Number of positive COVID-19 tests double last week

Faculty and staff expressed concerns over current MIT policies during Zoom call

599 MIT community members tested positive for COVID-19 between April 24–30, an uptick from the 284 positive cases from the week prior (April 17–23), according to a slide deck from a May 2 COVID-19 response call hosted on Zoom by Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education Ian Waitz. The overall positive test rate also increased from 4.7% in the week of April 17 to 7% in the week of April 24.

According to the MIT Medical COVID-19 dashboard, in the seven days leading up to press time, there were 546 new positive cases: 381 student, 148 employee, and 17 affiliate cases.

A graph on the slide deck shows that 11.2% of undergraduate and 5.6% of graduate students who tested in April received a positive result.

“Throughout the pandemic, MIT cases have closely followed MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] wastewater surveillance data trends,” but that “changed last week, when the MWRA data declined but our case numbers rose,” Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen, Provost Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson, Chancellor Melissa Nobles, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor, MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis ’90, Waitz, and Vice President for Research Maria Zuber wrote in an email to community members May 2.

The mismatch between wastewater surveillance data and actual positive test counts is “due primarily to an increase in cases within our undergraduate student population,” the email added.

The slide deck states that other than the “higher rates for undergraduates in the last week” driven “by typical end-of-semester social activities,” there “are no significant patterns in the data.”

Among isolating students, “there is a high demand for food deliveries” but people “continue to do the right thing” by “testing and masking” when symptomatic or concerned about possible exposure, the slides state.

A transcript of the COVID-19 response call showed that a vast majority of, but not all, faculty and staff who were active in the chat expressed concerns surrounding MIT’s recent COVID-19 policies. Concerns included the decision to discontinue mandatory testing and masking, students missing end-of-term classes or assignments, and whether instructors can recommend that students wear masks.

MIT will “continue to make high-quality masks available,” including “via new vending machines,” the slides state.

Additionally, “MIT is distributing rapid antigen tests to all residence halls,” fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, Nelson and Stuopis wrote in an email to MIT students May 4. “Supplies are limited, so please get a test only if you need one,” their email stated.

Students with COVID-19-like symptoms “should not attend classes or take exams” and “instructors will make alternate arrangements,” Nelson and Stuopis wrote.

One possible option for “students progressing satisfactorily with verifiable medical or personal issues” who are unable to complete end-of-semester work is the “Excused Absence or OX grade,” the May 4 email stated. An OX grade allows students to “make up work at a later time for a grade that replaces the OX on the final transcript,” but students “on the May/June degree list” who need to miss work “should work with their professors,” Student Support Services, or GradSupport to “ensure that whatever is missed gets completed on time.”

“While the decision to wear a face covering on campus remains a personal choice, masking is something individuals can always do to reduce the spread” of COVID-19, the May 2 email stated, adding that even “if wearing a mask is not important for you personally, it is an action that may be appreciated by others around you.”

Nelson and Stuopis wrote that they “are strongly encouraging all students, staff, postdocs, faculty, and campus visitors to wear high-quality masks indoors.”

“The MIT community is made up of exceptional individuals, people who care about and look out for one another,” the May 2 email stated, concluding that if community members take extra precautions in the coming weeks, there is “no doubt that we will finish the academic year on a positive note.”