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Ready for Launch: 95 Percent Vaccinated, Science Rules, Masks Help

DEPARTMENT(S): 
August 6, 2021

This message was sent to the WPI community.

Every August brings excitement to campus, and this year is especially special: With 95 percent of our campus community currently vaccinated, WPI is well positioned as we plan to physically be together on campus. We are largely returning our classrooms, working, and living spaces to normal capacity, and I am confident that by following the science and continuing several key health and safety measures, we are moving toward a better normal with everyone’s health, mental health, and educational experiences in mind. 

Vax Up, Mask Up (Indoors)
Because of our very high vaccination rate, we are in the best possible position to manage this phase of the pandemic. What’s more, WPI’s high level of vaccination shows everyone’s commitment to achieving that better normal; we are getting there, and I’m so grateful for everyone’s engagement and cooperation in achieving that goal.  

As we repopulate the campus for the academic year, we continue to keep a watchful eye on the Delta variant, which is significantly more contagious than previous forms of the virus. Although the risk for vaccinated individuals is much lower than for unvaccinated people, vaccinated individuals could still become infected and even transmit this variant. While the protection of the vaccine (individually and as a community) means the likelihood of becoming seriously ill is extremely small, we must remember that we are part of the larger regional community, and we are still learning how to best deal with this emerging variant. 

So, as we head into the academic year, we will continue some precautions that will allow us to proceed with fully in-person classes and many more activities than last year. In keeping with new CDC guidance, beginning immediately and through the next few weeks:

  • Everyone on campus must wear a face covering/mask in all WPI buildings and vehicles unless in a private office or living environment; masks are optional in private settings.
  • For vaccinated individuals in outdoor spaces, face coverings/masks are optional. For unvaccinated individuals, masks are advised if social distancing is not possible. Masks will be required at some large outdoor events, especially those that include large numbers of off-campus visitors. Make it a habit to always carry a mask with you. 
  • Face covering/masks are required in residence hall common spaces, lounges, hallways, and bathrooms. Students may forego masks in their living environment with their roommate(s) if they choose. During the onboard testing and move-in process, face covers will be required for all students and helpers—both indoors and outdoors, regardless of distancing. 
  • In dining areas, face coverings/masks are required except when actively consuming food and beverages.   

I am hopeful that the indoor masking requirement will be relatively short-lived for vaccinated individuals on our campus. We’ll reassess and update this guideline when health trends—both on and off campus—allow. As difficult as it is, we should expect rolling, tightening, and loosening of restrictions over time as we make our way toward a post-pandemic world.

Pooled Testing
Masking indoors is only one of the layers of safety we will have as we bring the community back together this fall. Testing is another essential tool to understand the state of the pandemic on our own campus. We’ve changed some things about our testing program that will make it easier and faster to get tested:

  • Weekly COVID testing resumes August 9; everyone on campus must test once per week. Please note that students do not need to start testing until their assigned onboarding date.
  • WPI has a new pooled testing program in place. (You swab the same way but the lab processing is different.)  All students and employees need to do two simple things:
  1. sign new waivers
  2. confirm their phone, address, state, and zip code information in Workday
  • You’ll continue to receive individual test results via your WPI.edu email and/or through the patient portal (which may take 24-30 hours). Tests can be scheduled here
  • WPI’s COVID-19 Dashboard will continue to provide weekly updates of our campus status. 

Dine In, Join In, Log in
As we get back to our better normal:

  • All student dining locations will be open this year—including the newly renovated Goat's Head, which includes a brand-new Starbucks and the Innovation Kitchen. No reservations required.
  • The red Adirondack chairs are here to stay; what’s more, they’re multiplying.
  • The Sports and Recreation Center and outdoor fields will be fully accessible to all students and employees—no reservations required. 
  • Varsity, club, and intramural sports and competitions will return.
  • All on-campus classrooms, teaching labs, tech suites, and project and study spaces will be back to full capacity, with this year’s course delivery returning to pre-pandemic formats: on campus or online.

We know you’re likely to have lots of questions, and we will create some dynamic opportunities for updates and questions. Watch for details at upcoming Town Hall meetings.

Other August Highlights:
All employees are welcomed back to campus and all campus offices are officially reopened.

  • Students begin arriving on August 10 (athletes and others); however, the majority of students will move in August 18 and August 21–24. Be aware: move-in days could bring longer lines for COVID-19 testing and potential parking disruptions (watch for parking details). Masks, indoors and out, will be required of all participating in move-in.
  • Graduate Student Orientation will take place August 20.
  • New Student Undergraduate Orientation (NSO) is happening August 21–24.
  • The new SophEx program kicks off August 22.
  • TA’s will have their orientation programs August 23–24.
  • A-Term and fall semester classes begin August 25, and, as noted, this year “in-person” is our default position. We do plan to incorporate lessons learned from last year; for example, faculty are encouraged to offer lecture capture to help students who may need to miss an in-person lecture.

This vibrant campus alive with activity is possible because of your hard work and your conscientious cooperation with health guidelines and protocols developed to protect our campus community. I look forward to welcoming you all back for an excellent new academic year, and I thank you for your ongoing dedication to WPI and each other. 

Sincerely,

Laurie