July 12, 2021

Answers to the top questions submitted during the staff and faculty Town Hall on June 9.

Q: Is MIT following the guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Cambridge that went into effect on May 29, effectively lifting remaining state and city Covid restrictions?

A: MIT is in the process of changing the vast majority of our Covid-era policies due to improved public health conditions on campus and in the surrounding community. On June 7, several changes for Covid Pass holders went into effect. MIT eliminated space capacity and social distancing requirements, reduced the testing requirement from twice per week to once per week for those accessing campus regularly, and ended the moratorium on in-person events. Remaining restrictions are expected to be lifted in July and August as we prepare for full operations in the fall and as we actively monitor the trajectory of the virus and our community’s vaccination status rates.

Q. What if my manager does not agree with my proposed flexible work arrangement?

A. We are all expected to have conversations about future work arrangements with our managers. Many of us, whether in staff or faculty roles, are both:

  • Managers responsible for decisions about our team’s work, and also
  • Individual contributors led by our own manager

In these conversations, it is important for both parties to consider individual preferences, the needs of the unit, and the needs of the full team in working toward MIT’s mission. Each of us may request a conversation with our manager to communicate our preferences for how work arrangements are structured as more people return to on-site work. The purpose of these conversations is to provide a constructive forum to discuss work arrangements, scheduling, safety and health, and other issues for the individuals and the team(s).

The Work Succeeding toolkit provides guides to facilitate conversations between employees and managers. On occasion, employees and managers may need additional support to align work arrangements. In such instances, the employee, either on their own or together with their manager, should set up a meeting with either their unit’s human resources administrator or department leadership (e.g., administrative officer, department head, or assistant dean) for further discussion.

The Institute is also in the process of identifying coaches to support flexible work arrangement alignment conversations. Employees, managers, and teams will be able to reach out to these coaches for assistance as needed.

Q. Why isn’t MIT making an Institute-wide decision on flexible work arrangements?

A. Local managers and leadership know and understand the needs of their areas best. Work decisions will be based on job requirements, team needs, safety considerations – and how a role can best serve to advance the Institute’s mission.

Local decision-making empowers DLCs, teams, and units to do what works best for them. Every unit has diverse functional needs and goals; team members should work together to determine work arrangements that best accomplish those needs and goals, while considering individual preferences.

Work arrangements will be evaluated and iterated over time as we learn and experiment together.

Q. Will I need to submit formal documentation for my work plan approval?

A. Work Succeeding provides materials to help teams and managers plan and document work arrangements. Documentation is strongly recommended but not required, and will assist with future assessments of work arrangements. The toolkit provides sample documentation forms. Both the direct supervisor and department head or their designee must approve all flexible work arrangements.

Q. Can I work remotely outside of Massachusetts?

A. In general, work outside of Massachusetts but in the United States may be approved by the DLC, while work outside of the United States requires additional approval. See the Institute policy on Work outside Massachusetts for further details. Employees and managers should consider functional needs and goals of the unit and individual preferences in discussions about working remotely outside of Massachusetts.

Q. Will training be provided to managers to ensure equity in decision-making?

A. Based on requests from community members, we are preparing training and support materials to assist in the work arrangement decision-making process. This information will be posted to the website soon. In the meantime, if you have questions, you can email the Work Succeeding team.

Q: Will the Institute offer financial support to DLCs for videoconferencing or general office space modifications to facilitate hybrid work?

A: As units develop their return to work plans, offices and departments will solve office infrastructure investments locally. While there may be modest investments made at an Institute level, it is premature to determine potential investments until work plans are finalized.

Q: If the MBTA has cut back on its services, daily commutes will be even longer than before the pandemic. Many MIT employees need public transit to reach campus. Will there be adequate public transit service for MIT employees?

A: The MBTA continues to ramp up all of its services, including commuter train, subway, bus, and ferry, aiming to restore all services to pre-Covid levels by the fall. The MBTA makes frequent schedule adjustments based on ridership, so be sure to check its schedules page for updates.

Q: I am worried about traveling on public transit, but I can’t afford to park in Cambridge. Is it safe to ride on public transit?

