COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) March 2020 updates
These news stories have not been updated since the dates shown. Information contained in this post is here for reference only. Please see MIT Medical's most recent post for up-to-date information for the MIT community about COVID-19. (Coronavirus Disease 2019).
- March 30: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions
- March 23: Can I still take walks? How safe are home deliveries?
- March 18: Managing prescriptions during COVID-19
- March 16: Self-monitoring, self-quarantine, or just continued social distancing?
- March 11: Call the hotline; don’t walk in!
- March 10: When you live with someone who’s self-quarantining
- March 9: Three ways to protect yourself from COVID-19
March 31, 2020: We’ve been getting a lot of questions from worried folks who have symptoms of… well, something. Could it be COVID-19?
To help you answer that question for yourself, the state of Massachusetts is now providing an online symptom checker that can help you assess your risk of COVID-19. In addition to asking about your symptoms, you’ll be asked about your age, sex, travel, contacts, and other medical conditions you might have. Based on these factors, the symptom checker will offer advice about what you should do next.
One important note: This online tool should never be used in place of emergency medical care. If you are having serious trouble breathing or are experiencing other potentially life-threatening symptoms, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. If you want to speak with a clinician about your non-life-threatening symptoms, call MIT Medical’s COVID-19 hotline at 617-253-4865.
March 30, 2020: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at email@example.com, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, blood donation is important for our whole community. I know that we can donate at MGH, but I am also hesitant because of the possible exposure to the virus. Can you please provide advice about, in particular, what special precautions other than the usual ones we should take if we decide to donate?
First of all, thank you for bringing up this important issue. Over the last few weeks, we have heard about the incredible importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, but as some previously scheduled blood drives are being canceled and more people are staying home, the country is now facing the real possibility of a massive blood shortage. If you are healthy with no symptoms of upper-respiratory illness and no underlying medical conditions, and you haven’t traveled recently, then donating blood, platelets, or AB Elite plasma is one of the safest and most effective ways you can help our medical community right now.
According to the Red Cross, employees at every blood drive or donation center follow strict safety protocols that include changing gloves often, wiping down donor-touched areas after every collection, preparing the donor’s arm with an aseptic scrub, using sterile collection sets, and conducting mini-physicals to ensure that each donor is healthy and well. They are also practicing enhanced disinfecting of equipment, providing hand sanitizer for use throughout the donation process, and spacing beds to follow social distancing practices between donors.
You can make an appointment online at one of these local donation centers:
- Children’s Hospital
- Massachusetts General Hospital
- Dana-Farber Cancer Center & Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Or go to the Red Cross website and enter your zip code to book an appointment at a location close to your home. Having donors give blood by appointment ensures that waiting rooms are not full and allows donors to practice social distancing. When you schedule the appointment, ask if you need to bring anything. For instance, the Red Cross is suggesting that platelet or plasma donors bring their own blankets to preserve their supplies and minimize cross-contamination.
When you go to your appointment, take the same precautions you would in going to the grocery store. Keep a six-foot distance between you and other people. Frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, and don’t touch your face. Try to avoid touching frequently handled surfaces like doorknobs and elevator buttons with your hands.
At your appointment, the technician will ask you questions about your health and will take your temperature to make sure you are healthy. It’s important to note that there is no test to screen blood donations for COVID-19, but there also is no evidence that this virus — or any other respiratory illness — is transmissible by blood transfusion. As always, your blood will be drawn with a new sterile needle that will be discarded after use.
Right now, taking even one step outside of the house can feel like a small act of bravery—but with this brave step, you will be saving lives.
March 27, 2020: “I just heard that my colleague is sick. He ended up at a local hospital ER, and the doctor told him to just assume it’s COVID-19 and to self-isolate at home for 14 days but that they’re not going to test.”
We’re hearing some version of this story more and more often these days, and, according to MIT Medical clinicians, it’s only going to become more frequent. “While it may seem counterintuitive, testing becomes less important as a pandemic expands,” says Dr. Shawn Ferullo, MIT Medical’s chief of student health. “That’s because once an infection like COVID-19 is fairly widespread, it makes less sense to expend resources on testing mildly ill people if a positive result will not change treatment or other recommendations.”
Sustained community spread of an infection also renders contact tracing less useful, Ferullo explains, since more infected people add up to more potential sources of infection. And, in the current climate, where most of us have been practicing some form of extreme social distancing for some days or weeks, it’s going to become less and less likely that we’ve been in close contact with a now-sick colleague or other acquaintance within the 14-day incubation period for the virus.
