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.”

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.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

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