Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
We continue to see record numbers of COVID-19 cases among members of the Harvard community, consistent with the dramatic increase in cases across the region and the nation. Public health experts anticipate this surge to peak in mid- to late-January, driven largely by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. We have been closely following new data about Omicron and have updated University plans, protocols, and policies accordingly.
As we plan for an in-person spring semester, the important “circuit breaker” we announced for the first three weeks of January allows us the opportunity to gain more information about the evolving public health situation, to lower the risk of on-campus transmission following holiday travel and gatherings, to reduce the pace at which new cases must be managed by limited University resources, and to provide time for community members to meet the University’s booster requirement, which must be met by January 31 (see information below). This three-week period of reduced campus density is also designed to lessen stresses on local healthcare systems, which are struggling with worker shortages and increased hospitalizations.
While we can expect to have large numbers of cases at Harvard, our community benefits from near-universal vaccination. Among people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, early data indicate that the Omicron variant causes less severe symptoms than infections with previous variants. The diminished severity of infection means that on-campus activities pose less health risk than before, enabling us to advance the University’s teaching and research mission while continuing to protect the health and safety of our community.
Although infection with Omicron is expected to have less serious health consequences, we must continue to practice the healthy habits and behaviors that reduce the risk of transmission. Over the course of the fall semester, our shared commitment to “Keep Harvard Healthy” proved that we were able to resume academic activities with no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in the classroom. Although the transmissibility of Omicron presents new challenges, we are confident that by minimizing contact, masking, distancing, and testing regularly, we can maintain a safe academic, research, and work environment for everyone. By doing so, we also protect those in our community who are most vulnerable to complications from the virus.
In-Person Spring Semester Plans and Updated COVID Policies and Protocols
In the coming days, Schools and Units will inform their students, faculty, staff, and researchers of their detailed plans for an in-person spring semester. To support this return to on-campus activities, key protocols and updates include:
- Masking: In addition to vaccination and boosters, 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. A surgical-style mask or a cup-style protective mask such as KN-95, layered under a form-fitting fabric mask, can ensure good filtration as well as an effective seal. ASTM- or FDA-accepted masks offer greater assurance of filtration quality.
- Revised Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines: The University has updated its isolation and quarantine protocols to align with the recently modified guidance from the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Of note, infected individuals who have no symptoms or whose symptoms are resolving with no fever may end strict isolation after five (5) days but must wear a mask at all times when leaving their homes (this means no dining with others and no other mask-free activities) until after ten (10) days. Additional requirements apply to specific occupations, including healthcare personnel. Regarding quarantine for close contacts, vaccinated individuals who have not received their booster shots must now quarantine for five (5) days when they are exposed. University protocols will be modified to maintain compatibility with changing local, state, and national guidance.
- Pre-Arrival Testing Requirements and Testing Cadences: Please review the updated testing protocols so that you have sufficient lead time to comply with the pre- and post-arrival testing requirements for your group (e.g., undergraduate residential, etc.). If you are currently outside of the Boston/Cambridge area, please get tested prior to your return travel to ensure you are not putting others at risk of infection while in transit.
- Report COVID-19 Symptoms or a Positive Non-Harvard COVID-19 Test: Please review the latest instructions for reporting to HUHS if you have symptoms or a positive result on a non-Harvard test.
- Gatherings, Events, and Visitors: The University will continue to update guidance regarding size and other logistics for gatherings and events, as well as protocols for visitors to campus, based on the public health situation.
- Workplace Policies: As we reported in December, the University’s coronavirus workplace policies remain in place through April 1, 2022. We will continue to update support for our employees, as needed.
- Harvard-related Travel: If you’re planning Harvard-related travel, domestic or international, in the next few weeks, we urge you to consider whether it is necessary at this time and cannot be postponed. If you must travel, you are required to satisfy the University’s COVID-19 vaccination and booster requirements. In addition, please review the University’s travel guidance for more information and register all international travel in advance.
- Service and Operations Disruptions: Across the broader community, we can anticipate disruptions in healthcare and other sectors due to high COVID-19 case numbers among staff. While we develop plans to manage potential disruptions of University services and operations, we ask your patience in the coming weeks.
COVID-19 Booster Verification
As we announced in December, Harvard will require COVID-19 boosters for all community members who are eligible, including students, faculty, staff, and researchers. Here are the details:
- Booster Deadline: Verification of your COVID-19 booster is required by January 31. If you are not yet eligible to receive the booster, your deadline will be 30 days after you become eligible. Individuals who received their primary vaccine series outside the United States should seek a booster with any WHO-approved vaccine that is available to them. Mixing of brands is acceptable. If you have an approved exemption, you will not need to submit additional documentation but should remember that lack of vaccination increases risk for infection and medical complications.
- Schedule Your Booster: If you haven’t already received your booster, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. Visit vaxfinder.mass.gov or vaccines.gov to learn about availability in your area. If you are unable to get a booster before you return, you will not be barred from entering campus. You will, however, be expected to arrange for the booster as soon as possible. HUHS plans to offer booster clinics in the coming weeks. Please check the University’s Vaccine Information webpage for details.
- Submit Your Verification: You can verify your booster dose by visiting the HUHS Patient Portal as you did for your vaccine verification. Detailed directions for submitting your COVID-19 booster verification to HUHS appear on the University’s Verify Your Vaccination webpage.
To the many Harvard staff, faculty, and researchers who worked during the winter recess to implement plans altered by the pandemic, we are grateful for your ongoing efforts. To our students, thank you for your flexibility, patience, and understanding. Two years into this pandemic, we continue to adapt and overcome the challenges it places before us. Thanks to your resilience and commitment, we are able to move forward with an on-campus spring semester.
We look forward to welcoming everyone back to campus soon.
Lawrence S. Bacow
Alan M. Garber
Executive Vice President
Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services