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Returning in January 2022: What to Do Now, and What to Expect

DEPARTMENT(S): 
January 3, 2022

This message was sent to the WPI community.

Happy New Year! I sincerely hope you enjoyed some down time and joyful reunions with family and friends and that you are feeling well-rested and rejuvenated. We will come back together as planned in the coming weeks, and classes will begin on time. As we have throughout the pandemic, we will use the latest science to adjust our approach to dealing with the virus while continuing to deliver on our educational mission.

As you know, Omicron is a much more contagious COVID variant, but for most vaccinated people, it causes relatively mild symptoms that are most often akin to allergies or a cold. Our highly vaccinated community is in a good position as we return to the Hill. However, as we have seen across the country, Omicron will likely cause a large number of positive cases in our campus community in the coming weeks. Let me say that again: there are likely to be SIGNIFICANTLY MORE CASES on campus in the coming weeks, but we expect them to be mild.

With many more cases, we anticipate a strain on our campus health services systems and staff. This fact, as well as recent updates to CDC and state guidance, means that some thoughtful changes in how we all work together to help mitigate, treat, and respond to cases on campus will be needed during our reentry phase over the coming weeks, notably:

  • Increased testing for students and employees at least through January
  • Notification of positive and negative tests via email versus a call from the Health Team
  • Web-based instructions on steps to take if you test positive, which could include isolating in your on-campus residence rather than our dedicated isolation space
  • Individuals who test positive will need to notify close contacts.
  • Continuation of remote options for students who need to miss in-person classes

As always, our collective health and safety will hinge on individual behaviors, testing, and vaccination. Though it is likely to be a challenging few weeks, I am confident we will come through this well, working together as we have done over the past two years. Here are the details:

Reentry Testing Plans
For Students:

  • Get tested 24-72 hours before returning to campus from break. You can use any over-the-counter test at home or be tested at your local clinic or pharmacy. If you’re having difficulty finding a test and are within driving distance of campus, you may come to Harrington Auditorium for a test this week. Be sure to check the testing schedule found here. We will not be checking test results for those of you who test off campus, but we are asking all students to do their best to get a negative test before they return.
  • Do not come to campus if you test positive or have symptoms. Report any off-campus positive test or symptoms immediately on the Symptom Tracker and someone from the Health Team will reach out with information and next steps. Stay home and isolate, per Health Team instructions, and you may start the semester remotely if needed. (See academics information below.)
  • Upon returning to campus, you will need two negative on-campus PCR tests with at least one day in between (for example, testing on Tuesday and Thursday) prior to engaging in regular activities on campus, including attending classes in person or attending events.
  • Get tested at Harrington Auditorium immediately upon returning to campus.
  • The testing center reopens Monday, January 3; check the schedule here. If you are in the area, please consider starting your testing this week.
  • NOTE: the testing center will have special hours:
    • Saturday, January 8, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
    • Friday, January 14, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
    • Saturday, January 15, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 pm.
  • We strongly encourage all undergraduates to get tested a third time in their first week back (for example, Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday).

                

  • You may resume normal on-campus activities only after you have received two negative test results from on-campus testing. Until then:
  • Stay in your residence and limit in-person interactions with others.
  • Wear masks in all indoor spaces, including common areas of residence halls, practice physical distancing indoors and outdoors, and wash your hands frequently.  
  • Dining will be grab-and-go from January 9 to 15; seated dining will reopen Sunday, January 16. For the first half of the month, students should plan to eat in their residences. Students with WPI meal plans will receive more information soon.
  • Most students who test positive while on campus will need to isolate in room/residence or return “home.” Residential students who test positive and don’t have chronic health conditions that put them at significant risk or who are not immunocompromised will likely be asked to isolate in their rooms.  Anyone with sensible and supportive off-campus accommodations within the region will be asked to move there for the isolation period so we can preserve beds and campus resources for others who don’t have that flexibility. This may mean isolating with roommates.
    • Anyone who tests positive will receive an email with guidance on treating symptoms, preventing spread to others, as well as medical contact information should your symptoms worsen.
  • Grab-and-go meals will be available for isolating students to pick up and take to their room/residence.
  • Pack a personal isolation kit when you return to campus.
  • Be sure to include prescription medications and preferred non-prescription cold-fighting medications and pain killers/fever reducers.
  • Include personal care items like tissues, cough drops, and contact lens fluid, your favorite snacks, hydrating fluids like Gatorade, and anything else you think you’ll need to be comfortable.

For Employees:

  • Get tested in Harrington, as practical, before returning to in-person work on campus.
  • As your position allows, and in discussion with your supervisor/manager, plan to work remotely until you have received a negative result.
  • If your job requires being on campus as of today, get a test today and be extra vigilant in alternative mitigation factorsdistancing, masking, etc.
  • Do not come to campus if you are feeling even mildly ill. If you begin to feel ill while on campus, alert your manager, go home immediately and contact your physician for care and testing. Report any symptoms in the Symptom Tracker.

