November 17, 2021

To the members of the MIT community,

With Thanksgiving approaching, I would like to take a moment to update you on where we are with respect to Covid-19 cases on campus; tell you where we stand with campus Covid-19 policies; and give you some important suggestions to make your holiday season safer.

First, the good news: Our rates of infection on campus have been very low all semester. Thank you! MIT’s positivity rate has remained around 0.1 percent, consistently lower than surrounding areas. Our approach – using masks, attestation, testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations – has worked well, and has prevented Covid-19 outbreaks on campus. Of particular note is the success of our undergraduate population of more than 4,500, with just 27 cases of Covid all semester.

Our low case numbers may have some community members wondering: When will we stop testing regularly? When can we stop attesting every day? Can we stop wearing masks?

As the Covid Apps dashboard shows, our campus remains a relatively safe environment. The vast majority of positive cases we do see are coming from off-campus interactions. But given that we still regularly see cases, we need to be careful not to lift our protections prematurely.

MIT also remains subject to city, state, and federal policies. Cambridge has a required masking ordinance that will remain in place until the city sees two consecutive weeks of moderate or low Covid-19 transmission. Additionally, a federal executive order and guidance requires masking in federal contractor workplaces, such as MIT, until county transmission levels are at moderate or low levels for two weeks in a row.

This means that for the foreseeable future, MIT will stay masked, as we are now. Again, the data show that masking, along with testing and vaccinations, are the keys to preventing the spread of the Delta variant. We remain in frequent communication with the city and state departments of public health. When we are allowed to loosen restrictions, and when we determine it is safe to do so, we will.

But as we go into the winter months, we also cannot let our guard down.

Last year, MIT saw its highest rates of Covid-19 cases between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is a time when the weather is cold, people congregate indoors, individuals are inclined to take their masks off, and infection spreads. With so many of us traveling and spending time with friends and loved ones, the chance of exposure to Covid-19 increases. While we expect to see more cases during this time period, we also know that, with your help, we can prevent a surge in the MIT community.

As you head into the holiday season, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Avoid crowds whenever possible. If you are indoors, particularly with people you don’t know, be sure to remain masked. Masks are also recommended in heavily populated outdoor areas.
  • Consider double masking when traveling. In crowded airports, train stations, and other heavily trafficked areas, it’s worth adding another layer of protection.
  • Eat outdoors when you can. Eating and drinking indoors continues to be the leading cause of Covid-19 transmission. It is among the riskiest activities you can take part in. If you are eating indoors, try to find a well-ventilated space and sit at least six feet from other diners.

To conclude, two final points about testing and boosters:

First, as staff, students, faculty, and others return to campus from the Thanksgiving weekend, we anticipate higher testing volumes, which may lead to longer times to receive test results. We encourage supervisors and managers, where feasible, to allow employees to work remotely on Monday, November 29 and Tuesday, November 30. In addition, we encourage staff and faculty to wait, if possible, until Wednesday, December 1 to test. These two steps will help to balance the testing load with students, who do not test on Wednesdays. We recognize, of course, that remote work is not possible for all employees and types of work, and that schedule changes must be approved by managers and supervisors.

Second, MIT Medical will not be providing Covid-19 booster vaccines. We recommend that you speak with your own primary care provider to determine if a booster is right for you and, if so, go to a local pharmacy to receive your vaccine. MIT Medical’s Covid-19 blog also has information about boosters to help you make an informed decision.

Wishing you a safe and enjoyable holiday season,

Cecilia Stuopis, MD
Medical Director, MIT Medical