Summary of Deb’s comments from March 10, 2020 all-Lab conference call

by Janine Liberty

March 10, 2020

Attendance: 179 people

Today we will talk about:

  • Our plans this week in response to COVID-19
  • Our plans for next week and beyond
  • Where to go to for more information

With our community’s safety in mind, we are planning to make some changes in how we work at the Media Lab in response to concerns about the COVID-19 virus. 

We will shift towards working remotely as much as possible. 

This week will serve as a transition period, when groups should develop plans for working remotely and begin trials for working from home as soon as tomorrow. 

Starting next week (March 16), all work that can reasonably be done remotely will shift over until conditions change, with regular reassessments and updates. Note that all actions and decisions will be in accordance with MIT-wide updates and policies, and are subject to change as the situation develops.


I am not a medical expert; you should refer to the CDC, MIT Medical, and other trusted sources for details about COVID-19. I will summarize a few points as I understand them which are the basis for the guidance I will share today.

COVID-19 can spread between people who are in a space together and closer than 6 feet apart (via droplets), and by transmission via surfaces and objects that were touched hours or even days ago by an infected person. 

A person carrying the virus may not exhibit any symptoms. It is thus not sufficient to isolate ourselves only from people with symptoms; a more comprehensive isolation is necessary to limit transmission.

Although we understand the risk of exposure is low at MIT, in order to guard against changes in our situation we would like to take proactive measures now.


The main change we can make to our behavior is to reduce contact with other people, especially in places used by large numbers (offices, labs, meetings, workshops, conferences) and the public (airplanes, public transit, taxis, rideshares, any gathering open to the public).

MIT last week instituted some new policies for travel and large classes.

Today we will discuss specific changes for our community.


All research and operational groups across ML/MAS/CBA will take actions as follows. Led by your advisor or supervisor, please work out plans to: 

  • Rearrange your work so that you can maximize remote productivity.
  • Retrieve personal belongings that you need to continue your work at home. In some cases it may be possible to bring some equipment home; check with your advisor for feasibility.
  • Try at least one full day working remote this week as soon as possible, ideally even tomorrow.

We recognize that some kinds of work cannot be done remote, for example:

  • Working with specialized equipment and lab materials
  • Usability testing of certain kinds

In such cases you will need work out new procedures within your group to:

  • Schedule presence to minimize people being in same place at same time
  • Sanitize shared tools and surfaces before and after each use
  • When multiple people must be in same area at same time, maintain at least 6’ distance between people at all times

Some exceptions:

  • If you decide to balance known risks & your own needs and decide you prefer to come in, you may do so (while respecting guidelines to limit physical interaction with others and other guidelines designed to protect the whole community)
  • If you don’t have a suitable set up to work at home, or need to interact (at a distance) with a small group tied to hardware.

We will surely uncover more exceptions and will work through them with you.

Principle: ML/MAS leadership wants each of you to have agency in deciding what is best for you, supported by the best available information on risks & best practices. We want you to know that you can choose where to work and not face pressure from your advisor/supervisor or colleagues on how you get your work done. And we know that if you work remote, this will in some ways impede your work and we must accommodate for that change.

We will gather feedback as groups go through their tests this week. Based on this feedback, by end of the weekend we will aim to:

  • Gather a collection of best practices, supporting resources, and FAQ and share with everyone regarding all aspects of this transition including mental health, physical health, AV, sanitation, etc.
  • Develop and share policies for meetings, classes, visitors, changes in building security. We aim to send this out next week.

A ML committee, CovidCom, has been set up to manage this: Lisa Breede, Ed Boyden, Kevin Esvelt, Kevin Davis, Lorrie LeJeune, Michael Bletsas, Monica Orta, Nicole Degnan. They will work on these activities. You can email the group at


We will implement our new policies, shift into remote work / low-contact mode across all of ML/MAS/CBA.


We will carefully and continuously track guidance from School and Institute leadership, public health officials, and peer institutions to adjust our approach as we proceed.

We will send periodic updates to the ML community with shifts in our own plans.

The question on everyone’s mind is how long will we remain in this new mode. We don’t have all the answers. 

We should treat the next two weeks as a test period, with the expectation that we will have a much clearer sense of how to proceed at that point for April and beyond.

This remains a fluid situation. MIT may make further changes in policy that override or impact the guidance we have been able to give this afternoon.

Updates, information, resources, and best practices are being collected here: These notes, as well as the video and chat from today’s call, will also be posted there. 

Please email if you have questions or if there’s any content you’d like to see on this website. 

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