Reif announces new travel and events policies in response to COVID-19

CPW cancelled, international travel suspended

In response to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, President L. Rafael Reif has announced new policies for travel, visitors, and MIT events, effective March 5 to May 15. The policies include suspending all international travel with MIT programs and cancelling in-person MIT events with more than 150 participants, including Campus Preview Weekend (CPW).

Reif announced the policies in an email to the MIT community March 5.

MIT will “postpone, cancel, or ‘virtualize’” in-person MIT events with more than 150 attendees, including CPW and “other signature spring semester conferences and celebrations,” the policies state.

Dormitory Council CPW/REX chairs Shaida Nishat ’22 and Zawad Chowdhury ’23 wrote in an email to dorm CPW chairs March 6 that they “have received confirmation from Admissions that CPW has been cancelled.”

“Admissions has set up an action committee to plan for alternatives, and they will be looking for student input soon,” Nishat and Chowdhury wrote.

Nishat and Chowdhury wrote that it “can be heartbreaking to put so much effort and care into planning something,” but the cancellation is “to ensure the health and safety of everyone.”

MIT Admissions assistant director Chris Peterson SM ’13 wrote in a blog post March 6 that the admissions office is “excited about working actively with you all [MIT students] to collaboratively design whatever our version of CPW this year will be.”

MIT Emergency Management (EM) “chose 150 people as a threshold to help reduce risk of transmission without calling a halt to all activity on campus,” the policies state, noting that “group size is only one factor to consider in planning an event.”

The policies state that organizers of events with fewer than 150 attendees should consider postponing if the events involve participants over the age of 60. Organizers should also avoid confined spaces, allow remote participation, or both.

“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,” the policies state.

“In very limited cases, we may consider appeals to hold larger gatherings attended only by members of our community,” the policies state. Exceptions are also possible for “imminent events with travelers already here or en route.”

The policy “does not apply to classroom instruction or other internal gatherings (e.g., colloquia) attended solely by members of the MIT on-campus community.” However, the policies recommend that instructors of large classes “consider offering a way to attend online or arranging other accommodations.”

MIT community members must “cancel or reschedule all K–12 programs and visits to be held at MIT” until May 15. Peterson also wrote in his blog post that “all scheduled information sessions and tours” before May 15 have been cancelled.

The policy may also affect educational outreach programs such as Spark and HSSP.

Additionally, MIT has suspended all international travel “on MIT business or with MIT programs, for all faculty, students, postdocs, and staff,” the policies state. However, MIT community members currently abroad may return to MIT or their homes.

The policies also “discourage personal travel to international locations by any MIT community member.”

As of March 6, three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Massachusetts while another five presumed cases await final confirmation. The New York Times reported that over 250 coronavirus cases have been reported in the U.S, and over 100,000 cases have been reported worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy as countries that have “widespread sustained (ongoing) transmission” of COVID-19. The CDC has issued a Level 3 travel health notice for these countries and a Level 2 travel health notice for Japan, indicating “sustained (ongoing) community transmission.”

MIT community members who travel to countries on the CDC COVID-19 travel advisories website are required to fill out a travel registration form. Community members and visitors returning from CDC Level 3 countries are required to self-quarantine for 14 days before entering MIT campus.

Additionally, the policies encourage MIT community members to “weigh whether any domestic travel between now and May 15 is essential” and “register all non-commuting travel outside of Massachusetts” in the MIT travel registry.

“For our campus community, the current risk level associated with COVID-19 is low,” Reif wrote. However, Reif emphasized that the MIT community should “make prudent choices to protect the health of our own community and the broader communities we belong to.”

Reif wrote that MIT administration “consulted experts at MIT Medical and carefully considered the decisions of peer universities and major businesses around the world” in developing the guidelines.

On March 2, MIT Medical recommended that community members wash their hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching their face, and stay home if they feel sick. Hand sanitizer dispensers have also been distributed throughout campus.

MIT EM has created a COVID-19 planning team and six working groups to “develop a set of contingency plans in the event MIT’s normal operations are interrupted in the coming weeks,” according to a MIT News article March 5. The working groups are focused on academic continuity, research continuity, business continuity, medical response, student/residential response, and communications response.

The policies state that MIT EM will “provide frequent updates and offer new guidance about activities after May 15 as soon as [it] can.”

Professor Daniela Rus wrote in an email to the CSAIL community March 5 that lab members who planned to present at conferences this spring will instead have their presentations filmed and posted online by CSAIL videographers.

CSAIL is “expanding and testing our remote-presence infrastructure with respect to exploring the possibility of doing seminars and other research events remotely,” Rus wrote.

Rus wrote that additional hand sanitizers have been distributed in CSAIL lab spaces. Rus also recommended that CSAIL community members “stay home” if they “exhibit flu or even cold-like symptoms.”

EECS admitted graduate student visit days will continue as planned March 6 and 7, EECS department head Asu Ozdaglar PhD ’03 wrote in an email to CSAIL community members. 

However, EECS will video stream all information sessions, allow video-chats and phone conversations with faculty for admitted graduate students who feel uncomfortable attending in-person events, and reimburse travel expenses for students who cancel their visit due to health concerns, Professor Leslie Kolodziejski wrote in a statement forwarded to the CSAIL community.

Harvard issued new travel and event guidelines as well in an email to the Harvard community March 6. The guidelines “strongly discourage any nonessential large gatherings of 100 or more people” and encourage event organizers to consider using “remote technology” such as Zoom or Skype.

Harvard-related “non-essential domestic air travel” and international travel are “prohibited,” and personal international travel is “strongly discouraged.” The guidelines are effective until April 30.

Members of the MIT community with questions or concerns about the new policies can email MIT EM at Community members who wish to hold an event with more than 150 people can submit inquiries to