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Staying Vigilant Amid Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Dear Harvard Community Members,

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have asked a lot of our community members. Many of us have shifted our offices, classrooms, and study areas into our homes; others who are on campus have changed the way we interact with our colleagues and friends. We are exceedingly grateful for all you have done in the face of this pandemic; thanks to your efforts, we have been able to largely limit the spread of the virus across our community.

Still, the risk remains. COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Massachusetts, across the country, and indeed among our own community members. It is critically important that we remain vigilant. In fact, we have already heard from increasing numbers of students, faculty, and staff who have reported exposure to infected persons within their households and extended family.

Many of you have been getting viral testing on a regular basis. This is a critical piece of the prevention puzzle, but I must emphasize that testing alone is not sufficient to keep the pandemic at bay. A recent negative test is not a license to drop our guard with respect to distancing and face coverings.

I know that many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue. It has been a long road. But, now as much as ever, it is crucial that we continue practicing the preventive behaviors that have helped to keep our communities safe to this point.

  • Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth whenever you are in public, on campus, or in the presence of people who are not in your immediate household.
  • Maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household, regardless of whether anyone is wearing a mask.
  • Get a flu shot if you haven’t gotten one already this season.
  • Wash your hands after touching anything that other people have touched, before and after eating or touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Keep the number of people with whom you interact closely in-person to a minimum (1-5 people total in a given week).
  • Socialize outdoors. If you must meet with others indoors, keep the windows open.
  • When socializing, wear masks, maintain distance, and avoid eating together.
  • Keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have revised their definition of “close contact” as it pertains to coronavirus. Whether or not masks are used, multiple short interactions under 6 feet can still qualify as a close contact if those interactions add up to 15 minutes during a 24-hour period.
  • Even as we enter the holiday season, limit travel as much as possible. Staying home is the safest way to keep you, your family, and your community safe. If you do travel, please read our post-travel COVID-19 testing and quarantine policy.
  • Celebrate the holidays virtually, or outdoors if you do decide to meet in person. Here is some advice for lower-risk holiday celebrations from the CDC.

Throughout the last eight months, it has been heartwarming to see how Harvard community members have selflessly adapted their study and work in support of the University’s academic mission, and in keeping friends and colleagues safe. It has not been easy, yet, collectively, we have continued to move forward, albeit in ways many of us might not have imagined prior to last March. Undoubtedly, you’ve read news reports of two successful COVID-19 vaccine clinical studies, and while there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, we are not there yet. We must maintain our efforts, and our ongoing resourcefulness in how we do our work, in order to keep our community safe.

My sincere gratitude in advance, and my best wishes for a healthy holiday season.


Giang T. Nguyen, MD, MPH, MSCE, FAAFP
Henry K. Oliver Chair of Hygiene
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services