Lessons learned as the MIT community manages Covid-19
October 20, 2020
To members of the MIT community,
It is hard to believe that we have already passed the mid-point of the fall term. Given how hard our entire community has worked to make the semester a success, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and to offer an update on our efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on campus.
In short, we’re doing pretty well. We’ve had 61 positive cases over the first half of the term. All of them were identified quickly, the individuals affected were isolated and supported, and the contact tracing process moved rapidly so that close contacts within the MIT community could be quarantined.
The overwhelming majority of the positive cases captured through our ongoing surveillance testing system appear to have originated from contacts outside the campus community. In fact, the vast majority of cases are among those who live and spend most of their time off campus. We have only seen five cases among people living in campus residences, and our protocols have caught those cases quickly. All of this is against a backdrop of some 100,000 tests administered by MIT Medical over the last eight weeks, with a positive rate of about .05%.
This success is due to you. Whether you’ve been working, learning, or living on campus and following the guidelines, or staying away from campus to support our reduced density plan, every member of the community has played a role in achieving the encouraging results we’ve seen so far.
What we’re learning
Our success so far doesn’t mean we can let our guard down. We’ve seen troubling outbreaks at other institutions with rigorous testing and safety protocols. Cases are on the rise in surrounding communities. And we are fast approaching the winter season, which will bring with it new – and perhaps more significant – challenges and hurdles to overcome. To keep our community safe, we must continue to model the very best behaviors and practices, and we must double down on our commitment to looking out for one another.
Based on our experience so far, here are a few key lessons I’d like to highlight:
- Be diligent about masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene: When we combine regular testing with regular masking, at least 6 feet of physical distancing, and frequent hand washing, we dramatically reduce the threat of Covid-19 spreading on campus. Remember to wear your masks properly – covering your mouth and nose at all times!
- Avoid large social gatherings: Large gatherings, on or off campus, are not permitted among Covid Pass users. Obviously, we are concerned about social events and parties like the ones that have shut down other colleges and universities and which, more importantly, are potential Covid-spreading events. We are, however, creating and highlighting safe pathways for socializing or working together during the pandemic. Learn more about these options.
- Be careful when eating: Eating with colleagues or friends introduces risk. Please steer clear of sharing food and, if eating with others, please do so at a distance of at least 6 feet (and outdoors if at all possible).
- Proceed with caution when it comes to non-essential personal travel: As you are likely aware, we extended the suspension of MIT-related international travel for students, faculty, postdocs, and staff and paused MIT-related domestic travel for most travelers. Our travel policy can be found here. If you must travel for pressing personal reasons, please take all necessary precautions and follow Institute, local, state, and federal guidelines.
Staying vigilant (and in compliance)
When I wrote to you at the beginning of the semester, I said that we had a long way left to go. Fortunately, we are more than halfway through the fall and our community is healthy and safe. It will take your continued partnership and vigilance to make sure we stay that way.
Remaining in compliance with your testing and other health monitoring requirements, along with applying the lessons we’ve learned together so far, are two surefire ways to ensure we keep MIT open for the community members who are on campus now, and put us in a position to welcome more members of our community back in the spring.
Cecilia Stuopis, MD
Medical Director, MIT Medical