But testing will continue to be vitally important in some cases. “For example, when an individual is sick enough to require hospitalization, it’s important to know for sure if they have the virus, because that impacts the kinds of precautions needed by healthcare workers caring for them,” Ferullo notes. “An individual’s living situation could also determine the necessity of testing. If someone is in a living situation where the risk of rapid community spread is relatively high, such as a dormitory or residence hall, it would be more important to identify and isolate positive cases as early as possible.”
As the pandemic expands, more and more healthcare centers in the US will choose to prioritize dwindling testing supplies for the sickest patients and others most in need of a confirmed diagnosis. As this happens, the number of “presumptive cases” — untested individuals who are assumed to be infected — will keep growing, even faster than the “official” number of confirmed cases. “We’re still several weeks away from the expected peak,” Ferullo warns. “My message to the MIT community is to worry less about testing but to continue being vigilant about staying home and continuing to practice social distancing to the greatest extent possible.”
March 26, 2020: This page now displays a table at the top that shows the number of MIT students, employees, and MIT Medical patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 as of the date indicated. We expect this tally will grow in the days and weeks ahead.
As of 4 p.m. on March 25, there were 54,453 positively diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 1,838 confirmed cases in the state of Massachusetts — up from 679 a day earlier. These numbers only reflect individuals who have been tested and have received a positive test result. They do not include the many individuals who are not being tested but have symptoms and are presumed to have the virus, and they do not include individuals who have been tested and are still awaiting results.
If you have symptoms — cough, fever, difficulty breathing — call MIT Medical’s COVID-19 hotline at 617-253-4865 to talk with a clinician and get advice about next steps. We also want to hear from members of our community who may be seeking care or undergoing testing outside of MIT Medical and/or outside of the area.
We know that the virus is actively circulating here in Cambridge and almost everywhere else in the world. The nationwide shortage on tests means that the actual numbers of positive COVID-19 cases among members of the now far-flung MIT community are, no doubt, higher than the official tallies suggest. While we continue to be vigilant in trying to protect others and ourselves from infection — washing our hands, wiping down surfaces, practicing social distancing — sustained community spread is happening. People will become ill despite taking precautions and through no fault of their own.
We will need to continue finding safe ways to support and encourage each other during this difficult time. MIT Medical will be there for our community, and we must all continue to be there for each other.
March 24, 2020: Earlier today, a letter from Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis announced the first positively diagnosed case of COVID-19 in a member of our community — a student who tested positive for the virus several days after leaving campus and returning home. MIT Medical is currently conducting a public health investigation, which includes contacting people in this student’s circle as warranted, exchanging information with public health officials, and assessing the likelihood of further spread. To date, no other potential case in our community has been associated with this individual. We are able to report that the student is receiving care and is responding well.
March 23, 2020: News reports of a recent study on the new coronavirus, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, have prompted several questions from members of the MIT community. If COVID-19, can live for up to three days on some surfaces and may remain suspended in the air for as long as a half hour, how safe are home-delivered groceries? Mail? Take-out food?
How about fresh air? “Should I stop walking outdoors, even if I take precautions to be 6 feet away from a passerby?” one person asked us.
When it comes to surfaces, researchers found that the virus lives longest on plastic and steel, up to 72 hours. It lasted only four hours on copper but up to 24 hours on cardboard. But as horrifying as that might sound, it’s important to remember that not all the virus deposited on a given surface remains viable for the same length of time. Even on stainless steel and plastic, the half-life of the virus — the length of time it takes for half the microbes in a given sample to die — was 5.6 and 6.8 hours respectively. On cardboard it was less than four hours.
“While grocery bags, mail, and packages could, theoretically, have small amounts of infectious viral particles on them, the risk is relatively low,” says Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis. “If you’re worried, wash your hands after opening packages or mail. Likewise, any small risk from take-out containers can be mitigated by transferring the food to your own dishes, disposing of the packaging in which it was delivered, and washing your hands before eating.”
The risk from potentially aerosolized virus is also thought to be low. While the research showed the virus remaining airborne longer than originally thought, it also showed that it disperses quickly, meaning that unless you are physically close to an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, you are unlikely to be at risk from viral aerosols.
