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Harvard Counts Four Positive COVID-19 Cases As Others Who Report Symptoms Go Untested

Harvard has identified four affiliates who tested positive for the coronavirus, though tests remain scarce nationwide.
Harvard has identified four affiliates who tested positive for the coronavirus, though tests remain scarce nationwide. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Fiona K. Brennan and Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard has identified four University affiliates who have tested positive for COVID-19, though several undergraduates reported in interviews that, despite experiencing symptoms of the disease, they have been unable to get results amid a nationwide test shortage.

The four positive and “presumptive positive” cases include those tested by Harvard University Health Services as well as people who self-reported their test results, according to an HUHS website last updated Wednesday.

One Harvard undergraduate, who requested anonymity out of privacy concerns, said she went to a hospital near her home on Sunday with symptoms including a cough, shortness of breath, headaches, and fatigue. A doctor told her she likely had COVID-19, but said her symptoms were not severe enough to merit admission to the hospital and testing, according to the student. The student also said the doctor prescribed an inhaler for her asthma and sent her home to self-isolate for 14 days.

HUHS has advised Harvard affiliates to report if they have been tested for COVID-19. Still, COVID-19 tests are in short supply in much of the United States, and as a result many patients experiencing symptoms go without an official diagnosis.

The student, who did not receive a test, texted her resident tutor Monday morning to inform them of the situation. She said she was uncertain if the tutor or other Harvard officials took further action. The tutor did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that HUHS does not comment on individual cases, but the University shapes its policies regarding coronavirus using public health guidelines.

“HUHS addresses each case based on the unique characteristics of the situation at hand,” he wrote. “HUHS’s decisions and recommendations are based upon the latest guidance of the CDC, as well as state and local departments of public health. External guidance changes rapidly in response to the science and the available resources in this public health emergency, so the advice from HUHS may also evolve over time.”

Another Harvard College student, who also requested anonymity out of privacy concerns, said she went to HUHS three times last week with a fever and soreness. That student, who said she tested negative for the flu, said no one she saw at HUHS raised coronavirus as a concern.

On her third visit to HUHS, the student said a doctor advised her to go to Mount Auburn Hospital for further testing. Upon arrival, the student said doctors immediately isolated her out of concern she might have had COVID-19.

The student criticized HUHS for prompting her to pay for a ride to the hospital and for a $100 copay for the visit to the emergency room. She said HUHS contacted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health asking if she qualified for a COVID-19 test but did not update her on her status.

The student also said HUHS did not give her clear advice regarding whether she should quarantine on campus or board her scheduled flight. She said she has not received a COVID-19 test as of Wednesday.

The rising number of cases at Harvard comes as states including Massachusetts, which now has at least 218 recorded cases of COVID-19, take drastic steps to help curb the spread of coronavirus. The state closed public schools through April 6 , limited gatherings to 25 people, and prohibited on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants through April 6.

As of Wednesday evening, at least 8,260 cases of COVID-19 and 147 deaths were reported in the U.S.

—Staff writer Fiona K. Brennan can be reached at fiona.brennan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @fionabrennan23.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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