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Harvard Undergraduates Tackle Week-Long Quarantine After Arrival on Campus

A student picks up a COVID-19 test in the Science Center tent.
A student picks up a COVID-19 test in the Science Center tent. By Aidan F. Ryan
By Sydnie M. Cobb, Crimson Staff Writer

The interval between undergradute move-in days and the first week of classes is usually filled with students bustling in Harvard Yard, friends reuniting over meals in the dining halls, and freshmen eagerly learning how to navigate campus.

This year, however, undergraduates who are living on campus spent most of this period sitting inside their dorm rooms during the College’s week-long mandatory quarantine period.

Orlee G. Marini-Rapoport ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, said she spent the initial 24-hour phase of quarantine scrolling through Twitter and FaceTiming friends and family to stay busy. Despite being eager to leave her room, Marini-Rapoport said she understood that the quarantine was a necessary step to “keep the community safe.”

“I knew this would be difficult because last year I didn’t spend any time in my room. I would consider a day in my room to be really sad, since it’s not what I wanted to be doing in college,” Marini-Rapoport said. “But I think we need to have strict norms like this as a community to keep everyone safe. And not just for keeping students safe but for keeping staff members and the Cambridge community safe, too.”

Students invited to live in residence — freshmen and a limited group of upperclassmen — were required to sign a residential “community compact” that provided guidelines for living on campus. The compact mandates that students on campus consent to a two-phased, week-long quarantine period. The first phase commences upon arrival, when students are ushered to tents on the Science Center Plaza to take their first coronavirus test.

After moving in, students are required to remain in their suites for 24 hours as they await their test results. If a student tests negative, they are then permitted to enter the second phase of quarantine, during which they may pick up food from the dining halls, go to the mailroom, and go outside alone or in socially-distanced pairs.

Though permitted to navigate campus, each student must still undergo routine testing every two to three days for the next week. The second phase ends once the student receives their third negative test result.

In July, administrators announced that the College would only allow up to 40 percent of the student body to campus in the fall due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. But as of August, administrators determined that only 25 percent of the student body would ultimately live on campus.

Lara Dada ’24 said she felt “a little intimidated” coming to campus for the first time but credits the kindness of other students for making her transition into college easier.

“I know a lot of people in my class are high-achieving and well-accomplished, and I was kind of nervous to see how that would translate into their personalities,” Dada said. “So far, every person I’ve met has been so kind and wonderful and open to talking. That’s made this whole process a lot better.”

Dada, who has completed both phases of quarantine, said she has managed to meet new people by striking up conversations with students in Harvard Yard and chatting with classmates over outdoor, socially-distanced meals.

Prashanth “PK” Kumar ’21 said that, though he did not envision starting his senior year without most of the senior class on campus, he feels “grateful” for each moment he gets to spend at Harvard.

“It’s tough because the people I’ve built such close relationships with and who became literally a part of my family aren’t on campus with me to enjoy our last year here,” Kumar said.

“Getting kicked off campus in March was hard for me, but then I imagined the seniors who didn’t get to say their final goodbyes to their classmates and teachers,” he added. “That made me super grateful for the moments I’m getting to have on campus.”

Kumar added that his experience on campus has been “positive” so far due to the “upbeat environment” fostered by administrators and Mather House’s team of tutors and faculty deans.

Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, who was one of many administrators who personally welcomed students to campus, pointed to the “energy, enthusiasm, and excitement” felt on campus during the move-in period.

“So many people across the College and University, particularly the planning team, the College's residential staff, and First Year Experience office, have been working all summer to welcome students back,” O’Dair wrote in an email. “Greeting students and parents on the plaza, in the houses, and in the dorms was for many of us across Harvard the highlight of our year.”

“Our message to students is that we are so glad you are here, and that we will navigate the semester together," she added.

—Staff writer Sydnie M. Cobb can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cobbsydnie.

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