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College Moves Forward with Spring Semester Plans Despite Covid-19 Surge

Harvard plans to proceed with its spring semester plans despite mounting nationwide cases of Covid-19, administrators informed students on Monday.
Harvard plans to proceed with its spring semester plans despite mounting nationwide cases of Covid-19, administrators informed students on Monday. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid skyrocketing nationwide case counts of Covid-19, Harvard administrators announced Monday that the College is cautiously moving forward with welcoming increased numbers of students back to campus for the spring semester.

In December, Harvard College announced that it would expand on-campus living to prioritize seniors, juniors who were enrolled in fall 2020, and students with learning environment needs.

Writing to all University affiliates Monday morning, University President Lawrence S. Bacow cited “record high numbers of cases worldwide and in the United States” as cause for caution and increased flexibility for spring plans.

“Those plans depend on the status of the pandemic and may need to change if the situation continues to deteriorate,” Bacow wrote. “Each School has developed contingency plans and will be in touch with more specific information as spring term approaches."

Within the past two weeks, Massachusetts has seen a 55 percent increase in its average daily case count, with 5,656 new cases reported in the Commonwealth on Jan. 10.

In a follow-up email to undergraduate students Monday afternoon, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote that the College intends to “move forward with the residential plans for Spring 2021.”

Though roughly half of the undergraduate student body had been invited to return to campus for the spring semester, Khurana wrote that the number of students living on campus would not significantly increase from the fall, when only freshmen and select upperclassmen were offered housing.

“While we were at a 25% residential density in the fall, we expect only a modest increase in the spring to about 30% residential density,” Khurana wrote.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to provide specific numbers on enrollment or the residential population for the spring.

A December survey by the Harvard College Open Data Project found that just 50 percent of seniors and 40 percent of juniors intended to live in Harvard’s dorms in the spring.

In his email, Khurana urged students to “carefully read and adhere to” public health measures, including mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand-washing. In addition, the College’s precautions for residential students include frequent Covid-19 testing and daily Crimson Clear attestations to affirm that students are not experiencing symptoms of the virus.

Since June 1, 2020, the University has seen 31 undergraduate and 136 graduate students test positive for the coronavirus, per Harvard’s official testing dashboard.

Still, Khurana emphasized the ever-changing nature of the public health emergency, writing that the College would “adapt if needed” due to public health concerns. If the College were to alter its spring plans, Khurana wrote, administrators would “be in touch directly with students who are moving back to campus or who are already living on campus.”

Bacow also encouraged Harvard affiliates in his email to get vaccinated when eligible. He stated that Harvard University Health Services is “in close contact with state officials” to ensure that vaccines are available “as quickly as possible.”

“For the time being, each of us must remain vigilant,” Bacow added.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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