Rice University’s president on Sunday announced his school would open two residence halls as temporary housing for front-line medical workers at nearby Texas Medical Center institutions.
“Enabling hospital staff to live nearby will give them a greater opportunity for rest and to work needed hours,” David Leebron said in a letter to the university students, faculty and staff.
Two undergraduate halls, Wiess and Hanszen, will be available to medical workers after April 12 for those medical workers who want alternative housing. About 50 students and resident associates currently living in those halls will be moved, Leebron said.
Although the two halls can house around 500 people, capacity will be limited to around 100 to allow for proper social distancing, Leebron said, adding that Texas Medical Center officials will decide which health care workers move to the campus.
The idea was hatched after the university was approached by some of the medical center’s hospitals. “They were looking ahead towards the future and we decided to take immediate action,” he said.
Weighing heavily on Houston’s health care community is the possibility of a coming surge of patients — as has happened in other cities — straining resources and exhausting or sickening health care workers. Many front line health workers have said they fear they may become infected as they care for patients and then bring home the virus at shift’s end.
Some doctors report they already live mostly apart from their families in their own homes, eating and sleeping separately out of fear of unknowingly spreading the virus. Others have even sent children away to live with relatives.
Leebron said the spread of the potentially deadly virus has been at turns remarkable and frightening. “When I sent the message out canceling classes on March 12, there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston. Now there are over 600 and twice that number in Harris County.”
Opening his mostly empty halls felt like something tangible the univeristy could do. “We are members of this community,” he said,” and this is a fight that we, our city, our state, our nation need to undertake together.”