A: The MBTA is committed to keeping its riders as safe as possible. Its Ride Safer program explains that all MBTA transportation vehicles are disinfected daily, and buses are cleaned multiple times per day. MBTA business locations are also disinfected daily, and high-touch areas in subway stations (handrails, fare gates, and fare vending machines) are cleaned every four hours. Other precautions are in place, such as protective barriers and hand sanitation dispensers.

In addition, all public transportation riders in Massachusetts are currently required to wear face coverings, regardless of vaccination status. All public transit vehicles have HVAC systems that filter the air and circulate fresh air, but the face coverings mandate adds an important safety measure. If you see a rider who isn’t in compliance, consider keeping your distance.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that vaccination rates in Massachusetts are high, which helps keep everyone more safe. If you’re taking public transportation, it’s helpful to be vaccinated for your own safety.

Q: Will MIT be re-evaluating commuter subsidy options? Many employees may be on a hybrid work schedule or may mix public transit with carpooling, in which case a monthly T pass wouldn’t make sense, even at the usual discount. Will there be an option to purchase discounted daily passes?

A: To assist employees with the transition back to campus, MIT is offering increased subsidies for many of the commuter programs throughout the fall. In addition to the fully funded MBTA subway and local bus pass (Access MIT pass), subsidies will be temporarily increased through December for commuter rail passes, MBTA parking, private transit costs, carpools, and Bluebikes memberships. At the end of the calendar year, we will evaluate this program.

  • Bluebikes membership: Discount increased from 50% to 100% for September – December 2021
  • Commuter Rail: Subsidy will increase from 60% to 90% for September – October; then 75% for November – December 2021
  • MBTA parking: Subsidy will increase from 50% to 100% for September – December 2021; monthly cap $100
  • Private transit: Subsidy will increase from 50% to 100% for September – December 2021; monthly cap $255
  • Carpools: For vehicles with at least three MIT employees, subsidy will increase from 50% to 100% for September – December 2021

View complete details on all of these programs on the Commuter Connections site.

Q: Do we have enough parking spaces on campus, particularly if fewer people are taking public transportation?

A. MIT is increasing commuter subsidies to encourage people to return to public transportation, and it remains to be seen how new flexible work arrangements will impact parking. However, we have seen an increase in the number of people requesting parking accounts, so we are actively evaluating additional solutions to meet parking needs in case we have a higher volume of parking on campus.

Keep in mind that in a typical year, we don’t use our garages to full capacity. And in terms of parking inventory, MIT will have more parking spaces available in the fall than we had before the pandemic, due to the new garage beneath the open space at Kendall Square and additional parking capacity created by some of our new construction projects.

Q: With many staff still worried about using public transportation, will MIT consider using more shuttles to help address the additional stress on parking?

A. The MIT shuttle schedules are flexible, and we are monitoring usage to guide us toward adjustments if needed. In addition, anyone with an MIT ID can use the Boston Daytime Shuttle and the EZRide Shuttle to reach locations beyond campus, such as North Station. We are also considering various solutions we might use to supplement public transportation if needed.

Q: In the past, staff members at MIT have often felt pressure to come to work when they feel ill. What is MIT doing to change this attitude?

A: When you’re not feeling well, it’s important to stay home and use the sick time MIT offers. Staying home helps you recuperate and protects those around you from infection. Going forward, managers will be encouraged to ask sick staff members to stay home. If a staff member is running a fever or has other symptoms that may spread illness (e.g., coughing, sneezing), they may be sent home.

For staff members who feel compelled to work, remote work is available in most cases, but the use of sick time is still encouraged.

Q: Will MIT continue trying to get vaccine doses to provide to the MIT community?

A: Yes. The Commonwealth controls the vaccine supply, and MIT has regularly requested doses for our community. If and when MIT receives more vaccine doses from the Commonwealth, we will set up clinics for the community.

Q: With Covid-19 variants on the rise, how is MIT focusing on keeping the community safe?

A: So far, the available vaccines have been effective against the most common Covid-19 variants, but MIT continues to monitor the situation closely. If MIT sees a substantial uptick in cases, either in our campus community or the Commonwealth, we will likely enact or bring back more restrictions to keep everyone safe.

MIT’s current testing protocols now have the ability to sequence positive cases. In the event of an outbreak on campus, variant strains can be tracked.