So, by all means, go for that walk! Exercise and fresh air is important for both physical and mental health, especially at a time when most of us are hunkering down in our homes for so many hours every day. Your risk of becoming infected by a stray bit of airborne virus while out on a walk and maintaining a safe distance from others is minimal.
March 20, 2020: How do I transfer my prescriptions from the MIT Pharmacy to an outside pharmacy? Can I get my medications in the mail? Can I refill my prescription early or increase the quantity I get at one time? You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers. Read our FAQ about managing your prescriptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 18, 2020: With MIT Medical temporarily restructuring its service model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from regular patrons of the MIT Pharmacy wondering how to handle prescription refills in the coming months.
Our restructuring effort has two major goals: 1) to provide prompt and appropriate care to community members who become ill, and 2) to limit possible exposure to illness by preventing healthy people from coming into contact with ill patients within our building. So, although the MIT Pharmacy is currently open seven days a week from 8 a.m.–5 p.m., we are asking healthy patients to avoid MIT Medical unless absolutely necessary.
Individuals with an MIT-sponsored employee health plan or the MIT Student/Affiliate Extended Insurance Plan can ask to have their prescriptions sent to a local pharmacy for pick-up. The easiest way to do that is through the HealthELife patient portal. Log on to HealthELife, click on “Prescriptions” at the top of the page, and then check off the prescriptions you would like to refill. In the “Additional comments” field at the bottom of the page, put the pharmacy name, address, and phone number. You’ll get a response indicating that your provider has been instructed to send the prescription to the outside pharmacy and/or that a prescription renewal has been requested for prescriptions with no remaining refills. You will have to check with the outside pharmacy to find out when your prescription is ready for pick up.
Individuals with an MIT-sponsored employee health plan have the option of getting their medications in the mail through Express Scripts. This may be the best option if you don’t need a refill quickly. If you have three weeks of your current medication, you have time to switch over to the Express Scripts mail-order service. To sign up, visit express-scripts.com. Some of your prescriptions may already be available through Express Scripts mail order — click on the “prescriptions” tab to find out. Transfer additional prescriptions to Express Scripts by contacting your prescribing clinician; ask the clinician to send an up-to-90-day prescription to Express Scripts.
Alternatively, you can set up your Express Scripts account by calling 1-866-454-7118, or by visiting express-scripts.com, registering online, and printing out, completing, and mailing the home delivery form.
If you have already requested a refill from the MIT Pharmacy, and have one waiting for you there, you can come to the MIT Pharmacy to pick it up. There is enough space to practice social distancing. You also have the option of calling the MIT Pharmacy at 617-253-1324 and asking to have your prescription sent to another pharmacy.
Still have a question about how prescriptions will work? We’re in the process of creating an FAQ that should be online in the next day or two. Send us your question to make sure it gets answered in the FAQ (but don’t including any personal information).
March 17, 2020: Most of us know by now that wearing a facemask in public is not a good strategy for a healthy person to avoid COVID-19 infection. While those disposable blue or green gauze surgical masks are pretty good at containing the respiratory secretions of people who are sick and coughing, they fit loosely and are not designed to filter or block very small airborne particles. But what about gloves? Will donning a pair of disposable gloves before going out in public reduce your risk of infection?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people — hence the “social distancing” recommendation to stay at least 6 feet away from other people when you are outside of your own home. It may also be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes, though CDC experts do not believe this is the main way the virus spreads.
But wouldn’t gloves protect against this possibility?
“Not likely,” says MIT Medical Infectious Disease Nurse Practitioner Jackie Sherry, ANP-BC. “People who wear gloves often end up touching their faces as often as anyone else,” she says, “and sometimes even more often, because gloves can give people a sense of false security, which makes them them less attentive to good hygiene practices.”
The CDC does not recommend that the general public wear disposable gloves to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or other viruses. However, the agency does recommend wearing disposable gloves if you are caring for someone who is ill, particularly when handling their laundry or potentially coming into contact with their bodily fluids. And, of course, gloves are recommended for medical professionals. Which is another reason not to rush out and buy some, says Sherry. “When the general public buys medical supplies they don’t need, it can lead to shortages for medical professionals who actually need them.”
