Coronavirus travel restrictions impact MIT community

MIT Medical advises community members to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving China

MIT Medical is requiring community members to fill out a travel registration form and advising students to self-isolate if they have been to mainland China after Jan. 19. 

Last week, the Trump Administration issued a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory for U.S. citizens traveling to China as well as a temporary ban of foreign nationals traveling to the United States who have been to China within the last 14 days. 

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88, and MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis ’90 wrote in an email to the MIT community Feb. 2 that “all MIT community members who are currently in China or have returned from mainland China since January 19” must complete a travel registration form

The form will allow MIT Medical to understand how many students traveled to China and, if appropriate, advise community members on self-isolation.

Boston confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus Feb. 1 and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global health emergency Jan. 30. 

MIT administration is “taking the most conservative approach out of an abundance of caution for our community,” Stuopis said in an interview with The Tech Feb. 5. 

Stuopis said that MIT Medical is advising community members to self-isolate for 14 days from when they departed China. 

“We don’t want the people who are self isolating to be cut off from the MIT community in any way,” Stuopis said. Stuopis advised that if MIT community members know individuals who are self-isolating, “don’t forget about them.”

Jingzhao Zhang G, who modified his return flight in anticipation of potential travel restrictions and is self-isolating, wrote in an email to The Tech Feb. 4 that although he is able to get some work done at home, “not being able to go to lectures is my major concern.” 

Once affected students have informed MIT Medical of their situation, support systems “are connecting with each student individually,” Student Support and Wellbeing Senior Associate Dean David Randall said. Randall said that support services are helping with four main areas: food, housing, academics, and emotional support. “We are asking students about each … and providing all the assistance that we can.”

Because travel restrictions coincided with the start of the semester, a small number of students remains in China, including Yujie Qian G, who wrote in an email to The Tech Feb. 2 that it still remains “unclear” how he will return to the U.S.

“The number of people who have traveled to China is much smaller than the number of people who have friends and family in China,” Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz said in an interview with The Tech Feb. 5. “It’s important to realize that … a lot of people in our community … are trying to support friends and family who are back there.”

Waitz said that there have been “reports of people being flip about the crisis as a whole and not recognizing that there’s a couple thousand people at MIT who have close family relations in China ... and that is not a funny, laughing matter.”

The MIT Chinese Student Club stated in a Facebook post Feb. 2 that “discourse surrounding the virus has incited many xenophobic feelings and micro-aggressions toward Chinese culture.”

Waitz encouraged the community to remember “we are one MIT. Everyone here is valued. Just be a little thoughtful when you are interacting.”

According to Maria Zuber, vice president for research, MIT has 30 active research collaborations with China or Hong Kong. “While it’s going to prevent in-person collaborations, it doesn’t mean the work isn’t going to go on,” Zuber said in an interview with The Tech Feb. 5.

Barnhart and Schmidt wrote in an email Jan. 31 that MIT faculty, staff, and postdocs who need to travel to China “urgently” are required to discuss their travel plans and the associated risks and sign a risk acknowledgement form.

“No one has come to me to have one of those discussions,” Zuber said.

The Office of the Vice Chancellor wrote in an email to The Tech that a Lunar New Year Celebration, hosted by the International Students Office, Chinese Students and Scholars Association, and Vietnamese Students Association, was originally scheduled Feb. 7 but has been postponed.

MIT-China program Managing Director Sean Gilbert wrote in an email to The Tech that “19 students visited mainland China” for IAP workshops and externships.

“MISTI-China activities in mainland China are currently on hold for the next month or two” or “at least until WHO travel warnings are lifted,” Gilbert wrote. “We have very few activities in China during the spring semester … so there hasn’t been much impact on the program.” 

Stuopis, Waitz, and Zuber applauded MIT staff for adapting to a rapidly-evolving situation. 

“It’s been an amazing community-wide and campus-wide effort,” Stuopis said. The action plan “evolves as the information evolves ... It is not static.”

For support regarding the coronavirus, members of the MIT community can contact Community members can visit for the latest updates.

Jessica Shi contributed reporting.