Q: What is the likelihood that the mRNA vaccines will have long-term ill effects, like cancer or autoimmune diseases?

The likelihood of long-term side effects from these vaccines is very low. There is no known vaccine that has long-term side effects. Research studies have consistently refuted claims of vaccine side effects.

The technology behind mRNA vaccines is well understood and is backed by decades of research. There is no reason to believe these vaccines would cause these types of side effects.

The risk of death and long-term complications from Covid-19 is significantly higher than the risk of long-term side effects from a vaccine.

Q: How is MIT supporting parents with small children who cannot be vaccinated yet?

A: Many members of the MIT community are immunocompromised, can’t be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, or have vulnerable unvaccinated people at home. These vulnerable community members are one reason why MIT takes vaccination so seriously.

By requiring a fully vaccinated campus, the rate of positive cases of Covid-19 drops significantly, and the risk of community transmission is significantly reduced. As a result, our campus will be much safer than any other indoor public area, like a clothing store, supermarket, or restaurant. With a fully vaccinated community, the odds of contracting Covid-19 on campus will be incredibly small, and at-risk community members can feel safe coming to work.

Q: Now that the Institute requires vaccinations, how does MIT plan to combat misinformation?

A: In the spring, MIT held a webinar about the science behind the vaccine. MIT Medical has also held in-person information sessions for various DLCs and union members. In these sessions, clinicians from MIT Medical talk about how the vaccine works and answer community questions.

In addition, MIT Medical has a wealth of information about vaccines and actively answers questions about Covid-19 and the vaccine.

Q: How does the Institute plan to address new and ongoing mental health issues that have emerged during the pandemic?

A: All MIT employees have access to MyLife Services, free of charge, 24/7.

MyLife Services offers a wide array of services, including individual and family counseling, stress reduction training, relationship help, grief counseling, childcare resources, crisis intervention, substance abuse assessment, depression screening, sleep coaching, and support for other life concerns.

Q: What processes are in place to monitor how long the vaccines remain effective?

A: MIT and MIT Medical strictly follow FDA and CDC guidance regarding vaccinations and any potential need for booster vaccinations. Ongoing studies are also being done to monitor vaccine effectiveness over time.

We are watching the situation and if booster vaccinations are recommended, MIT will do what it can to provide them.

Q: Can vaccinated people be asymptomatic carriers and transmit the virus to non-vaccinated people?

A: While the chances of infection and transmission is significantly lower, vaccinated people can still be infected with mild illness or transmit Covid-19 to others. We have seen a small number of cases of this within the MIT community. That’s why MIT has other precautions in place — like regular testing, as well as masking requirements for those who are unvaccinated — to protect vulnerable community members who are unable to be vaccinated.

Q: Why do traditional vaccines usually take over five years to develop? These Covid-19 vaccines were developed and approved in under a year. Why is there such a large discrepancy?

A: For other illnesses, it can take years or even decades to amass enough information and qualified test subjects to determine if a vaccine is safe for use.

Because Covid-19 has been prevalent across the globe, finding willing and qualified test subjects was much easier. At this point, hundreds of millions of people have received doses. Over a comparably short time, more data has been gathered about the Covid-19 vaccines than any other vaccine ever developed.

Q. What plan is in place to restore the open nature of MIT’s campus? The complete removal of public access to MIT has been antithetical to the Institute’s mission and should be reversed as soon as possible.

A. While many universities paused access by the general public last year (e.g., for campus tours, performances, seminars, outreach events), MIT anticipates resumption of welcoming the general public back to campus again for many such MIT events in the fall.

Q: I’m worried about the ventilation. Have the systems in MIT’s older buildings been examined and updated? Are they getting the same level of attention as the systems in the newer buildings?

A: The ventilation systems in MIT’s buildings, both old and new, have been reviewed and addressed as needed to maintain code-compliant indoor air quality. The same rigor was applied to all systems. In fact, older systems were given added attention. It’s important to note that Covid-19 transmission occurs primarily through person-to-person close contact, and ventilation has not emerged as a factor. The most effective ways to limit the spread of infection indoors are the safety measures our community already follows, including a high rate of vaccination, frequent testing, contact tracing, and isolation, if necessary. Please feel free to wear a face covering if that increases your comfort level.