Frequently Asked Questions

The following are frequently asked questions about the MBL’s planning for in-person instruction, research, and activities in 2021.

COVID Preparations and Precautions

Q. What are the MBL’s guiding principles in planning for 2021 programming?
A. The MBL’s goal is to prioritize the health of the MBL and local communities and visitors while sustaining our distinctive approach to education, research, and collaboration.

Q: What has the MBL done to ensure activities can resume on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The MBL re-opened resident faculty research labs in June 2020 and began welcoming a small number of visiting investigators in July 2020. All investigators followed policies and protocols put in place for the resident research programs. The latter were developed in close consultation with the University of Chicago. During Fall 2020, the MBL welcomed a small number of UChicago undergraduates for lab-based courses.

To accomplish the above and to expand the on-campus population in the upcoming spring and summer, the MBL reconfigured labs, classrooms, auditoriums, and dining spaces, implemented enhanced cleaning requirements mandated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, posted signage across campus, and introduced stringent public health measures both in and out of MBL buildings including launching an internal contact tracing program. We also worked with University experts to implement a testing program for the students which we will extend for spring and summer 2021.

The MBL conducts a biweekly COVID safety review meeting that covers all aspects of the Lab with Director Nipam Patel and Chief Operating Officer Paul Speer. The biweekly review process enables the MBL to assess current status, identify needs for internal adjustments, and to adapt policies and procedures to meet new guidance from the Commonwealth and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In addition, the MBL consults regularly with experts from the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Medical Center.

In addition to the biweekly COVID safety meetings, the MBL holds weekly programmatic planning meetings to develop detailed operational plans that will enable us to resume increased education and research activities beginning in the spring.

COVID-19 Testing

Q: What is the MBL’s approach for testing the campus community for COVID-19?
A: The MBL’s testing approach includes a mandatory testing program for asymptomatic students and other members of our campus community living in MBL-owned housing. This program is a requirement independent of length of stay or type of housing and whether the individual has been vaccinated.

Testing is self-administered and occurs twice a week on Monday and Thursday mornings. Most test results are received within 24 hours. Off-schedule testing is available for program participants who require a negative PCR test upon arrival to their returning destination.

Further details on the Mandatory Asymptomatic Testing Program are forthcoming. Check here for updates.

Q: Will COVID-19 public health policies be modified for individuals who show proof of COVID vaccination?
A:The population of faculty, students, researchers, and staff come from a variety of geographic locations with varying degrees of vaccine distribution. In order for the MBL to resume programmatic activities as safely as possible for the entire population of participants visiting the MBL campus, all Education and Research program participants visiting the MBL and living in MBL housing facilities for a program this summer will be required to follow the current policies and participate in the MBL Testing Program.

As the vaccination programs continue to move forward, the MBL will assess its health policies and testing program.

Travel and Quarantine Procedures

Q: What travel and quarantine procedures should all travelers follow when arriving in Woods Hole?
A: Currently, MBL requires visitors entering Massachusetts to arrive on campus after receiving a negative test result as outlined in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts travel requirements.

Note: Massachusetts rules exempt travelers from states where both the average number of new cases and the percentage of positive tests are low as determined by the MA Department of Public Health. View state exemption list here.

Q: How will the MBL manage international participants and the uncertainties regarding their ability to participate?
A: The international community is vital to the MBL, however we have concerns about the complexities of international travel and state and/or federal restrictions that are beyond our control. In general, the MBL is not able to reimburse travel expenses, including visa fees and plane fares, for cancelled trips and we urge international travelers to plan accordingly.

Q: Although there may be ways to request permission, what if course participants have institutional regulations that ban work-related travel?
A: Home institutional regulations will take precedence in this situation.

Q: Can people rent cars instead of taking the Peter Pan bus from the airports?
A: Individuals traveling to the Advanced Research Training Courses who choose to rent cars to travel from the airports can be reimbursed at the Peter Pan bus rate. Those with special circumstances must seek prior approval from the Education Department.

Q: What is the plan if someone living in MBL housing is required to isolate or quarantine?
A: MBL will reserve some of its housing capacity for this situation if the affected person resides in on-campus housing. More information is available here.

Q: What is the MBL’s policy regarding quarantining? For example, if a person is exposed but does not immediately test positive, will they be required to quarantine and for how long?
A: MBL follows Commonwealth of Massachusetts guidelines on quarantine requirements and close contacts.  MBL has an internal contact tracing program that will determine if an individual has been potentially exposed and is therefore required to quarantine.