Looking for legit advice on staying safe and healthy? See Three ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
March 16, 2020: We’ve been telling everyone to practice social distancing — staying home as much as possible, avoiding crowds, and, if you must go out, keeping at least six feet between you and your fellow humans. But in the last week, we’ve been answering an increasing number of questions from people wondering if they need to do more based on a possible exposure to the virus: What if I was at a meeting with someone who just got diagnosed with COVID-19? Suppose it’s a close friend of that guy I hung out with one night last week? How about if it’s a kid in the same class as my co-worker’s child? And what if there’s no diagnosis yet, just a test in progress?
You’ve got questions; MIT Medical has answers. And, because we’re MIT Medical, we’ll be providing you those answers in the form of a flow chart. Our “How-to Guide” will tell you when you need to self-isolate, self-monitor, or just continue to practice social distancing. You can even download an 8½ × 11″ poster [PDF] to keep as a quick reference or share with others.
So let’s go with the flow. Follow this guide to slow the spread of the virus and help MIT get back back to more important things, like making the world a better place.
March 13, 2020: MIT Medical has been answering a lot of clinical questions about the virus on this page and in response to individual emails. But we also get questions that remind us that our community’s response to the COVID-19 situation goes far beyond the clinical. While many of us have concerns about the health effects of the virus, concerns about its social impact are equally valid and real.
A resident of an MIT-owned apartment building had some questions about what would happen if a member of their family was diagnosed with COVID-19 and had to self-quarantine:
How will my privacy be impacted?
Will everyone in my building know who has the virus?
Will our neighbors treat us differently if they find out?
But beyond that, self-quarantining is becoming an increasingly normal part of life. More and more people, including many of your friends and neighbors, will find themselves in that situation before this is over. That is, if they haven’t already. At the beginning of the semester, a substantial number of people in the MIT community voluntarily self-quarantined for 14 days after returning from China. The COVID-19 outbreak associated with last month’s Biogen conference in Boston has also rippled through our community, with an increasing number of individuals being informed that someone with whom they had close contact has since become ill and confirmed to have the virus. And now that most European countries are now listed as Level 3 on the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Advisories page, individuals who plan to return to campus from those countries will be required to fill out this form — preferably two or three days before their return — and self-quarantine for 14 days when they get back.
In the coming weeks and months, many people in our community will self-quarantine for a variety of reasons — travel from a heavily affected area, exposure to someone with a diagnosis of COVID-19, symptoms of possible illness, or an actual diagnosis. Whatever the reason, what self-quarantining really means is that this individual or family has chosen to do the right thing for our community by limiting their exposure to others.
MIT Medical can’t promise that nobody will react inappropriately to the news that you or your family is self-quarantining. But we hope and believe that such reactions would be the exception. We’ve seen apprehension about this virus, but we’ve also seen great kindness, compassion, and courage, qualities that have always made the MIT community great.
In the meantime, do you know someone who is self-quarantining? Reach out — from a distance, of course. Individuals who are self-quarantining can’t have in-person visitors, but there are plenty of avenues for contact. You can Skype, Facetime, text, use other messaging apps, or go totally old school and make a phone call to ask how someone is doing and if there’s anything they need.
We’re MIT. We’ve got this.
March 13, 2020: MIT has issued the following advisory: On Sunday, March 8, a student from Tufts University was on the MIT campus and met with two MIT students. The Tufts student became symptomatic on Tuesday and was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday.
The Medford Department of Public Health contacted both MIT students on Thursday and asked them both to self-quarantine. Both MIT students remain healthy and have not experienced any symptoms.
An investigation by the Medford Department of Public Health determined that the Tufts student did not step foot in any MIT living spaces.
As in all cases, public health officials are in charge of deciding whether to investigate possible contacts. If you are not contacted by the Department of Public Health, you are not presumed to be at immediate risk.
Please continue to take personal preventive steps to stay healthy. Stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face whenever possible.
If you are concerned about any health symptoms you may be experiencing, contact your personal health care provider at the earliest opportunity. Please also continue to follow the Institute’s guidance at mit.edu/covid19.
March 12, 2020: If you may have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, it could take up to 14 days to know if you will get sick. During that time, it will be important for you to self-monitor for symptoms and practice social distancing to avoid infecting other people if you do have the virus. Here’s how to do it:
Take your temperature twice a day — morning and night — and write it down in a log.
- Wait 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or exercising.
- Wait at least 6 hours after taking any medication that could lower your temperature, such as Ibuprofen or aspirin.
Be alert for any other symptoms of COVID-19, including cough or difficulty breathing.
