Response to Omicron & Plans for January

December 21, 2021

Highlights

  • Omicron is rapidly changing the situation, and MIT is responding.
  • January IAP will move forward in a modified fashion, with reduced density on campus.
  • We are developing new approaches to isolation and dining for students who test positive.
  • Undergraduate students should carefully consider whether to return to campus for IAP.
  • We are strongly encouraging managers to have staff work remotely during January.
  • Indoor masking will continue, and high-quality masks will be provided.
  • Get your required booster shot as soon as possible; the MIT deadline for obtaining a booster is January 14, 2022.
  • These efforts will allow us to learn and plan for an in-person spring term, which begins on January 31.
     

To the members of the MIT community,

Before the winter break, we want to offer an update on where things stand with COVID-19 in our community, on other campuses, and in the country as a whole.

We all heard last week about outbreaks at Cornell and other universities. At MIT, cases have also been on the rise, though not as sharply. We expect that will change, especially since the highly transmissible Omicron variant accounts for a significant and increasing proportion of US cases, and an increasing number of cases in the Greater Boston area, including among MIT community members.

It is essential that we learn and adapt now, before the spring term begins on January 31.

How Omicron is shaping our approach to 2022

For the last 18 months, MIT has relied on an approach that uses testing to spot infections early so we can quickly isolate individual cases from the community.

The lesson from the Cornell situation and others, however, is that Omicron spreads so quickly that identifying and containing it is nearly impossible, even with a strong system like ours.

  • Already, the ongoing surge is stressing our contact tracing and student isolation operations.
  • We are therefore developing adjustments to our approach to student isolation to ensure we can continue to operate during the Independent Activities Period (IAP).
  • We will continue with our standing testing system in the near term as we learn how best to manage through the Omicron surge going forward.
     

What you need to know now

Students and instructional staff

  • Undergraduate students who are taking for-credit academic classes that are important for their academic progression; participating in research and internships, athletics, and professional development activities; or who otherwise would not have appropriate living or learning environments, are invited to return in January for IAP. We expect that, as in previous years, residential density will be reduced by 40–50% because not all students choose to be on campus for IAP.
  • Changes to isolation and dining plans for students who test positive for COVID-19 are being developed for IAP and the spring semester. A follow-up message to students will detail these changes so that undergraduate students can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to be on campus next month, when we expect to see an increase in cases. This message will also detail how to declare their intention to participate in on-campus IAP activities during Omicron, which will include new requirements and expectations.
  • Strategies to ensure academic continuity for all IAP activities, including those that rely intensively on in-person teaching and learning, will also be shared with students and instructors as a follow-up to this letter.
     

Employees

  • We are strongly encouraging managers to have employees work remotely when feasible. This approach will ease pressure on campus testing and tracing systems as we learn how best to manage through Omicron and prepare for an in-person spring semester.
  • This policy will take effect beginning tomorrow and continue through the end of IAP, which is January 28, 2022.
  • MIT is in contact with union representatives for our service staff.
     

Research community

  • Our research operations will continue as they have for more than a year. We are, however, strongly encouraging faculty and other PIs to review their research continuity plans because of the increased number of people who may not be able to come to work due to testing positive.
  • Shared research facilities will continue to operate with research continuity preparation in mind.
  • As appropriate to research scope and practices, research leaders should encourage flexible work locations with their group members beginning tomorrow and through the end of IAP.
  • Online library services, book request services, and some library facilities will be available during IAP.
     

Vaccines, boosters, and masks are critical

We will be aided in our efforts throughout IAP and the coming spring semester by vaccines, boosters, and masks – the three protections we know effectively blunt the impact of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. That’s why the most important thing you can do right now to protect yourself and others is to stay masked, and get your vaccine and booster.

At the conclusion of MIT Medical’s final booster clinic of the year today, we estimate that 47% of MIT community members will have the vital protection the booster offers. MIT Medical will hold additional clinics in January and at the beginning of the spring semester for those who are unable to find a booster appointment before then. MIT’s deadline for receiving a booster is January 14, 2022. This deadline also applies to those who are working or studying remotely.

The pandemic is entering a new phase. The good news is that we are practiced in flexibly managing change together, and we have maintained our education and research enterprises. By following the data, modeling solutions, and working in the spirit of community with each other, we can continue to keep MIT strong.

With very best wishes for the holidays and a restful winter break,

Ramona Allen, Vice President for Human Resources
Suzy Nelson, Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life
Melissa Nobles, Chancellor
Martin A. Schmidt, Provost
Glen Shor, Executive Vice President and Treasurer
Cecilia Stuopis, MD, Medical Director, MIT Medical
Ian A. Waitz, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education
Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research

Note: Corrected December 22, 2021