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COVID Update – Increase in COVID Cases, Take Steps to Protect Yourself, Others

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

There has been a concerning increase in positive cases of COVID-19 across our campus community – 178 positive cases in the last seven days (our average weekly count throughout the fall semester has been 52). The on-campus surge parallels trends in the broader community, and it demands our immediate attention.

Through our contact tracing, we have seen no evidence of transmission within classroom settings. Rather, we know that the high case numbers in recent days can be attributed to unmasked social events and gatherings that have taken place since the return from the Thanksgiving break.

It is essential that each of us take every step possible to protect ourselves and those around us. As the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community keeps rising, activities that seemed safe just weeks ago must now be considered high risk. With that in mind, please: 

  • Minimize Contact – While contact with others on campus is unavoidable, consider minimizing gatherings or other contact that may not be necessary.
  • Wear Your Mask as Much as Possible – Knowing that cases have increased, keep your mask on when you are with other people indoors:  in common areas, in break rooms or dining halls (when not eating), in your suite or apartment, even in spaces where masks aren’t officially mandatory. While masking is not required with household members or suitemates, it is a good idea if someone has illness or is at risk of exposure.
  • Maintain Distance – Distancing, even when masked, is effective in lowering risk of transmission. When possible, maintain at least six feet of distance.
  • Eat and Mask – Except when actively eating or drinking, keep your mask on. Try to minimize the number of people who are less than six feet from you when you remove your mask to eat.
  • Adhere to Your Testing Cadence – As many of us prepare to travel in the coming days, sticking to your testing cadence is critical to ensure that positive cases of COVID-19 are identified as soon as possible and that you, and others, can take steps to minimize exposure and further transmission. As a supplement to PCR tests (which is what Harvard’s testing program utilizes) rapid antigen testing immediately before participating in a group activity can offer added assurance. However, a negative test should not be used as an excuse to drop other precautions.
  • Schedule Your Booster – If you have not yet received a booster shot and you are eligible, take a moment now to schedule an appointment to receive your booster. Harvard is strongly considering the possibility of requiring boosters, especially if the CDC updates its definition of full vaccination to include boosters. The CDC already recommends boosters for all who are eligible.
  • Celebrations and Events – Seriously consider cancelling any upcoming indoor celebrations that involve unmasking.

We are in the final days of the semester, with exams and other academic activities wrapping up this week. It is critical to take steps to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 so you and others can finish your semester safely and move forward with your plans for the holidays and break. Additionally, if you are planning to travel in the coming days, please revisit the University’s travel guidance, taking particular care to test far enough in advance to receive your results before your departure.

Although recent increases have been largely driven by the Delta variant, we are mindful that there is a likelihood that the highly transmissible Omicron variant will become more prevalent in communities across the country. While there is evidence that the Omicron variant causes milder infection, especially in those who are fully vaccinated, hospitalizations have occurred and there is still much that we don’t know about Omicron. We are monitoring the developments around the Omicron variant closely and urge you to take its threat seriously, as it is more contagious and could disrupt your holiday plans.

As new cases increase, and as flu counts also rise, please be patient and understand that Harvard contact tracers may not be able to reach out as quickly due to the high volume. Likewise, please understand that (like most healthcare organizations) Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) is also responding to much greater clinical demand, and wait times and phone access may be affected.

Thank you again for all you have done to Keep Harvard Healthy throughout this semester. In these remaining few days, with higher prevalence of COVID-19 in our community, your continued commitment to behaviors that reduce risk of transmission – minimizing contact, masking, distancing, and regular testing – is even more important.

Sincerely,

Alan M. Garber
Provost

Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President

Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services