Blake, Sharon, Waitz share COVID-19 updates at faculty meeting

MIT in conversations with local partners to determine ways to use space for emergency

MIT Emergency Management Director Suzanne Blake, acting deputy Executive Vice President Anthony Sharon, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz provided updates on COVID-19 at the faculty meeting March 18.

MIT is in conversations with the City of Cambridge and state officials to inform them that MIT stands “ready to help,” wrote Sharon in an email to The Tech

Blake said in the meeting that such conversations have included talks about potentially using dorms as quarantine spaces and larger spaces like Rockwell Cage as field hospitals. However, students are still the top priority.

“First responders and emergency preparedness officials at the city and state level (e.g., Cambridge Police, Cambridge Fire, Pro Ambulance, Cambridge Public Health, MEMA) are among those considering plans to identify space should the situation worsen to overwhelm local hospitals and other medical facilities,” Sharon wrote. 

Emergency management, the Division of Student Life (DSL), and the Institute’s space planning working group are also “developing plans to support community members that reside in surrounding areas, including some students who returned to homes locally, that may need a place to self-quarantine in the future,” Sharon wrote. 

Details are currently being modeled, Blake said.  

Waitz provided a summary of the accelerated move-out process to faculty members during the meeting. 

The MIT Advisory text alerts served to promote a “sense of urgency” to MIT community members, Waitz said, adding in an email to The Tech that “many pay more immediate attention to text versus email,” and that email may take “a couple hours” to reach the community due to the cloud-based servers. 

There were several components to accelerating student move-out. Waitz wrote that class cancellation, storage offerings, and “modest” travel and hardship funds removed barriers to move-out while providing travel reimbursements both removed a barrier and “provided incentive.”

Waitz said during the meeting that “students were supported” throughout the move-out process.

“We worked very hard to support students throughout the last 10 days,” Waitz wrote. “This was not always apparent to all members of the community, but that is because we were moving so quickly the communications lagged behind the actions.”

Since March 9, Waitz has hosted daily calls, including on weekends, from 8–9 a.m. Waitz wrote that the calls have “grown to 125 people” and include “all department and senior leadership and senior administrative leaders from across MIT.” 

There has been a “real sense of community among” those in the calls, Waitz said at the meeting.

Waitz commended the Dean of Admissions, the Registrar, the Office of the General Counsel, Emergency Management at MIT Medical, the Vice President for Finance, and “hugely professional staff” at the meeting for the work they have done. He added that he owed them “a huge debt of gratitude.”

Waitz also commended Krishna Rajagopal for building a remote teaching team with the Office of Digital Learning, the Teaching and Learning Laboratory, and IS&T. 

“These were just examples,” Waitz wrote. “All the staff members are exceptionally talented.  And within the groups were similarly talented, very experienced staff members.”

The meeting concluded with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 reflecting on the crisis. “For me, and I know many of you, it underscores that we have so much to be proud of. Over the past few weeks, many members of our community have worked nearly round-the-clock on behalf of MIT’s students, staff and faculty, and the broader community.”

Barnhart commended staff in the “‘all-thing-students’ world,” including the DSL, the Office of the Vice Chancellor, the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response office, the Office of the Chancellor, and the Office of the General Counsel, for “selflessly sharing their expertise, compassion, and problem solving skills, and putting their personal lives on the back burner” and thanked them for “working exceptionally long hours, often under difficult conditions.”