COVID-19 Regulation/Enforcement

Q: Are there consequences if MBL students, scientists, or employees violate COVID safety guidelines?
A: MBL requires all staff, students, and visitors to take COVID-19 training and then attest that they will abide by all MBL policies and protocols regarding the virus. Failure to abide by these policies can lead to sanctions ranging from denial of building access to dismissal from the MBL.

Q: Will the MBL take the lead on enforcement, or does that responsibility fall to course leadership and/or the Whitman Investigator in charge of a laboratory?
A: We want the leadership of the course or Whitman Investigator to support our policies, but ultimately if there is an issue then MBL will enforce its policies.

If anyone in the MBL community has concerns about safety practices or potential noncompliance with COVID-19 health and safety requirements in MBL spaces, they can reach out (anonymously, if preferred) through MBL COVID-19 Violation Reporting form. Concerns that are reported through the form will be shared with the relevant MBL office or department so they can be aware of and address the underlying concern where appropriate.

Course Admittance

Q: If the course I was admitted to in 2020 is not offered in 2021, will I be deferred until 2022?
A: Yes

Q: If I was accepted into a 2020 course that will be offered in 2021, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel, or institutional constraints, I cannot attend, will I be deferred until 2022?
A: While this is up to the directors of each course, deferral to 2022 is highly likely.

Q: Will the scholarship I received for the 2020 course apply in 2021?
A: Yes

Q: Do I need to do anything with my application if I was admitted to the 2020 course?
A: Students who were officially accepted to a 2020 course do not need to take any action on their applications. Accepted students will be contacted by the Education Department with registration instructions.

Q: May I update my 2020 application for 2021 submission?
A: Yes, please contact for more information.

Q: What should I do if I was waitlisted for a 2020 course?
A: You will be contacted by the Education Department if a spot becomes available.

Course or Lab Set-Up and Laboratory Operations

Q: When can we expect standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be available for lab operations (e.g., microscope use, shared or general use instrumentation or equipment, etc.)?
A: Information on Laboratory Teaching Guidelines can be found here. Information on resident and non-resident research guidelines can be found here

Q: When will research support services such as the Central Microscopy Facility (CMF), Marine Resources Center (MRC), Animal Care Facility (ACF), Zebrafish Facility be available for the spring and summer?
A: All these services are currently operating.

Whitman Investigators

Q: I do not know if my university will let me travel/rent space. What is the deadline for committing to lab or housing space?
A: The deadline to rent lab space was January 31, 2021. The housing application deadline for 2021 was March 1, 2021. We realize that this is a fluid situation and will work with Whitman Investigators on an individual basis to accommodate their specific needs. Please submit your questions regarding lab space or housing availability to

Q: Can Whitman Investigators bring undergraduate students?
A: Undergraduates looking to work in a Whitman lab must fit into the Whitman Investigator’s Phase II Research Plan and must meet supervision requirements. The Research Plan, along with other required documents and training, will be sent to investigators in advance of their arrival to campus. Undergraduates coming with Whitman Investigators will need to secure off-campus housing in 2021.


Q: Is MBL housing available?
A: Yes, housing is currently being reserved with priority given toto the Advanced Research Training Course students, faculty, and Whitman and Grass fellows and scientists. Because of the pandemic, all on-campus dorm rooms will have single occupancy. On-campus housing is not available to undergraduates working in Whitman labs.

Q: Can I rent housing in Falmouth?
A: If the MBL is unable to accommodate you in on-campus housing during your desired dates or if you prefer other accommodations, there are various resources for community housing.  Off campus housing can be found on the MBL’s housing site or at  WHOI Community Housing. Additional resources such as or this listing of local hotels may also be useful. Please note: Whitman Fellow, Grass Fellow, and Logan Science Journalism Fellow funding is for use of MBL housing only.

Q: Can my research group rent a cottage together and therefore form a lab “pod”?
A: We are looking into this option, which would assume that everyone arrives to the campus with a negative COVID test.

Lectures and Other Events

Q: Will there be Friday Evening Lectures and other summer activities?
A: The MBL will follow the Commonwealth of Massachusetts guidelines on gathering sizes, and signage and markers throughout campus will indicate capacity limits for campus meeting spaces, including any outdoor tents. The MBL’s Information Technology Department will provide A/V support or equipment for lectures and other select virtual or hybrid events. Information on all public events will be shared on the MBL calendar.

Summer Camp

Q: Will summer camp be available for children?
A: Yes, the MBL will provide summer camp; however, specific details on the camp offerings are still being determined. The MBL is exploring a local summer camp in collaboration with the Cape Cod YMCA and with other scientific institutions including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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