Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
Like the rest of the country, we continue to see a very high rate of COVID-19 cases within our campus community. Public health models anticipate this surge to peak in the coming weeks, presenting challenges that require us to assess and update our protocols and policies as we move forward with our plans for an on-campus spring semester.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant is driving the majority of the cases we are seeing at Harvard, as is the case nationally. Last week we reported 970 new infections at a time when campus density is relatively low. For comparison, our case count was 140 during the first week after the Thanksgiving break.
The updates to guidance and protocols we have made recognize the unprecedented number of cases within our community that we must support, while also continuing to take steps to reduce risk of transmission. In line with that, it is critical that we all take steps, including masking and minimizing potential exposures both on and off campus, to help protect those in our broader community who are most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
More information regarding current guidance and protocols is outlined below. Additionally, the Harvard Gazette spoke with three leading public health experts who have been advising the University regarding considerations and data informing the University’s guidance and protocols.
Exposure, Quarantine, and Isolation Guidance
We have received a number of questions regarding recent updates to our exposure, quarantine, and isolation guidelines. Our updates are guided by the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), and other public health experts, as well as the latest data regarding Omicron. With our Harvard community’s near universal vaccination, the majority of infected individuals in our community are having no symptoms or mild symptoms that resolve quickly. Thus, we are confident in our ability to proceed with plans for in-person learning in late January while applying new protocols which include community-wide boosters and a shortened period of isolation-in-place followed by strict masking.
As a reminder, the University’s updated exposure, quarantine, and isolation guidelines are:
- Infected individuals with no symptoms or resolving symptoms and no fever may end strict isolation after 5 full days (isolation ending on day 6) but must wear a mask at all times when leaving their homes or around others (this means no dining with others and no other mask-free activities) until after 10 full days (strict masking ending on day 11).
- Additional requirements apply to specific settings, including healthcare and campus child care.
- Individuals who test positive should identify and notify their close contacts. HUHS will no longer be doing this due to the high volume. Email communication from HUHS following a positive test notification will provide guidance on notifying close contacts.
- Regarding close contact exposures, vaccinated individuals who are not up to date on booster shots must now quarantine for 5 days after a COVID exposure. As before, unvaccinated individuals must also quarantine after exposure. Fully boosted persons are not required to quarantine after an exposure if there are no symptoms.
Masking is Critical in Reducing Risk of Exposure
Masks remain critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19. We encourage the use of high-quality disposable masks, worn in a way that minimizes air gaps around the edges. Surgical-style masks (which are effective and used widely in hospital settings) or cup-style protective masks such as KN-95, layered under a form-fitting fabric mask, can ensure good filtration as well as an effective seal. Face coverings that are worn loosely will not offer strong protection.
COVID-19 Boosters are Required
- Schedule Your Booster: Please take time to schedule your booster as soon as possible by visiting vaxfinder.mass.gov or vaccines.gov. If you have not received your booster by the time you arrive to campus, you can schedule an appointment at one of HUHS’s upcoming booster clinics.
- Verify Your Booster Status: Once you have received your booster, please report it to HUHS. You can find detailed instructions for submitting your verification on the Verify Your Booster webpage.
Prepare for Your Return to Campus
Schools and Units will continue to provide detailed information to their students, faculty, staff, and researchers regarding guidance for returning to campus and resumption of on-campus activities.
- Review pre- and post-arrival testing protocols: Take time now to review the updated testing requirements and cadences to ensure you are compliant as you plan your return to campus. For faculty, staff, and researchers, if you have been away from campus, you are required to submit a test immediately upon arriving to campus.
- If you have a COVID exposure or COVID symptoms: Please specify this using Crimson Clear in order to receive further guidance.
- If you test positive: If you test positive, you will receive an email communication from HUHS with guidance on isolation procedures and instruction to help you identify and notify your close contacts.
- If you test positive through a non-Harvard test (outside of Color), please report it to HUHS.
- NOTE: With cases at a rate of nearly 20-times what we averaged in the fall semester, the contact tracing team will be communicating exclusively via email at this time. You may email the team with questions, but please know that we will have limited capacity to answer individual questions and you may experience a delay in response time.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
The rapid surge in COVID-19 cases due to Omicron does present new challenges in what has been an unpredictable, and now two-year-long pandemic. All of us feel the fatigue from how COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, as well as our work and learning. As we all continue to cope with these challenges, please remember to be kind to and patient with each other, and take advantage of the health, mental health, and wellbeing support services the University has in place for our community members.
Thank you again for your continued commitment to keeping Harvard healthy as we move forward with an on-campus spring semester.
Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services