Managing Covid-19 at MIT this Fall: “So far, so good” | MIT News

Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 20,000 people study, work or live at MIT every day. Thanks to a robust plan to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on campus – masking, attestation, testing and access control – the number of positive Covid-19 cases has remained very low (at or below 0.1 % of tests completed) in recent times. weeks. Because of this statistic, almost all of the courses, labs and offices have been and remain in person. Ian Waitz, vice-chancellor for undergraduate and graduate studies, who has led MIT’s Covid testing team for the past 18 months, sums it up this way: So far, so good.

Here, Waitz, Cecilia Stuopis, MIT Medical Director, and Suzanne Blake, MIT Emergency Management Director, discuss how MIT overcame the pandemic – and will continue to do so – and to provide an overview of the following.

Question: How did MIT’s Covid-19 mitigation strategy go this semester?

Wait : Looking at the MIT Covid-19 Test Dashboard, the overall number of cases has remained modest in recent weeks, with no more than 0.1% of return tests positive – as has been the case throughout the tenure. Most of our positives continue to be related to off-campus social interactions with food and drink, social interactions without masking, family contact of positive cases, and exposures to non-MIT positive cases off campus. We have only had a few cases involving transmission on campus, as has been the case throughout the pandemic. Last year, out of 1,200 positives, we only had 18 cases of transmission on campus.

Our strategy is based on three elements: a community vaccination rate greater than 98%; high-frequency surveillance tests, which allow us not only to stop community spread, but also to contain the clusters before they can develop appreciably; and interior masking. We relied on the data-driven model that mechanical engineering professor Peko Hosoi developed earlier to inform and evaluate these policies.

An example of the effectiveness of our approach is that we had a three week period earlier this fall with zero positive cases among our undergraduates – who live and learn together and participate fully in athletics, activities and to events. MIT students now benefit from the in-person educational and on-campus experience made possible by our conservative approach.

Our tests also continue to perform well, with around 34,000 Covid tests, mostly unobserved, performed each week; with average delays of less than 24 hours; and very high compliance due to the link with campus access. All of our tests, the Covid Pass access system (including Tim Tickets) and our masking protocols have enabled approximately 20,000 people to come to campus regularly, more than three times the number seen in the spring and summer. last summer.

Additionally, our attestation synchronization times have become shorter (typically around 15 minutes), there are additional access points to MIT buildings, and we are making full use of the outdoor spaces for meetings.

I can’t say enough about the teams, especially those of Emergency Management, IS&T [Information Systems and Technology], MIT Medical, the office of the vice president for research, facilities and the student life division, which made it all possible, in addition to doing their routine work. It is nothing short of heroic.

I recently received a few emails from students who indicated that they are now able to think more about their classes, activities and friends, and less about Covid-19. It’s the best kind of success we could hope for.

Question: If we’re doing so well, why do we have to keep testing, attesting, and wearing masks? When can this change?

Stupid : As Ian mentioned, things are going well – and they are going well in large part because we have stayed the course. Due to our success and the widespread decline in numbers across the country, I understand why so many in the community might be wondering why can’t we drop the indoor mask mandate? Why can’t we test less often, if at all? Isn’t the pandemic actually over?

Sadly, we’re not out of the woods – whether it’s here at MIT, in the United States, or around the world. In fact, on campus we’re in a similar situation, in terms of positive case rates, to what we were last year in September and October, and we know the holidays can be unpredictable.

We are also subject to local mandates and federal regulations (who consider all of MIT to be a “covered entrepreneur”). New policies for federal contractors like MIT require two weeks low or moderate level of risk in our department before you can remove the masks inside. (All of Massachusetts is currently at substantial or high risk.)

Even though most cases are mild, with vaccinations we must keep in mind several other important factors: vaccinations for children 5 to 11 years old are just beginning; there are still unvaccinated members of our community; and some community members are more vulnerable due to certain health conditions, even if they are fully immunized. At MIT Medical, we lead with the idea of ​​protecting the most vulnerable populations to ensure what is best for the entire community.

I certainly understand the frustration of always having to wear masks indoors and staying on the test cycle, but we are still in a pandemic. One indicator I’m looking for is when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer requires us to isolate these Covid-positive individuals. For me, that will be the real mark when the pandemic becomes endemic and when we can treat Covid-19 in a way more similar to how we approach the flu.

Finally, I don’t think it is too much to say that we have all lived through a major moment in history. We need to reflect on the fact that the pandemic has claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide. One of them was my mom – and I know there are so many more in our MIT community who have lost loved ones.

Still, there is much to look forward to, and MIT has much to be proud of; among other accomplishments, we have come together as a community to provide personal protective equipment to local health care organizations; we have ensured that our students can continue to learn and that our researchers can continue their work; and we were an integral part of the incredible story of how science and engineering paved the way to create amazingly effective vaccines in record time.

Q: What’s on the near horizon?

Blake: I would be happy to leave the Covid business, but it’s our job to be prepared and anticipate any challenges that lie ahead. Fortunately, we have the same structure in place that we had last year to deal with Covid-19. This consists of the Covid Decision Team (CDT), which includes representatives from senior management from MIT and makes all major policy decisions associated with Covid-19 for MIT, and the Covid Monitoring Team (CMT ), which includes stakeholders from across the Institute who can provide perspectives from various constituents on campus to make recommendations to the CDT and coordinate actions driven by CDT decisions.

This structure allowed us to make the best decisions possible on how to move forward, while ensuring the safety of the MIT community, pursuing the mission of MIT, and adhering to various Federal guidelines, Commonwealth and city. As these policies have evolved and changed quite frequently, we spend countless hours decoding what they mean to MIT and where, if possible, we can relax or change our own policies.

It’s not always clear to the community how much behind-the-scenes work is required to manage Covid for MIT, and we’re doing our best to keep our decision-making transparent. As the pandemic evolves, we continue to assess how masking, testing, daily attestations and campus access apply and impact MIT academics, research, events, student activities. , residential life, visitors and minors on campus, among other aspects of life at MIT. We are constantly discussing what we could change, given our constraints and the public health landscape.

Much like it happened last summer, when MIT leadership decided on the policies and practices we needed to support a full campus reopening, discussions about potential exits, or how and when we can relax. these measures are currently a priority. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that MIT can thrive throughout the pandemic, no matter what it brings. Like the rest of the MIT community, we look forward to a return to simpler days on campus (and beyond!) As soon as possible.

I also hope we build on all the positive and productive things we learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and come out with an even better MIT. I want to thank everyone in our community, again and again, for their patience and cooperation in helping us through this ordeal. We were a strong community before Covid-19, and I think this pandemic has made us stronger than ever.

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