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Start of spring semester and return to campus

January 11, 2021

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

We begin 2021 looking forward to a new semester and to continued opportunities to advance the University’s teaching and research mission in innovative ways. We also find ourselves amid a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic that is leading to record high numbers of cases worldwide and in the United States, including here in Massachusetts. Last Thursday, more than 7,000 new infections were reported in the Commonwealth—nearly twenty-five times the number we saw when the fall semester was getting under way; some two-thirds of cities and towns are now considered high risk for transmission, and more contagious variants of COVID-19 are starting to take hold.

With this sobering reality in mind, we must prioritize the public health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and academic personnel. As you know, some of our Schools have announced that they intend to welcome back increased numbers of students to campus for spring semester. Those plans depend on the status of the pandemic and may need to change if the situation continues to deteriorate. We will continue to follow state and city regulations and to monitor key indicators, including University, local, and regional infection rates, as well as hospital capacity in the Greater Boston area. Each School has developed contingency plans and will be in touch with more specific information as spring term approaches.

We intend to do our part to ensure that the new vaccines, which promise to further limit the health risks of COVID-19, will be available as quickly as possible. HUHS is in close contact with state officials regarding their distribution. We will communicate plans as they become clearer, and we encourage you to get vaccinated when you are eligible. For the time being, each of us must remain vigilant. It is more important than ever to adhere to public health measures to flatten the curve and keep Harvard healthy. That means using masks consistently, following physical-distancing recommendations, and handwashing properly, whether you are on or off campus. Through these actions, as as well as daily Crimson Clear attestations and frequent testing, we have largely avoided disease transmission on campus.

Adaptation and restriction—and the relentlessness of COVID-19—are trying for all of us. Please know that we are so grateful to be part of a community that is mindful of the health and safety of its members and of our surrounding communities. We are deeply impressed with the work that you are undertaking, on campus and remotely, to advance our mission under strict safety measures, and we thank you for your continued patience and persistence.


Lawrence S. Bacow

Alan M. Garber

Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President

Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services