Dana-Farber, MD Anderson, MIT impose travel restrictions amid broader efforts to contain coronavirus damage in US
As the new coronavirus spreads to more states in the US outside Washington, so have the reactions.
MIT is banning all international business travels for students, faculty, postdoc and staff for two months, while urging them to weigh whether domestic trips are essential. All in-person university-affiliated events with more than 150 attendees that will take place between now and May 15 must be postponed, canceled or virtualized.
MD Anderson in Houston and Dana-Farber in Boston have both suspended all professional travel and cautioned against personal travel.
“Our cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus. For this reason, we are committing to increased workforce precautions,” Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson, said in statement, in which the institute also encouraged use of remote meetings.
Confirming the new policy to Endpoints News, a Dana-Farber spokesperson added, “While we recognize this is a significant inconvenience, our priority remains the health and safety of our workforce, and the health and safety of our patients.”
Today is the day that virtual medicine, e-learning, and telehealth take off. Major cancer centers including ours are banning professional travel. Huge opportunity for academics and patients if we can figure out how to make it work. @EricTopol @JimTerwilliger2
— Hal Burstein, MD (@DrHBurstein) March 5, 2020
Such moves could put pressure on conference hosts such as the American Association for Cancer Research.
“We were recently made aware that several stakeholders, including cancer centers, academic institutions, and pharmaceutical companies, are considering or have instituted temporary travel restrictions that, if unchanged, would prevent their employees from attending or presenting at the Annual Meeting,” the AACR noted in a statement Thursday.
The current plan is to go ahead with the gathering, scheduled to take place in San Diego April 24-29. The American Society of Clinical Oncology, which hosts another high-profile cancer meeting planned for late May, has adopted a similar wait-and-see approach.
Other organizers have canceled their gatherings scheduled for this month. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society was the latest to cancel its annual confab, which would have drawn upwards of 40,000 attendees to Orlando on March 9. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which had a conference planned for 10 days later in the same city, is postponing.
Meanwhile in Europe, the British exhibitions group Informa has announced that its upcoming BIO-Europe Spring is going all online.
“A situation out of our control is preventing us from doing business in a face-to-face environment, so we’ve come together to offer an alternative solution,” a statement read. “We will now be delivering BIO-Europe Spring as a fully digital event, offering virtual partnering, online company presentations, pre-recorded panels and a virtual exhibit. The digital event will take place March 23–27, 2020.”
The BIO Asia conference — organized by the US trade group and originally slated for March 10-11 in Tokyo — has been cancelled; BIO has yet to make a decision about its main San Diego convention in June.
Back stateside, MIT is calling off its “signature semester conferences and celebrations,” including the MIT Excellence Awards. It’s also developing options for online instruction should that become needed.
“For our campus community, the current risk level associated with COVID-19 is low,” MIT president Rafael Reif wrote in his letter to the university. “However, global hotspots shift, and the contagion pattern is not well understood. With that uncertainty, we need to make prudent choices to protect the health of our own community and the broader communities we belong to, without creating unnecessary disruptions to the normal pursuit of our educational and research mission.”
While Massachusetts has only reported two covid-19 cases, Biogen disclosed late Thursday that three of its employees (residing in the US and other parts of the US) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after attending a meeting in Boston.
A host of organizations across the country are taking precautions against a brewing epidemic of covid-19. The most drastic measures, though, appear to be concentrated in the state of Washington, which has seen the largest cluster of cases at 44. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, home to the researcher who warned of possibly hundreds of unreported active infections in the state, adopted a mandatory work-from-home policy earlier this week alongside Seattle-based tech giants.
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