Call your healthcare provider if you have a cough, trouble breathing, or a fever (temperature of 100.4°F or 38°C). DO NOT go to an emergency room, urgent care clinic, or healthcare provider’s office without calling ahead.
Stay home as much as possible.
If you go out…
- Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- Avoid crowded places, and limit your activities in public.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
If you live with others…
- Keep your distance from others.
- Wash your hands frequently, and ask others to do the same.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces frequently. This includes doorknobs, light switches, and all horizontal surfaces. Use a diluted household bleach solution, an alcohol solution with at least 70% alcohol, or an EPA-registered household disinfectant. Leave the surface wet with disinfectant for as many minutes as the product instructions require.
- Use a separate bathroom if possible, or disinfect surfaces when you are done using a shared bathroom.
- Do not share items such as dishes, drinking glasses, silverware, towels, phones, and remote controls.
- Do your own laundry and, if you don’t have a dishwasher, wash and dry your own dishes.
March 11, 2020: MIT has issued the following advisory: This afternoon, MIT became aware that a CSAIL staff member had a brief interaction in recent days with someone who was diagnosed today with COVID-19. This employee is not currently displaying any COVID-19 symptoms, but is voluntarily self-quarantining. The encounter occurred off campus.
Consistent with public health guidance, after review, it was determined that there is little to no risk to the MIT community from this encounter. In all cases, public health officials are in charge of deciding whether to investigate possible contacts. If you are not contacted by the Department of Public Health, you are not presumed to be at immediate risk.
Please continue to take personal preventive steps to stay healthy. Stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face whenever possible. While MIT is not requiring employees to stay home, we understand that supervisors and staff may want to develop flexible- and remote-work plans, as dictated by individuals’ circumstances.
If you are concerned about any health symptoms you may be experiencing, contact your personal health care provider at the earliest opportunity. Please also continue to follow the Institute’s guidance at mit.edu/covid19.
March 11, 2020: Help us care for our community by allowing MIT Medical’s Urgent Care Service to care for patients who are seriously ill and need care. Please do NOT walk in to Urgent Care to ask to be tested for COVID-19. If you have concerns about symptoms you are experiencing, call MIT Medical’s COVID-19 hotline at 617-253-4865 to speak with a clinician, who can evaluate your situation and tell you what to do next. They might tell you to come to Urgent Care, or they might give you advice about caring for yourself at home.
Test availability is still limited. We cannot test everyone who would like to be tested.
MIT Medical can only test individuals who meet current CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) clinical criteria for testing:
- Travel from an affected area within the last 14 days, or
- Close contact with an individual known to be infected, or
- Severe symptoms with no known exposure to the virus, but only after other infections, such as influenza, have been ruled out.
In addition, we can’t test anyone until the Massachusetts state epidemiologist approves a request for testing.
We know this is a stressful time for many people in our community. Some are worried about their own health; others have concerns about distant friends or family members. Please support each other, and please support MIT Medical in its mission to keep our community healthy and to care for those who need us the most.
March 10, 2020: Do you live with someone who has been asked to self-quarantine because of possible exposure to COVID-19? What does that mean for you and other members of your household?
Self-quarantining in a living space that is shared with others can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Even though the person you live with does not have symptoms, self-quarantining means separating as much as possible from other people sharing the living space. They should stay in their own bedroom and, if possible, use a bathroom that is not shared with others. If there’s only one bathroom, set up a bathroom rotation in which the self-quarantining individual uses the bathroom last and then disinfects it thoroughly (read more about proper disinfection techniques). If the self-quarantining individual needs to come out of their room for any reason, they should wash their hands and wear a mask.
Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces frequently. This includes countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom surfaces. Wash your hands frequently.
Do not share any items with the self-quarantining individual. This includes dishes, drinking glasses, silverware, towels, phones, and remote controls. If possible, use a dishwasher to clean and dry dishes and silverware used by the self-quarantining individual. If this is not possible, wash them by hand using detergent and warm water. Dry them thoroughly, using a separate dishtowel.
The self-quarantining individual should vigilantly self-monitor for possible symptoms. But as long as all members of your household are following these self-quarantine and hygiene guidelines closely, you can continue to participate in your normal activities outside of the home while someone at home is self-quarantining. You should simply follow the same social distancing and hygiene guidelines we’re recommending for everyone at this time.
