MIT plans for return to full in-person learning and work arrangements in Spring

Testing may become optional, in addition to other potential policy relaxations

MIT shared its plans for a return to in-person learning and usual employee work arrangements during the spring semester in a Jan. 18 COVID-19 Update email from Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen, Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, Chancellor Melissa Nobles, Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor, Director of MIT Medical Cecilia Stuopis ’90, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education Ian Waitz, and Vice President for Research Maria Zuber.

The email writes that when the semester starts Jan. 31, MIT expects to return to “operations resembling those of the fall semester,” including the return of all classes to in-person learning and of “most employees to the schedules and work arrangements” in place prior to December 2021, when the Omicron variant began its spread in the Boston area.

Based on current trends, MIT hopes to further relax its pandemic protocols “in the weeks and months to come,” the email writes. It is “likely that MIT will … [begin] transitioning away from required regular COVID testing, while continuing to offer optional on-demand testing for those who are exposed to COVID or have symptoms.” 

Additionally, MIT will reassess its current restrictions on events and visitors “in the coming weeks.” At present, food and drink are not permitted at events, and visitors have limited access to most buildings.

The indoor face covering policy is still required, as per the City of Cambridge’s mask mandate.

The email cites the Omicron variant receding as well as MIT’s shift in focus “from reducing the number of cases to mitigating severe health consequences” as reasons for the potential policy changes.

According to the email, since Dec. 21, 8% (more than 2,500) of MIT community members have tested positive for COVID-19. 98% of the community was fully vaccinated prior to December, and now, 90% of students and employees accessing campus have received booster vaccines. Thus, “most cases at MIT in recent weeks have been mild,” and MIT is unaware of any that have led to hospitalization.

On campus, the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases has declined, from 6.87% (the week of Dec. 26–Jan. 1) to 4.59% (the week of Jan. 2–Jan. 8) to 2.72% (the week of Jan. 9–Jan. 15). As of Jan. 17, the MIT Medical dashboard reports that the percentage of positive tests during the week of Jan. 16–Jan. 22 is 1.29%. Similarly, a decrease in positive cases has occurred in the larger Boston area.

The email adds that “while the trends are looking favorable at the moment,” MIT has developed “fallback positions” in case of “an unexpected reversal” and encourages instructors and departmental leaders to develop their own continuity plans as well.