Online Classes,” the Times reported Friday, noting that despite the school’s mandatory vaccination policy and indoor mask-wearing rules it couldn’t fight off the “Delta variant that is engulfing the state of Texas.”
But on Sunday, the institution reported that instead of an outbreak on its hands, it had a massive case of false positives.
“Dozens of people whose initial tests showed them to be COVID-positive have been retested twice and all but one of those have turned out to be negative,” Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration, said in a statement.
Kirby blamed one of the university’s testing contractors for the snafu:
We then reviewed the detailed data and noted some very unusual patterns in the results that suggested there was a possible issue with a testing provider rather than a broader campus outbreak. When we consulted with that provider, we learned that they had begun using a different protocol than they had previously used at Rice, resulting in significant differences in how test results are decided. This change in testing protocol had not been disclosed to Rice. We asked that they immediately revert to their prior testing protocol and they have done so.
Then we retested about 50 people who initially tested positive. Each of them was tested two additional times, on two different days, by two different test providers, and all but one came back negative. Based on the anomalies and the two follow-up negative tests from other providers, we concluded that these people who were previously treated as positive were in fact negative, so they were released from isolation. The people whose positive tests were verified remain in isolation.
Despite this new information, Rice will remain fully online for now.
“We will use this time to assess any other possible measures that we might put in place,” Kirby stated. “We’re going to make some operational adjustments that will be announced shortly, but right now we anticipate returning to fully in-person classroom instruction in two weeks.”