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WPI Bolsters Back-to-Campus Plans with New Medical Advisory Board

Esteemed Group Provides Additional Expertise, Scientific and Medical Insight, and Advice as the University Manages COVID-19 Challenges.

August 25, 2020
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How often should a student be tested? Are our social distancing plans sound? What are the best practices for isolation and quarantine areas?

These are some of the many questions WPI has been grappling with over the past several months. It believes in asking for help and bringing great minds together to address big issues. Therefore, a team of experts—composed of some of the most insightful medical and scientific minds from across the region— has been recruited to help provide answers.  

Since July, members of the WPI Medical Advisory Board have met regularly via Zoom with senior leaders of the university’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT). In addition to influencing isolation and quarantine plans, the group helped address several questions about physical spaces on campus. The team confirmed that WPI’s testing protocols are aggressive and appropriately designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and has provided guidance to changes in the state’s travel restrictions that impacted move-in plans.

“The safe repopulation of our campus is one of the biggest challenges this university has ever faced, and it requires a lot of difficult decisions,” said President Laurie Leshin. “Our Medical Advisory Board members come from academia and industry, and they provide guidance and insight to help us identify known obstacles and risks, and create plans to manage or overcome them.”

Leshin partnered with David Bunis, WPI Senior Vice President and General Counsel, in forming the Medical Advisory Board. Through their collective work with the state and other higher education institutions in Massachusetts, both had built many strong relationships with experts from within the medical and scientific fields. They called upon their esteemed colleagues to help WPI’s leaders identify and understand trends that could support or prevent the campus reopening.

“Every decision we make is guided by the science,” said Bunis. “The Medical Advisory Board helps us interpret and understand the medical science and the public health data. Each member of the board brings a perspective informed by the wide range of their expertise from infectious diseases and epidemiology, to public health, to regulatory oversight and data analysis.”

WPI’s Medical Advisory Board members:  

  • Michael F. Collins, MD, FACP
    Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Marni Hall ’97, PhD, MPH
    Vice President, Clinical Evidence
    IQVIA Real World & Analytic Solutions
    WPI Trustee
  • Jean King, PhD
    Active Neuroscientist and Biomedical researcher, Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences, WPI
  • Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH
    Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Sandro Galea, MD, MPH, DrPH
    Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

“Members of this board are among the most sought-after experts during the pandemic," said Bunis. "Somehow, they always find time to answer our questions and inform our decision making.”  

King said says she is particularly appreciative of the guidance from UMass Medical School, which is using similar testing protocols and started bringing back its students last month. “Although they have a different student population," she said, "they are located in Worcester and initiated the return to campus earlier, so we are hopeful that we will be able to learn from their experiences ahead of our potential challenges.”

Going forward, the WPI Medical Advisory Board will continue to meet remotely throughout the fall semester and as necessary as issues arise.

“What’s most reassuring is that WPI’s plans—which have been built from the ground up, taking into account the practical realities of life on a college campus and making decisions based on what we can actually implement—are influenced by medical and scientific insight shared by these brilliant colleagues on our new advisory board,” said Leshin. “This board has helped us change the way we look at what’s possible.”

Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT)

WPI Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT), was convened in January when COVID-19 began to emerge as a significant international concern.  CERT brings together expertise from throughout the university representing every aspect of university operations—including Student Affairs, Academics, Athletics, Residential Life, Health Services, Information Technology Services, Facilities, Dining, Campus Police, and more.  CERT meets regularly to closely monitor and effectively manage this crisis by thoughtful consideration of all factors and potential scenarios.  They also work to determine the university’s needs and requirements and provide effective guidance for—and development of—appropriate responses and policies. WPI makes all pandemic-related decisions and adjustments based upon analysis of the latest data and expert recommendations, which is what led to the creation of the Medical Advisory Board.