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First Week Update

Note: This is dated information and may not reflect the current policies in place on campus. Please refer to We Are WPI for the latest information.

September 4, 2020

This note was sent to the WPI community.

The first week of A-Term and the fall semester is coming to a close, and we’ve already learned some important lessons about operating our campus in the midst of a pandemic. I want to share a brief update and ask for your continued support and cooperation.

Although we’ll be working and attending classes this Labor Day, we know that holiday weekend habits are hard to break. Plus, this pandemic continues to create a lot of stress for many of us, and the temptation to spend some time this weekend at the beach, at a cookout, or just really letting loose might be especially alluring. You can still have fun, but please stick to your own pod or a small group, be outdoors, and follow all the health and safety protocols.

The lessons we’ve learned this week demonstrate that we cannot let down our guard. Not this weekend, not next week, and probably not this year. The university—and the world—will be grappling with COVID-19 for some months to come, until a safe and reliable vaccine is developed and in wide use. Until then, each of us has a responsibility to follow all of our health and safety protocols—face coverings and hand washing and social distancing and testing—it is these layers of safety that together provide our best chance to continue on our path to a successful year.

I’d say this week has been a success because the systems we’ve put in place are doing their job. Those of you who are watching our COVID dashboard know that, to date, WPI has had ten total positive COVID-19 tests out of more than 14,000 tests conducted on campus for an overall positive test rate of well under 0.1%.

I can share with you that eight of the cases were within a single group of off-campus students. There were somewhat minor lapses in following our health protocols soon after move-in that, unfortunately, resulted in virus transmission. Note that all of the students who have tested positive since we began our testing program are in this single group. In the interest of health information privacy, we can’t provide more detail, but we can tell you that, per the university’s protocols, these students are receiving care and are doing well. Those who tested positive were immediately isolated, and their close contacts were identified and are in quarantine. Because this group of cases was identified before classes began, there was minimal exposure to the broader campus.

Upon learning of these positive cases, WPI health officials have been coordinating closely with the Worcester Department of Public Health. The university will continue to retest the students who decided to quarantine locally, and WPI’s Health Services team—including our Isolation/Quarantine Coordinator and our Testing Coordinator—will continue to monitor and care for all impacted students.

This small outbreak, while concerning, does show that WPI’s comprehensive testing program—and use of the Symptom Tracker —are working as intended. They allow us to quickly get care to those who need it, and help contain any spread by ensuring that people infected with COVID-19 are isolated and that their close contacts are quarantined. This underscores the importance of routine testing as these positive cases were caught and addressed quickly. So please be sure to make and keep your regular testing appointments!

Even though our testing program is acting as our early warning system, our ability to manage this virus is strongly dependent on all of us following WPI’s health and safety rules and guidelines. We must continue to engage in best practices in our everyday lives—while on campus and off—to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy. And it is also critical that anyone who needs to isolate or quarantine follow the rules associated with those health and safety measures. Breaking isolation or quarantine is a serious violation of our Code of Conduct, and worse, puts others at risk.

As you know, neglect or defiance of any of our rules and protocols could result in removal from on-campus housing; loss of access to campus for in-person classes, projects, or activities; or suspension. We are taking our Code of Conduct and COVID-19 Addendum seriously because these guidelines protect our entire community, and we simply can’t afford to be flexible when the stakes are so high. We have already seen a small number of violations of our protocols, and we are acting swiftly in all cases.

In spite of these challenges, what we learned this week is that the vast majority of our community is actively engaged, seeking information, asking questions, following rules and protocols, and then asking more questions to be sure they’re doing what’s right. New habits are starting to form, and we’re using social media campaigns, signage, and interpersonal discussions to help remind our community to do the right things.  You can see their respect for this university and each other everywhere you go on campus—in faces covered and people abiding by floor markers for social distancing, following one-way signage, using that ubiquitous hand sanitizer, and generally being mindful of others. This week, I received two notes from local leaders not affiliated with WPI who were in the vicinity of our campus and were incredibly impressed seeing all our students wearing face-coverings and distancing. You are working hard to help us stay on campus—and it shows!

So, thanks to all of you, the systems and protocols we’ve put in place are working. Nonetheless, let’s take a moment to remember that this is about more than systems and protocols. To the members of our community who have been infected with COVID-19, and to those in quarantine, please know that we all are thinking of you and looking forward to welcoming you back on campus soon. To their families, please know we are doing all we can to ensure that your students are safe and receiving care.

Of course, our effort to live and learn in the age of COVID-19 comes with uncertainty and challenges. In addition to diligence and discipline, we know that understanding, compassion, and kindness are of paramount importance. We are living our plan, and we are learning each day. It will take every member of this community continuing to work together and support one another for us to translate our first week of success into a second week, and then a third.

So take some time to relax and recharge this weekend, but please do so safely. Thank you for doing your part. I am so proud of all of you!