March 10, 2020: MIT has issued the following advisory: MIT has become aware that a recruiter from Mastercard Advisors who visited MIT Sloan in late February has since tested positive for COVID-19. We are sharing what we know about the case for the benefit of the broader MIT community.
Over the weekend and on Monday, Mastercard alerted MIT and provided the names of five MIT Sloan students and two MIT Sloan staff members who met with the recruiter on Feb. 26-27 in a conference room at Sloan.
The affected individuals have been interviewed by MIT Medical and report good health.
Cambridge and Massachusetts public health officials have been notified and are advising MIT, and we are following all protocols requested by the state. Risk to these students and staff is considered by state health officials to be extremely low.
Because the contacts took place on February 26-27, the observation period for all seven individuals will be completed as of Thursday, March 12 (six will end the observation period tomorrow and one on Thursday). They will be contacted by MIT Medical to ensure that they remain in good health as the observation period expires.
In all cases, public health officials are in charge of deciding whether to investigate possible contacts. If you are not contacted, you are not presumed to be at immediate risk.
A message sent by MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein late Monday afternoon preceded the most recent update from Mastercard to MIT. We are in ongoing contact with Mastercard and are confident all students the recruiter met with at MIT have been identified.
For ongoing health updates on COVID-19, please check the MIT Medical website regularly.
MIT Medical encourages everyone to keep on doing their part to keep our community healthy. Please continue to wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or upper arm; stay home if you are feeling sick; and get a flu shot if you haven’t gotten one yet.
March 9, 2020: Hand hygiene, clean surfaces, and social distancing are good ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 (and anything else that may be going around). But what does that actually mean? Learn what you need to know to stay safe — everything from most-missed, but crucial, part of disinfecting a surface to the truth about high fives versus handshakes. Read “Three ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”
March 5, 2020: This evening, President Reif sent an email to the MIT community detailing new institute guidelines in light of the growing public health concerns surrounding COVID-19. The new guidelines, effective immediately and until May 15, are listed below:
NEW POLICIES AND GUIDELINES ON TRAVEL, VISITORS AND EVENTS: MARCH 5–MAY 15, 2020
The policies below will take effect immediately and stay in place through at least May 15. In this two-month period, we will review them on a rolling basis, provide frequent updates and offer new guidance about activities after May 15 as soon as we can.
If you have questions about how these policies apply in your own situation, our Emergency Management staff can help triage your requests. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We recognize that responding to the new requirements may have financial implications for units across campus. If the costs feel significant for your unit, please bring these concerns to your unit head. The information we gather from these conversations will help us understand the impact across campus and assess how we can help.
MIT Guidance for Travel, Visitors and Events
Effective immediately – and in step with new advice from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – we are suspending all international travel on MIT business or with MIT programs, for all faculty, students, postdocs and staff. This includes any travel associated with one’s scholarly activities as an MIT employee, even travel funded by a government grant, foundation, company or other university.
Rare exceptions will be considered; those who feel they have a compelling need to travel internationally may apply in writing to the provost and the chancellor at COVIDtravel@mit.edu. Anyone currently abroad may return to MIT or in some cases to their home.
We also discourage personal travel to international locations by any MIT community member. If you must travel to any country on the CDC’s COVID-19 travel advisories page, please know that you are required to fill out this form two or three days before you return. Those returning from Level 3 countries will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return; others may also be required to self-quarantine.
We know many students plan travel for spring break. We urge you to weigh the risks and potential consequences for yourself and others. If you travel to any nation where the CDC reports “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19, you will not be permitted to complete your required two-week self-quarantine on campus. Further, as new outbreaks occur and government travel restrictions shift, be aware that, if you choose to travel outside the United States, you may encounter difficulties in returning.
TRAVEL IN THE US
We will continue to fund MIT-related domestic travel as usual. However, we encourage everyone in our community – faculty, staff, postdocs and students – to weigh whether any domestic travel between now and May 15 is essential and to explore options to join meetings or events remotely, especially in the growing number of areas with high infection rates.
TRACKING TRAVEL FOR PUBLIC HEALTH PURPOSES
Until May 15, we strongly encourage everyone in the MIT community to register ALL non-commuting travel outside of Massachusetts in the confidential MIT travel registry. This applies to both personal and MIT-related trips, international and domestic. If a new COVID-19 outbreak occurs in a place where our community members have been traveling, having this confidential information will help our public health team take effective action.