New Testing and Notification Protocols for all WPI Community Members

  • All test results for all members of the community—positive and negative—will now come via wpi.schooltesting.org emails.
  • Given the likelihood of high on-campus case numbers, the first notification of a positive test result is now more likely to come via a wpi.schooltesting.org email than a Health Team phone call. 

A comprehensive page on the We Are WPI website will be continually updated to provide instructions for identifying and contacting close contacts, as well as guidance for isolation and support (healthcare, meals, etc.), and what to do in an emergency.

  • All members of the campus community should test twice per week for at least the first few weeks of January or until case counts drop. We will notify you if our testing cadence changes.
  • Close contact notifications will be different:
    • Throughout this pandemic notifying close contacts has often resulted in “I figured” or “I already knew” responses. Therefore, we will primarily rely upon community members personally reaching out to their friends and colleagues to communicate this important information.

If You Had COVID Over the Break, Please Report It Now Through the Symptom Tracker:

Testing on campus after being positive over the break will flag you as positive even if you’re no longer contagious. Alerting us now will allow the Health Team to guide you to instructions that will help you avoid disruption and/or unnecessary isolation during your first weeks back. It will also remove you from the university’s regular testing protocols for an appropriate amount of time.

Better Masks ... and a Temporary Return to Masking in Residence Hall Common Areas and While Teaching/Presenting:

The CDC has found that cloth face coverings are not as effective in preventing transmission of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Therefore, WPI will no longer permit the use of cloth masks alone.

  • You may use a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask, but we strongly encourage you to use a KN95 or a snug-fitting single use surgical mask (which are even more effective when doubled up)NOTE:  Fit is important; loose-fitting masks are not recommended.
    • We have ordered KN95 masks and will make them available to students and employees when they arrive. We will also provide surgical masks, available now at Harrington Auditorium.
  • If you can obtain your own KN95 masks before returning to campus, please do.
  • Masks will be required in residence hall common areas for the first few weeks of January.
  • We are temporarily suspending the option for faculty or presenters to be unmasked while speaking/lecturing in classrooms and other academic and indoor spaces.

We will reassess and lift these guidelines as soon as it is safe to do so.

Academics—Flexibility Remains a Key Priority:

To best support students at the start of the semester—particularly students who may need to miss class due to COVID illness or other reasons—faculty will continue to be flexible in delivering courses.

  • For the first two weeks of classes, faculty may opt to deliver their courses in person or remotely—or both—and will provide options (e.g., lecture capture and/or Zoom) for students who need or wish to attend remotely. Faculty will provide specific details in their course syllabus/Canvas site prior to the start of classes.

After two weeks, we will reassess the campus caseloads and work with faculty to determine when we can return fully to normal academic operations.

Project Center Travel

WPI’s Global Travel Review and Response Team is continually monitoring conditions worldwide as the virus impacts our project sites and planned travel. The Global Experience Office and faculty advisors will be in touch directly with project teams regarding their specific plans.

Clubs and Organizations Should Continue to Be Creative in Hosting Safe and Engaging Events

  • For the month of January, only WPI community members may partake in events, no food will be served, and participants are expected to follow masking, distancing, and other existing event protocols.
  • Spectators are not permitted at WPI athletic events.

We’ll revisit these precautions over the course of the month.

Get Your Booster NOW

WPI is requiring everyone in the campus community to get a COVID vaccine booster by January 18, or within 30 days of becoming eligible. (See my December 16 message.) Even if you have recently had COVID, you need to comply with this booster requirement.

You are welcome to sign up for a slot at one of WPI’s two upcoming Booster Clinics, which will be in Harrington Auditorium on Thursday, January 13, 10 am – 5 pm, and on Friday, January 14, 9 am – 4 pm.

Town Halls and More Information

I know this is a lot to process. We’re planning virtual Town Hall sessions to answer questions from faculty, staff, students, and parents. As always, check the WeAreWPI website for ongoing updates. Mark your calendars now—you will get a separate notification of the Town Hall login.

  • Employee Virtual Town Hall, Thursday, Jan. 6, at 2pm ET
  • Student/Family Virtual Town Hall, Thursday, Jan. 6 at 6 pm ET

We know you are eager to be back with colleagues, friends, and classmates, and we are also excited to welcome you back to campus. Of course, we know that changing restrictions can cause stress—and we fully understand that the pandemic itself is stressful—and our hope is that these temporary measures will help us weather Omicron quickly and safely so that we can gather together more fully and freely in the very near future. As always, your efforts will make all the difference, and your commitment to helping and supporting each other is most greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

-Laurie

WPI President Laurie Leshin