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Rice University cancels classes due to coronavirus concerns

A Rice employee contracted coronavirus while on an Egyptian cruise in mid-February and remains on self-quarantine.

HOUSTON — Rice canceled in-person classes and undergrad teaching labs this week amid concerns about the coronavirus.

The campus remains open and scheduled events with fewer than 100 people are still happening.

In a statement, the university said, "As the world grapples with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and the university has managed its own case of the virus in an employee who contracted it during international travel, the Crisis Management Team's decisions are guided by the following priorities:

"1. Protecting the health and safety of the Rice community while maintaining the ability to conduct our teaching and research mission.

"2. Basing decisions on guidance and information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health."

There are no classes next week because of Spring Break.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he supports the university's decision.

"Quite frankly, I support it. I support them in their decision. They're erring on the side of precaution and to (calm) people's fears and anxieties," Turner said.

A Rice University employee is one of several coronavirus cases in the Houston area.

Health officials believe the staff member contracted the virus in Egypt. Many of the positive and presumptive positive cases in the Houston area have ties to the Egypt trip, which happened last month.

The Rice employee returned to Houston on Feb. 20 and only made two trips to the campus on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25., according to the university. 

She only spent time in one building, which Rice has since identified as Keck Hall.

Turner said he's worried that people's fear may be more damaging than the actual virus.

"My greatest concern is that fear will do more damage than coronavirus itself," Turner said.

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