January 15, 2021

Summary: Limited expansion of MIT’s Covid-19 testing program for all students who live in the Greater Boston area, whether or not they are approved for campus access during the spring semester; need for student flexibility re. spring contingency plans; vaccine planning work; enhanced Covid-19 dashboard; virtual spring information session for undergraduates and parents scheduled for January 27 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Dear students,

I write to share several important updates since my last message about our planning for the spring semester.

Testing program expansion to protect public health, reduce risk of spread

Before the end of the fall term, we decided to grant seniors who choose to live near MIT this spring access to campus for research and academic activities, and we explained the process for requesting access.

We have now decided to begin a limited expansion of our Covid-19 testing program for MIT students – undergraduate and graduate – who live in the Greater Boston area, whether or not they are approved for campus access during the spring semester. Beginning on January 19, students who are not currently approved to access campus facilities may use the Covid Pass application to receive up to one test per week at an MIT Covid-19 testing location at no charge. Testing once per week will not qualify students to access campus facilities beyond MIT Medical testing sites. If you have any questions about Covid Pass, please contact covidapps-help@mit.edu.

We are taking this proactive step with the support of student leaders. We are in the midst of the pandemic’s toughest period to date and we know that students with and without campus access interact with one another. For example, some off-campus students in Covid Pass live with students who do not have campus access or testing privileges. Expanding our testing program in this way will better enable us to protect the health of more MIT community members, as well as our neighbors.

Spring contingency planning

What we hear from federal health experts makes it clear that this winter will likely be the most difficult period in US public health history. Sadly, positive cases and death tolls are on the rise both locally and nationally. Highly contagious variants of the virus have emerged. Hospital capacity is severely constrained in many states. And colleges and universities across the country are altering their spring semesters or engaging in contingency planning.

Here at MIT we remain committed to the spring framework that we’ve previously outlined. With the new term rapidly approaching, however, it’s imperative that we develop back-up plans in case local or national conditions deteriorate further – or state and federal guidance becomes more restrictive – in the coming weeks.

One possible alternative is extending the online instruction period by two weeks, delaying the start of in-person instruction to March 15, and changing undergraduate move-in to the weekend of March 6. This scenario will not impact the semester start date of February 16, nor the previously announced dates for final exams or Commencement. We hope that we do not have to implement contingency plans, but, given how unpredictable the trajectory of the virus is at this moment, it’s critical that students and families make their travel arrangements as flexible as possible. We will make a final decision – and communicate that decision along with more information about resources to help respond to and manage any changes – no later than January 26.

Other key updates

  • We know that plans for the spring semester will be top of mind for students and families, and that the constant influx of Covid-19 updates and developments can be difficult to track. To help undergraduates and parents get ready for the spring, the Chancellor’s Office is hosting a virtual information session with the UA and Parents Association. Please mark your calendars for Wednesday, January 27 from 7:00 to 8:15 p.m. ET, and stay tuned for a formal invitation next week. We want to help answer as many of your questions as we can.
  • The Covid-19 vaccine presents us with tremendous hope that brighter days are ahead. It also requires that we address a series of unanswered policy, operational, legal, ethical, and communications questions on the path to, eventually, more fully reactivating our campus. To help MIT arrive at answers – specifically about how to effectively approach Phase 3 of the Commonwealth’s vaccine rollout plan – Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz is leading a newly formed planning group responsible for connecting with groups such as the Legal, Ethical, Equity (LEE) Committee, the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council, the Thunder and Lightning Committees, and the Covid Monitoring Team. The group will collect feedback and make recommendations to the Covid Decision Team.
  • We recently published a more comprehensive daily Covid-19 dashboard that provides additional information and insights about the number of tests MIT is administering; positive case results broken out by staff, student, and affiliate demographics; isolation and quarantine data; and other key metrics. We hope that the new dashboard will make it easier for the MIT community to monitor Covid-19 trends at MIT, and in Cambridge and Massachusetts.

In closing

I would like to close by underscoring the pressing public health and safety imperatives at play here. We are asking all students – no matter where you live now, or for the spring semester – to double down on our commitment to taking care of ourselves, our community, and our neighbors.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Barnhart
Chancellor