VISITORS FROM OUTSIDE MIT
Visitors from countries which the CDC finds have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19 cannot join us on campus until they have successfully completed 14 days of self-quarantine.
Other visitors are welcome at MIT. However, common sense dictates that the next two months are not the best time to host large groups.
To protect children and older visitors to campus, we ask that you:
- Cancel or reschedule all K–12 programs and visits to be held at MIT from now through May 15.
- Consider postponing a meeting if your visitors are over the age of 60.
Effective immediately, if you are planning any in-person MIT event with more than 150 attendees that will take place between now and Friday, May 15, on campus or off campus, you must postpone, cancel or “virtualize” it.
This new policy does not apply to classroom instruction or other internal gatherings (e.g., colloquia) attended solely by members of the MIT on-campus community.
Unfortunately, it does apply to Campus Preview Weekend and other signature spring semester conferences and celebrations. As an example, we have now postponed the MIT Excellence Awards until June.
Exceptions are possible for imminent events with travelers already here or en route; please inform us immediately at COVIDevents@mit.edu if you are hosting such a gathering. In very limited cases, we may consider appeals to hold larger gatherings attended only by members of our community. You may submit an inquiry at COVIDevents@mit.edu.
We chose 150 people as a threshold to help reduce risk of transmission without calling a halt to all activity on campus. However, group size is only one factor to consider in planning an event – and our success in managing the risk of COVID-19 depends not only on the existence of these policies, but on your cooperation and common sense.
As you plan events with fewer than 150 attendees, please consider these factors:
- How many people will attend, and will they be in close quarters? In some cases, it may make sense to go ahead with an event but to reduce the attendance well below 150. Even with fewer people, if your event is planned for a confined space, you may want to choose a larger site, allow people to participate remotely or both.
- How many participants will be coming from abroad, or from US locations with high infection rates? Given the changeability of travel restrictions, international visitors may face difficulties coming from or returning to their home countries.
- What do you know about the age and health of expected attendees? Evidence to date suggests that COVID-19 hits certain vulnerable populations harder, including older individuals. Whatever the size of your event, consider postponing it if many attendees will be over the age of 60.
- What is the risk to staff who will help prepare for your event, serve your guests and clean up afterward? Staff working for outside service vendors may not have generous health insurance or sick leave, and we should take steps to help keep them safe.
For all events of every size:
- Encourage handwashing!
- Make it easy for your guests to practice good health hygiene: provide hand sanitizer and tissues, and minimize communal food.
- Educate your attendees about proper precautions.
- Urge anyone who feels unwell to stay home and to participate online if possible.
- You may also want to arrange for enhanced cleaning of the event site, before and after.
MIT CLASSES AND INSTRUCTIONAL MEETINGS
All meetings and classes attended by members of the on-campus community can continue to be held as normal.
However, please stay home if you feel sick, and urge others to do so. Encourage handwashing, provide hand sanitizer and tissues, minimize communal food, and educate your students and colleagues about proper precautions.
For large classes, consider offering a way to attend online or arranging other accommodations.
March 2, 2020: Aside from cases in individuals repatriated to the US from affected areas and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today reported a total of 43 confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 cases in 10 US states, including travel-related cases in Rhode Island and New York City and the first potential outbreak of the virus, in a long-term care facility near Seattle, Washington. Community spread of the virus seems to be occurring in several locations on the West Coast.
But according to the CDC, most people in the United States still have little risk of exposure to the virus, and the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low. There are no new reported cases in the greater Boston area or the state of Massachusetts, and there remains no identified risk to the MIT community.
That said, MIT Medical, and the Institute as a whole, has been engaged in planning for the possibility that person-to-person spread will continue to occur and that, at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 may occur in the US and within our community. Coming soon will be updated guidance on events and new guidelines for campus visitors or event attendees from countries listed on the CDC’s COVID-19 travel advisories page. MIT’s travel registration form, currently required for any MIT community member returning from a country listed on the CDC page, is being revised and will become required for campus visitors and would-be visitors hosted by any MIT DLC.
In the meantime, here’s what you can do to protect yourself and the community:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your face. This is harder than it sounds and requires conscious effort.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or upper arm.
- Stay away from anyone who is sick.
- Stay home if you are feeling sick.
Our final piece of news for today is that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health can now test for COVID-19, meaning that test results for suspected cases in the state should be available within 24 hours, a major improvement over turnaround time from the CDC, which was previously the only center in the country that could test for the virus.