Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
I’m writing with an update on our ongoing management and guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, thank you for your continued commitment to the steps and behaviors that have helped us keep our community safe as we began the Spring semester, especially at a time when we were seeing a surge due to the Omicron variant. Despite increased infections in January compared with the Fall semester, recent cases have largely been mild thanks to our community’s high vaccination and booster rate. The number of cases in our community have continued to decrease, with a current 0.69% positivity rate. We are carefully monitoring COVID-19 cases and transmission.
State and local governments are taking or considering steps to ease some COVID-related restrictions. With that in mind, I want to share the following updates on our planning:
- Indoor Masking Requirement: For now, Harvard’s indoor masking requirement remains in place. The City of Cambridge has signaled it will not extend its indoor masking guidance beyond March 13, but requirements remain in place in Boston. We will be updating our campus guidance in the coming days, and will announce any changes to our masking requirement before March 13.
- Instructor Masking in the Classroom: While we review our broader indoor masking requirements, we are updating our guidance effective March 3 so that Schools may choose to allow unmasked teaching by instructors who wish to do so, if done in accordance with University guidance. Only instructors/faculty who are up-to-date on vaccines and boosters may remove masks during class, and only one instructor may be unmasked at a time in each classroom.
- Testing: All Harvard affiliates with any on-campus presence are still required to test on the schedule that appears in Color. As we consider relaxing masking requirements, regular surveillance testing will remain an important part of our campus protocols. It will continue to help us understand the presence of COVID-19 in our community and inform any subsequent steps we may take in response to the data.
- If You Test Positive for COVID: Even as risks are dropping in our region, it is important to remember that some critical safety measures continue to apply if you test positive. Though strict isolation often can end after 5 days, there remains some risk that you may infect others. Therefore, you must wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask for any interactions with other people for the full 10 days. You should also avoid travel during the 10-day period.
- Travel: With spring break approaching, you may have traveled or plan to travel. Please maintain safety precautions such as masking in higher risk settings, crowded spaces, and on planes and public transit.
We urge those planning to travel to pay close attention to public health requirements specific to your destination and return location and to have a contingency plan for travel disruptions or stays that must be extended if you test positive for COVID-19. As you return to campus, please follow the University’s post-travel guidelines.
Those traveling internationally for University activities are required to register their travel and to review safe travel guidance from Harvard Global Support Services. Personal travel is not subject to University policy and should be based on individual considerations.
As masking requirements are being lifted across the nation, it is important to remember that each of us still control what we steps we can take to protect ourselves. If you are concerned about potential exposures in unmasked settings, you can reduce your own risk by wearing a high-quality mask that fits securely over the face without air gaps. We must also respect the decisions of those who choose to wear a mask in unmasked settings; each person’s situation and risks are different.
As state and local guidance is updated in the coming weeks and months, our campus policies and guidance will be informed more by indicators such as severity of illness and hospitalization rates, as opposed to infection rates alone.
We continue to be encouraged by the decreasing trend in COVID-19 cases in both the Harvard community and the surrounding region. As we learn to live with the virus, our decisions will continue to be rooted in promoting the health and safety of the entire University community while advancing our teaching and research mission.
Thank you for all you are doing to keep Harvard healthy.
Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services