Uptick in Covid-19 cases: How to change the trajectory
November 10. 2020
To the members of the MIT community,
We are seeing a troubling uptick in the number of Covid-19 cases affecting our community. In the first nine days of November, we have identified 45 positive cases through our Covid Pass screening program. By contrast, we had just 30 cases in all of September and 46 in all of October.
In response to this increase, some of which was concentrated among students at MIT Sloan, the school recently suspended in-person classes for its first-year MBA students. We are continuing to monitor the situation among MIT Sloan students carefully.
As I wrote in my last update three weeks ago, most of the cases we are seeing appear to be the result of exposure away from campus, and do not reflect spread from person to person on campus. This is still the pattern – suggesting that the strong Covid-19 policies and procedures we have put into place are working successfully to minimize on-campus spread.
But we are still facing an increase in cases among members of our community. Therefore, it is critically important that you adhere to the following guidance both on and off campus:
- Don’t assume you are fine just because you are being tested regularly. Remember that testing doesn’t mean you are free of Covid-19. It is a snapshot that tells us whether you had enough Covid-19 virus in your system to test positive at the moment you took the test. In other words, it is possible to test negative on a Thursday despite being infected but test positive on Friday when you have enough virus in your system to trigger a positive result. That’s why it is critical to always wear your mask and to always maintain six feet of distance from others. As we have seen through contact tracing, just because you and a colleague or friend both tested negative does not mean you can’t accidentally infect each other.
- Avoid gathering with friends. Most infections that we can trace have been the direct result of off-campus gatherings, whether it’s watching TV with friends, Halloween parties, election watching get-togethers, or even outdoor hangouts. To reverse our trajectory, it is critical to avoid such gatherings.
- Avoid eating together. Too often, our contact tracers are told “It was just coffee,” or “We were just having a snack.” When we eat, our masks come off, and that’s when Covid-19 spreads. If you must be together for coffee or a meal, be sure to stay at least six feet apart during the entire encounter. Make sure that you are in a well-ventilated space, ideally outside, although this gets harder as the weather gets colder.
- Don’t travel if you don’t have to. After gatherings, travel is the second most common cause of transmission. If you can postpone your trip, you should. And if you must travel, be sure to strictly adhere to MIT travel guidelines. As a reminder, students who are traveling outside of Massachusetts after in-person instruction ends on November 20 should get a Covid-19 test 48 hours prior to traveling, follow state or country relevant quarantine guidance, and quarantine for a full 14 days upon their return home.
- Avoid gathering for Thanksgiving or the holidays. Family gatherings during the Thanksgiving or December holidays pose a high transmission risk. If possible, consider modifying your plans.
- Always wear your mask properly. Make sure your mask fits snugly over your nose and mouth at all times. Never wear it under your nose. Avoid wearing masks that have vents, as they are far less effective than a solid covering. And to stay compliant with the most recent guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, wear a mask at all times in public, whether you are indoors or outdoors.
A note on contact tracing
For contact tracing to work, we need you to consistently and honestly complete your Covid Pass daily attestation and, if you are contacted by a contact tracer, to answer their questions accurately and fully. If you are a student, MIT Medical will NEVER report any of the information learned through contact tracing to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Neither you nor your peers will be subject to student disciplinary actions because of information you reveal to a contact tracer. This does not mean that students will not be subject to discipline for information reported by others to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, but students should remember MIT’s Covid-19 amnesty policy. Contact tracing only works if we have complete information. You will not face disciplinary action for telling us the truth, but you do endanger others when you hold back names and details.
I understand that it may be hard to follow these guidelines, especially given how much we each value interaction and connection, whether on campus or in our personal lives. But to get through this pandemic safely, we need to make a few sacrifices for our own health and the health of others.
I am certain that by working together, we can decrease the number of people in our community who test positive in the coming days.
Cecilia Stuopis, MD
Medical Director, MIT Medical