MIT announced today that in conjunction with the end of the federal and state public health emergency declarations, the Institute will retire its remaining Covid-era policies, including its vaccination requirement for members of the MIT community, effective May 11.
Cecilia Stuopis, physician and medical director of MIT Medical, and Ian A. Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education, discussed the state of Covid-19 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and on MIT’s campus, and the policy changes to expect once the federal and state public health emergencies expire on that date.
Q: Where do things stand now with respect to rates of Covid-19 in the greater Cambridge area?
Stuopis: After the anticipated rise in cases associated with the holiday season, Covid rates quickly plummeted, and they have remained relatively low for months. Wastewater data — which remain the most accurate, unbiased measurement available — back up these observations.
Cases aren’t just lower here; Covid-19 is down across the country. This disease is closer to an endemic phase than ever before — the point where it is consistently present, like the flu or the cold. Eight months ago, I shared that we were moving to a place where, as a society and as individuals, we are learning how to live with the disease. Today, I think we are there. While Covid-19 remains a serious risk for the unvaccinated and others with preexisting conditions, for many of us, Covid does feel much more like a bad case of the flu than the terrifying disease it was back in early 2020.
We owe that to a number of factors, but on the top of that list is the tremendously successful vaccine. If you aren’t up-to-date with your Covid-19 boosters, I strongly suggest you get your vaccine. The vaccines have proven to be the best defense we have against Covid-19 becoming a life-threatening illness if you contract it.
Q: What about Covid-19 rates on campus at this time?
Stuopis: On campus, I’m pleased to say that this semester has operated as normal — and as you likely have noticed, it feels like MIT! Classes and research have been fully in-person. IAP was filled with the usual fun events. Annual academic calendar mile-markers such as Campus Preview Weekend have gone on (and were tremendous successes). Our community has also embraced more flexible ways of working, with online, hybrid, and in-person options. And on May 1 we will celebrate the much-anticipated inauguration of Sally Kornbluth as the Institute’s 18th president.
Because rates have been so low and there are now a variety of easily accessible, accurate testing options, earlier this academic year we transitioned to making our PCR testing available only to symptomatic individuals. Since then, testing utilization has dropped to a campuswide average of only around three tests a day. Additionally, while masking remains optional for nearly all of campus, our vending machines remain stocked with free, high-quality KF-94 masks for anyone who feels more comfortable being masked in a public setting. And keep in mind, masking is the easiest way you can help protect yourself from contracting Covid-19.
In short, the Covid conditions on campus and around us are as favorable as they have ever been throughout the pandemic.
Q: What policy changes will MIT implement when the federal and state public health emergencies expire on May 11?
Waitz: I first want to take a step back and again thank our entire community for adapting as the pandemic has kept evolving. As exhausting and challenging as the past several years have been, we are stronger and closer as a community, and most importantly, incredibly resilient.
Given the favorable environment that Dr. Stuopis detailed, and the end of the federal and state public health emergencies, now is an important moment to reassess and rethink our various Covid policies, most of which are relatively minimal at this point. Therefore, effective May 11, guided by the CDC, the following changes will go into effect:
- We will discontinue our symptomatic PCR testing program. With testing volume slowing so dramatically, our campus-based PCR testing program no longer meets a need. Other universities have already or will soon spin down their efforts as well. From now on, just as if you got a case of the flu, if you are ill and require a PCR test, you should visit your personal health care provider. If you get your health care at MIT Medical, if it is deemed medically appropriate at the time, you can receive a PCR test as part of your office visit. However, no PCR tests will be administered at MIT if it is not part of a sick-visit medical appointment. Take-home tests are available at every major pharmacy, including the new CVS in Kendall Square.
- MIT will no longer require vaccinations for students or staff members, but will defer to the CDC guidance, which currently strongly recommends them. As studies continue to show us, Covid-19 vaccines have a proven track record for preventing serious illness, so we think they are important and strongly recommend that community members follow CDC vaccine guidance.
- Individuals will no longer be required to report testing positive to Covid-19 in MIT Atlas. However, if you do test positive, you should follow the CDC guidelines for isolation and stay home and away from others for five full days. Covid Pass and Covid Vaccine, both available via Atlas, will sunset on May 11 and May 31, respectively. Please be sure to download any stored personal information uploaded to Covid Vaccine, such as proof of vaccination and/or booster shots, that you wish to retain before May 31: After that date, all Covid vaccination and testing data will be destroyed.
Masking will remain optional on campus and MIT will continue to stock the vending machines with high-quality masks. If individuals are more comfortable being masked, they should feel supported if they decide to wear one.
And, as always, we will remain flexible and ready. MIT Medical and MIT Emergency Management are monitoring the situation. If an unexpected surge occurs, or if local or federal guidance changes, we will reassess our approach.