Member Spotlight: Educational Institutions During COVID-19

WRITTEN BY STEPHANIE EGGERS, FELLOW

A Better City members continue to step up during these difficult times to ensure that higher education can resume through the pandemic and develop comprehensive reopening plans and strategies to give students and faculty peace of mind in eventually resuming in-person classes. Their actions not only ensure the safety of their local university communities but also help protect their households and those in the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.

Educational Institutions
Boston University
Harvard
MIT
Roxbury Community College
UMass Boston

This week’s spotlight focuses on the work of educational institutions in the A Better City Community. Our members are actively engaged in the community to limit the spread by reducing in-person operations as much as possible as well as leading the way with comprehensive reopening plans to pursue traditional education while keeping students and faculty safe.

Putting Community First

Our members recognize their role in their surrounding communities with the resources available on a university campus that can make a positive impact during the pandemic. Not only universities stocked with supplies that can help those on the front line, but also the research capabilities to help in the global fight for a treatment or vaccine. Harvard’s Science Core facilitiesi, MITii, and UMass Boston’s School for the Environmentiii have all collected their available PPE that was unused when the core labs shut down in early March in a quick response to the pandemic. These supplies were donated directly to local hospitals as they saw an increase in COVID-19 patients to help frontline workers with supply shortages.

In addition to protecting frontline workers with supply donations, Boston University has utilized its National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NIEDL) facility that has a living sample of the coronavirus to lead important research on developing an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. In coordination with other researchers in the area and those in China, the facility is using grant money to better understand the virus and operate with complete transparency to the public.iv

ADAPTING OPERATIONS FOR STUDENTS AND FACULTY DURING COVID-19

Although our member educational institutions traditionally operate in an in-person manner, under physical distancing guidelines, this became evidently impossible as community spread began in the region. In early March, BUv, Harvardvi, MITvii, Roxbury Community Collegeviii, and UMass Bostonix all transitioned to online education.

  • Harvard, MIT, and Roxbury Community College all gave their faculty an additional week outside of spring break to adjust to the online learning model, including to learn the platforms used for online learning and make changes to class curriculum.
  • BU, Harvard, and MITx have apple amounts of online resources available related to financial aid and support for students and their families, important information for international students, and information for employees on working from home or those who still must report in person to work.
  • UMass Boston, in recognizing the financial implications to students and their families as a result of the pandemic, sought to provide refunds on MBTA and parking passes as well as meal plans and housing to their students, and offered summer courses online at a discount for those interested to ensure the university didn’t fall too far behind their budget.xi
PLANS FOR REOPENING 

Although video conferencing technology allowed for educational institutions to quickly adapt to restrictions put in place by the pandemic, they are looking to resume in-person operations as quickly as possible to once again connect the communities that make them who they are with comprehensive reopening plans.

  • BU has released a reopening plan that covers several aspects of campus operations including housing and dining halls, in-person classes, and other campus gatherings and operations. These plans implement stringent physical distancing and face-covering protocols for students and staff that are on campus and work to limit the spread of COVID-19 by creating designated quarantine housing for students that test positive as well as an in-depth contact tracing system to notify on-campus students of potential contact. Those on campus will be required to complete a daily reporting of any potential symptoms online and they will be tested alongside a random pool of those with no symptoms and samples will be sent to an on-campus facility for quick turnaround. The university is assuming responsibility for medical intervention is needed for cases. Of course, students have the option to remain in a remote learning setting if they choose to and faculty may submit a request to work remotely if deemed to be high risk.xii
  • Harvard has remained adamant that they will reopen in the Fall of 2020 in a limited way but is also dedicating capacity to researching ways to improve and grow their virtual connections as much as possible for those who are unable to return to campus.xiii
  • MIT has acknowledged in their reopening plans that only some undergraduate students will be allowed to return to campus in the Fall and that courses that can be taught effectively online will continue to do so will in-person classes focusing on labs, workshops, and performance type instruction. Those living on campus will each have their own room to allow for physical distancing and be required to go through regular testing, daily health checks, and reporting, and will follow policies for face coverings, physical distancing. MIT will also pursue contact tracing on campus, institute staggered schedules, and reconfigure workspaces, and building access to better control interpersonal contact.xiv The current plan calls for rising seniors and students with special circumstances including safety, living conditions, visa status, or other hardships to return to campus and in the meantime, they will not pursue a tuition increase, instead offering a $5,000 COVID-era grant to offset tuition and adjust expenses to students to calculate financial aid for the coming year. Finally, MIT has a plan to loan cellular-enabled iPads to those in need for remote learning.xv
  • Roxbury Community College is planning to offer most classes through remote instruction with only limited offerings for traditional in-person classes in the Fall under phase 2. July signaled the beginning of phase 1 which constitutes remote instruction however it expands campus access for those that follow guidelines on face coverings, proper hand hygiene, and physical distancing.xvi
  • UMass Boston has stated that comprehensive testing is neither available nor likely in the near future while PPE shortages and inability to physically distance at all times on campus may pose an issue with a high return of students to campus so they are aiming to facilitate a limited return, which is also to serve in the best interest of surrounding communities of the campus. To begin in the Fall, the curriculum will be delivered remotely except courses like science labs or nurse simulation labs which means almost 85% of students can continue their education remotely. Any students that are required to return to campus for these courses must follow the proper guidelines on hygiene, face coverings, and physical distancing while the university is committed to enhanced cleaning and disinfection. The university is also exploring options for courses offered to international students that may struggle with time zone differences.xvii

It is clear that our member educational institutions are committed to resuming in-person operations for those students that may be at a disadvantage in their area of study by remote learning but also are mindful of doing their best to limit the spread of COVID-19 and implement plans for positive tests in their communities. As reopening continues, these organizations may need to make amends to their current plans based on scientific data and the evolving situation in Massachusetts to keep the community safe.

SOURCES

[i] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/03/harvard-labs-share-personal-protective-equipment/

[ii] http://news.mit.edu/2020/mit-donations-personal-protective-equipment-covid-19-0327

[iii] https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_scientists_donate_unused_ppe_from_labs

[iv] https://www.newyorker.com/science/medical-dispatch/the-long-game-of-coronavirus-research

[v] https://www.bu.edu/covid-19-information/

[vi] https://www.harvard.edu/covid-19-moving-classes-online-other-updates

[vii] https://covid19.mit.edu/update-from-president-l-rafael-reif-to-the-mit-community

[viii] https://www.rcc.mass.edu/about-us/news/1184-coronavirus-information-for-the-rcc-community

[ix] https://www.umb.edu/coronavirus

[x] https://covid19.mit.edu/updates

[xi] https://www.umb.edu/coronavirus

[xii] http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/campuswide-covid-19-testing-plan-for-fall/

[xiii] https://www.harvard.edu/coronavirus/updates-community-messages/planning-for-fall-2020

[xiv] https://covid19.mit.edu/initial-decisions-about-fall-at-mit

[xv] https://covid19.mit.edu/further-decisions-about-the-fall-semester

[xvi] https://www.rcc.mass.edu/about-us/news/1184-coronavirus-information-for-the-rcc-community

[xvii] https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/covid_19/Reopening_planning_pages_v12_low.pdf

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