Rice University, where more than 95 percent of students are vaccinated, announced a move to remote classes last week after testing showed an alarmingly high number of community members with breakthrough coronavirus infections.
Those results, the university now says, were badly distorted by a testing glitch.
Of 4,500 tests administered on the Rice campus, 81 had returned positive results, mostly in vaccinated members of Rice’s community. Even in Houston, where the Delta variant was surging, the results were a surprise. Rice had taken tough efforts to control coronavirus in its community, practically demanding that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated, even as the state of Texas prohibited vaccination mandates. The university also required masks.
Further examination revealed that most of the people who appeared to have tested positive were actually negative for the virus, the university now says.
When Rice began to examine the cases, it found that the results didn’t make sense, according to a note to the university community on Sunday from Kevin E. Kirby, vice president for administration at Rice. Most of the people who tested positive did not have any symptoms. And the cases were scattered, with no clusters.
Rice discovered that the testing provider that reported so many positive results had just switched to using a new test. When 50 of the people who tested positive were retested using different types of tests, all but one of the results came back negative.
All the same, Rice says that it plans to stick with its decision to move to remote learning until Sept. 3. According to a university Covid dashboard, Rice now considers only 27 of the 4,500 tests administered on campus since Aug. 13 to have yielded true positive results, not 81.