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Twice-Weekly COVID Testing and Other Important C-Term Updates

DEPARTMENT(S): 
January 25, 2021

This message was sent to undergraduate students.

Welcome back! I hope you all had a restful break. I have to share how incredibly proud I am of the way that everyone in our community—students, faculty, and staff—pulled together to make A- and B-Terms a success under very challenging circumstances. We learned so much, and will be applying that knowledge as we head into C- and D-Terms. With that in mind, we have some updates to share.  

Although we are hopeful that vaccines will be widespread in our community toward the end of the academic year, until then COVID is with us, and will likely be impacting the way to live, learn, and work throughout the remainder of this academic year. And so, the university continues to actively work toward creating a “protective bubble ” on campus. As in the fall, our success will rely upon individual behavior, routine testing, limiting close contacts both on and off campus, and avoiding travel. And, as always, our efforts will continue to be guided by data, science, and our commitment to helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Increasing Undergraduate COVID Testing to Twice a Week

Our goal is to protect our students—and our entire community—as the nation deals with the latest surge in COVID infections. With the higher level of cases in states across the country, there is a greater chance than in the fall that students, faculty, and staff could be infected, and increased testing gives us our best chance at quickly identifying, isolating, and caring for those who test positive. 

In order to quickly detect a new infection, all undergraduate students—whether living on campus, off campus, or commuting—will be tested twice a week for the duration of C-Term:

  • After you complete your two initial onboarding tests five days apart, there will be a three-day span between tests. We are expanding testing times and have added Friday as another testing day.  
  • Given these changes, your routine testing days have likely changed. Check My TechFlex for assigned testing days; you will still be able to schedule your individual time slots. If you need to request a change, complete a ticket in MyTechFlex
  • It is very important for you to test on your assigned days at your assigned appointment time, as it helps reduce wait times at the testing site.
  • As outlined in the Student Code of Conduct COVID Addendum, all students who are accessing campus must participate in the testing program. Failure to do so could impact your ability to remain on campus
  • Note: Undergraduate students who have previously tested positive for COVID*, as well as those who have indicated that they are studying remotely for C-Term are exempt from this testing requirement.  (*Clarification 1/26/21: Exemption from testing is for 90 days following the positive test date.)  

Why Undergrads? The Close Contact Quandary

Although WPI saw a lower rate of positive tests than the region, state, and nation during A- and B-Terms, our data shows that undergraduate students experienced the largest percentage of infections within our community, and they had the greatest number of close contacts.  (The CDC defines a “close contact” as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, regardless of whether the individuals were wearing facial coverings.)

For every positive case that must be isolated, we also see close contacts who must quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. This can be very stressful for the impacted students, and this multiplying effect puts an even greater strain on the university’s health services system—threatening not only our ability to return to a less-restrictive operating status, but possibly our ability to remain open for the term/semester. Knowing that our community monitors the number of positive cases on campus via WPI’s online COVID-19 dashboard , I would urge you to focus also on the number of students in both isolation and quarantine.

As a reminder, we will observe a Stay in Place/Alert Level Yellow status until at least February 11, or until our testing, quarantine, and isolation data shows that we can return to a less-restrictive status. Here are some additional updates for you:

As you know, the pandemic is ever evolving, as are our plans. We are very hopeful that—if everyone can follow the short-term Stay in Place restrictions, and by increasing testing for rapid detection of COVID—we will be able to move back to TechFlex status within a couple of weeks of the start of C-Term. It is only by working together that we will get back to a less restrictive campus quickly and safely. 

Please continue to watch your email for important messages and details from appropriate sources across campus. And remember that the We Are WPI website is the best source of comprehensive and updated information.

Please stay safe, please be well, and please Wear Your Mask, Keep Social Distancing, Wash Your Hands.

Sincerely,

President Leshin