MIT Medical reports one undergraduate testing positive for COVID-19 during move-in weekend

MIT Medical instructs community members who test positive to self-isolate and initiates contact tracing

MIT Medical has reported three new positive COVID-19 tests since Aug. 26, for a total of 11 positive results out of about 25,000 total tests since Aug. 16. One undergraduate student living on campus tested positive for COVID-19 during move-in weekend Aug. 29-30, MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis ’90 wrote in an email to the MIT community Sept. 1.

Stuopis wrote in an email to The Tech that the number of positive cases is “not surprising” considering the “level of COVID in the greater Boston area.” MIT Medical has seen about 2,000 negative cases for each positive case; the roughly 0.05% positive rate indicates that MIT Medical is detecting infected members “before they have symptoms,” Stuopis wrote. 

When an MIT community member tests positive, MIT Medical instructs them to self-isolate, identifies their “close contacts,” and notifies individuals “who might have potentially been exposed.” Contact tracing can sometimes be completed within 24 hours of the test, Stuopis wrote to The Tech. MIT Medical does not share the name of the infected person when notifying their close contacts.

MIT also cleans affected lab, classroom, and residence hall spaces and notifies relevant administrators.

If a community member is alerted of their positive result by the COVID Pass app before MIT Medical has sent its notification, they should “stay put in [their] room or at home until” they “have been contacted by MIT Medical and have received instructions about the next steps for isolation,” Stuopis wrote.

Stuopis wrote to The Tech that MIT Medical has worked with MIT Information Systems and Technology to “enhance” the COVID Pass app, such as by adding a new feature to display waiting times for testing. Stuopis added that MIT community members should follow the COVID Pass app “religiously,” be patient with testing wait times, and get tested on their assigned days.

MIT Medical has also switched from the deep nasal swabs used in the spring to “faster and more comfortable” simple swipes within the nostrils for testing, Stuopis wrote. Deep nasal swabs require swirling for 15 seconds while the new method requires only “3 full rotations.”

Stuopis wrote to The Tech that following Quarantine Week regulations, wearing a mask, and physical distancing may help curb transmission. 

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 wrote in an email to the MIT community Aug. 31 that MIT is monitoring several factors this fall, including transmission trends on campus and in the greater Boston area; “overall demand” on MIT’s testing partners; changes in MIT’s “isolation capacity”; “hot spots or clusters in a residence hall, academic building, or research facility”; and noncompliance among community members on campus.

If there is “emerging evidence that a change is needed to stanch transmission in our community,” MIT could “scale back in-person classes,” “reduce density in a lab or building,” “curtail the use of public areas in residence halls,” or “limit the number of staff on campus,” Barnhart wrote. “Unlike last spring, when the only real option in the face of so many unknowns was to empty campus,” MIT has constructed its fall plan “around much more targeted options.”