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Important Student Update Regarding WPI’s Pandemic Response, Impact on C-Term and Spring Semester

DEPARTMENT(S): 
January 8, 2021

This message was sent to WPI students and families.

I hope the new year finds you safe and healthy. As we plan to begin C-Term/spring semester, the pandemic is very much still influencing our every move. As predicted, data from across the country shows a post-holiday period surge in COVID-19 cases.  The nation’s—and Worcester’s—healthcare system is strained. The vaccine is also being deployed which, over the course of the spring, should provide a view into the beginning of the end of this pandemic.

Many factors are at play as we consider how to operate effectively and safely in the second half of this most unusual academic year. We continue to navigate this pandemic guided by science, data, advice of public health colleagues and, of course, the direction and regulations provided by local, state, and federal officials. In addition, we now have the experience of operating the campus successfully in the Fall.

As you will recall, anticipating a post-holiday surge, we previously pushed back the start date of C-Term and spring semester to January 28.  We will stick with that date, and we will proceed with our plan to bring students back to campus, where they can be regularly tested and cared for, starting around January 21. That process involves pre-arrival testing for all residential students, and several consecutive onboarding tests for all students.

As we begin to repopulate the campus, due to the current and projected rates of COVID-19 cases in the state, region, and nationally, WPI will move into Stay in Place (Alert Level Yellow) status—effective Friday, January 15 and until at least February 11—or until our testing, quarantine, and isolation data show that we can return to a less-restrictive status. Accordingly, during the first two weeks of C-Term/spring semester all classes, labs, student projects, and activities will be conducted remotely, and access to campus will be limited.

This decision was made with the health and safety of our community as our top priority, and because WPI remains committed to helping mitigate the spread of the virus on campus and within the Worcester community.

Although it may seem daunting, we’ve done this before: throughout the fall, WPI’s own rate of positive COVID test results was notably lower than regional, statewide, and national rates. That was possible only because we worked diligently—and as a community—to create a “protective bubble” through our robust program of continued monitoring, testing, and caring for this community (in close collaboration with the Worcester Division of Public Health); and by establishing routines that minimized contacts and gatherings.

Now we must again work together—each person committed to helping themselves and the larger community—to create that protective bubble so that we can continue to live and learn together.  

It will be an even greater challenge this time; we have to be prepared that more students, faculty and staff will be infected over the course of this month and into February. So, as was the case in November, we are making changes and increasing the rigidity of our health and safety procedures and protocols. Phased move-in and onboarding testing will begin on January 21 as previously communicated. Schedules will be held firm, as will pre-arrival and onboarding testing protocols and timing. (Testing frequency may also increase for some community members; we’re working out those details and will be in touch if appropriate.) We must also do more to reduce the potential for close contacts of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, keeping our community close but physically distanced. And students must continue to follow the Code of Conduct and COVID-19 Addendum.

In order to minimize the risk of spreading illness both on and off campus, it will be expected that all students will leave their residence hall or off-campus dwellings only to:

  • Pick up food
  • Go outside for physically distanced exercise
  • Seek medical care
  • Participate in COVID testing
  • Go to or from employment

During this time, students will not have access to all campus buildings or be able to move about the campus freely.  In-person activities and events will also be limited:

  • No in-person attendance to classes and labs
  • No in-person music or theatre activities
  • The Sports and Recreation Center will be closed until further notice; card access restricted to only those who work in the building.
  • All Physical Education classes, varsity sports, and club sports will be remote; students should connect with their instructors or coaches.
  • The Campus Center bookstore will only be open for pickups of on-line orders; no in-store shopping will be allowed.  Students are encouraged to order their course materials and supplies online.
  • No in-person meetings—this includes project teams, clubs, advising/tutoring, etc.
  • No social events, gatherings, or parties on or off campus
  • Visitors will not be permitted in residence hall rooms, apartments, or suites (except for one helper at move-in)
  • Six feet of social distancing will be enforced at all times
  • All dining will be grab-and-go only.

No visitors will be allowed on campus, and non-residential students will access campus only in order to:

  • Pick up mail (by appointment), course materials, or meals (but only if on a meal plan and only in the campus center)
  • Participate in on-campus COVID testing
  • Attend medical appointments

It will be imperative that we all follow these guidelines diligently:

  • Use the symptom tracker daily
  • Complete your pre-arrival and onboarding COVID-19 testing  
  • Establish and adhere to your new testing schedule
  • Employ social distancing and wear face coverings when leaving residences and in all public areas
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently
  • Stay home if you feel unwell, and don’t come to campus until you’ve consulted Health Services.

Of course, none of this is ideal, but it is necessary. We do realize that, because of these restrictions, some students and/or their families may wish to change their plans for the term/semester. The C-Term/spring semester intentions survey is due Monday, January 11, and is available on MyTechFlex. Our hope is that you can spend some time this weekend thinking about and discussing what is best for your personal circumstances. Anyone who has already submitted their response to the survey can log in and make changes; otherwise original responses will be honored. Later this spring, we will have a new intentions survey for undergraduate students to indicate their plans for D-Term.

We know this is challenging, but we also know that this community can rise to the challenge. We fully expect to be able to operate more openly as spring instruction proceeds, and we are committed to making even the Stay In Place experience as positive as possible for our students.

Your efforts and cooperation will be among the factors most critical to our shared success. As plans are being finalized, more details will be forthcoming from appropriate sources. 

Please stay safe and be well.

Sincerely,

 

Laurie