False positive COVID tests at Rice prompted return to online learning – Houston Chronicle

Posted: August 25, 2021 at 1:44 am


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Brittany Britto,Staff writer

Aug. 24, 2021Updated: Aug. 24, 2021 12:49p.m.

A COVID-19 testing provider at Rice University produced multiple false positive test results last week, which prompted the universitys recent decision to revert to remote learning for the first two weeks of the fall semester, according to officials.

Kevin E. Kirby, who serves as chair of Rices crisis management advisory committee, said in a letter to university staff Sunday that the testing provider had changed its protocols resulting in significant differences in how test results are decided. After finding some unusual patterns in the testing data, Rice officials, who were unaware of this change, asked the provider to revert to their previous testing strategy.

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Kirby did not give the testing providers name.

The university retested around 50 people who originally tested positive twice on different days and by two different providers. All but one persons results came back negative.

The university began ramping up testing on Aug. 13 days before move-in and its orientation week due to a surge of the coronavirus and its delta variant in the Houston community. Initial results showed 81 people had tested positive out of around 4,500 people tested over nine days, resulting a 2 percent positivity rate. Though that rate is lower than that of the surrounding community, Kirby said it was a cause for concern because it was much higher than the 0.24 percent positivity rate Rice had for the last academic school year, during which the university ran 150,000 tests.

This unusual campus positivity rate prompted us to take quick action and assume a more cautionary posture until we could determine whether there was a significant risk of widespread infection, Kirby said.

Also on HoustonChronicle.com: Rice moves first 2 weeks of fall semester classes online

Rice announced Aug. 19 that it would shift its first two weeks of the fall semester online and implemented a host of temporary restrictions, including a ban dining in groups indoors and drinking alcohol on campus, and a delayed move-in. The university also said it would grant refunds or waive fees for those who no longer wanted to live on-campus.

An examination of the testing data, however, showed some inconsistencies. A majority of the positive tests results were produced by one provider. More than 90 percent of those reported infections were from community members who were fully vaccinated and 75 percent of those tests were from people who reported no symptoms. Additionally, most of the people shown as positive were from different populations, with only one possible cluster indicated.

These testing data anomalies were part of the reason we decided to take most of our classes on-line for the first two weeks, until Sept. 3, as a precautionary measure, Kirby said.

After retesting, however results showed the the positivity rate at Rice for those nine days was 0.6 percent not the 2 percent originally reported.

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Kirby noted that despite there being less infection than originally reported, Rice will keep its first two weeks of the semester online and its other announced plans in tact since many students and faculty have made plans accordingly. The university will also use this time to assess whether they need to implement any other strategies, but the plan is still to return to in-person classroom instruction fully in two weeks, he said.

Kirby said some other adjustments will be made in the coming weeks. For example, students who were once asked to delay their arrival on campus can now move in. Weekly testing requirements will continue.

The university has also relaunched its testing statistics dashboard on its COVID-19 website, which show stats since Aug. 13 as well as data from August 2020 through May 2021.

Of the 4,834 people tested since Aug. 13, 26 have tested positive, according to the dashboard.

brittany.britto@chron.com

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False positive COVID tests at Rice prompted return to online learning - Houston Chronicle

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August 25th, 2021 at 1:44 am

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