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COVID Update – Phased Easing of COVID Restrictions

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

As the number of new infections and hospitalizations continues to decline in the region and in much of the nation, federal, state, and local authorities have announced that mandatory restrictions aimed at controlling COVID-19 will be relaxed. In our own community, despite the large number of reported cases, there have been very few hospitalizations and no Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions this year. With these reassuring developments, we are arriving at a new phase in our approach to COVID. Although public health authorities have concluded that the virus causing COVID is likely to continue to circulate among us like the cold or flu, the risks it poses for the health of our community can be managed effectively with less intrusive measures than before.

With the changes in restrictions from the CDC, Commonwealth, and Cities of Cambridge and Boston, along with advice from our medical and public health experts, we are updating campus COVID guidance and protocols to relax or remove a number of requirements, particularly involving the use of face masks. University-wide guidance may be supplemented by School or Central Administration Unit policies. As always, this guidance will be updated when changes in public health conditions warrant.

A number of measures that have helped to keep our campus safe during the pandemic will be retained for now. We will closely monitor data about hospitalizations and case rates and other indicators before deciding when to ease requirements further.  

Following are the key features of the University-wide policy changes.

Optional Masking

In conjunction with the updated masking guidance from the cities of Cambridge and Boston, and the CDC, the University will update its indoor masking guidance as follows:

  • Effective March 14, with limited exceptions, face coverings on campus will be optional in all indoor spaces on Harvard’s campuses. The relaxation of mask requirements may be implemented earlier under specific School policies for locations in the City of Boston.
  • Schools and Central Administration Units may continue to require masking in certain settings as they deem appropriate. Schools may grant discretion to individual faculty to require masking in their classrooms.
  • As has been the case throughout the pandemic, specific Schools or Central Administration Units experiencing greater rates of infection may impose additional measures such as limitations on gatherings and increased frequency of testing.
  • Masks will continue to be required in certain settings, such as healthcare facilities, public transit, and University buses and shuttles, and at indoor gatherings and events (including classes) that exceed 250 people.
  • Anyone completing isolation or quarantine should continue to wear masks for the full 10 days, according to existing protocols.
  • Because anyone may unexpectedly need to enter a space where masks are still required, it is also advisable to to carry a mask at all times.

If you feel the need to continue to wear a mask for your own protection, or to protect someone close to you, you should do so. The decision to wear a mask in settings where it is not required is a personal one, and it should be informed by the prevalence of cases in the community, your vaccination status, and your age/medical history. We strongly encourage indoor masking for persons with greater health risks or concerns. Masks continue to be highly effective in reducing risk of transmission regardless of vaccination status.

Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or marginalized because they choose to wear a mask. They should never feel obliged to explain the reasons for their decision. Many members of our community, or their family members and other loved ones, are vulnerable to complications from COVID and should continue to wear a mask.

The University will continue to monitor COVID conditions and will update masking requirements for the community or for targeted populations when necessary.

Testing, symptoms, and exposure

  • The University’s testing requirements remain in place for the time being.
  • You should complete Crimson Clear if you are concerned that you have been exposed to the coronavirus, have tested positive, or are experiencing symptoms. You may need to use Crimson Clear if you work in a setting that specifically requires it (e.g., healthcare settings).
  • If you have symptoms:
    • Stay home unless you must go out, wear a mask in the presence of other people, get a COVID-19 test, and give your body a chance to rest!
  • If you test positive:
    • It is critical that you follow public health guidance to avoid transmission to other people. When strict isolation ends after 5 days, about half of infected people still have viable virus. Therefore, it is necessary to wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask for any interactions with other people for the full 10 days.
    • Do not travel or dine in close proximity to others if you’ve tested positive in the past 10 days.
    • If you have a risk factor for COVID complications, contact your healthcare provider to ask about antiviral treatment as soon as you test positive.

Keep your vaccination up to date

  • COVID vaccination dramatically reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Unvaccinated persons who are infected are 41 times more likely to die than infected persons who received the vaccine with booster.
  • All Harvard community members, except those with an approved exemption, are required to be fully vaccinated, including boosters. If you are not up-to-date, make a booster appointment now or as soon as you will be eligible. Appointments are readily available through HUHS and local pharmacies. Upload your vaccine documentation once you’ve received your shot.

The Road Ahead

As the University and cities begin to lift COVID restrictions, case counts may rise. Community members should keep track of these trends in making personal decisions about optional masking and distancing. The University and its advisers will continue to monitor indicators of pandemic activity regionally and within our community, placing particular weight on severity of illness and hospitalization rates. If new information indicates that health risks have increased, indoor masking and other requirements may be reinstated. New scientific evidence becomes available every day, and we still have much to learn about long COVID and other consequences of the infection.

We recognize that some members of the community have concerns about cutting back on mask usage now. The situation today is very different from a year ago, when vaccines were not widely available, high-quality masks were in short supply, and effective treatments were few. The availability of hospital-grade surgical masks and high filtration face covers like KN95 respirators allows individuals to maintain strong protection from infection even in settings where other people are not masked. The experience in healthcare settings where masked clinicians are treating unmasked COVID patients has demonstrated the value and effectiveness of high-quality masks, worn correctly.

We thank you for continuing to adapt so quickly to the evolving public health guidance. We have made a great deal of progress because our community has taken the wellbeing of our community seriously throughout the pandemic. We are grateful for all you are doing to keep Harvard healthy.

Sincerely,

Lawrence S. Bacow
President

Alan M. Garber
Provost

Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President

Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, University Health Services