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Online Classes are Back in Business at HBS

By Daniel J. Kwon
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

What we’ve been hoping would never happen again just did: Last Thursday, Harvard announced that the Business School would move classes online for all first-year and some second-year MBA students for a week — beginning on September 27 — due to a significant increase in Covid-19 cases at the school. Today marks what is hopefully their last day of online school.

This move appears warranted. The Business School had close to 60 students holed up in isolation when the choice was made. Despite making up 9 percent of Harvard’s student population, HBS students, mostly first-years, accounted for two-thirds of Covid cases among students in September — a development which has been attributed to off-campus social gatherings featuring unmasked intermingling among students. This is 12 times the positivity rate at Harvard’s other schools, including the College, which dealt with its own more modest spike in Covid-19 cases earlier this fall.

This step backward is also a bit scary. We don’t even want to imagine our classes being pushed back online, adding to the pain and disruption this dragging pandemic has already wrought. HBS’s brief move back online is a jarring reminder that Covid-19 is still very much with us. We must take this as an indication that we all need to act responsibly with regard to protecting ourselves and others from Covid-19 — even outside of our classes and official university events, and even when no one is watching.

Harvard’s decision to move classes online for a single week at the Business School is a tactful response, and its tailored nature a tremendous source of relief. The choice is indicative of the University’s capacity for a nimble, proportional action in response to a change in circumstance. It also suggests that we have learned a lot in the past 18 months about how to respond to Covid-19, with a greater understanding of what is necessary to curb a rise in cases: ratcheting up our testing cadences and de-densifying where possible while preserving the residential experience. We’re also pleased with Harvard’s cooperation with local government officials to ensure that this outbreak does not spread into the city of Cambridge or beyond. This week of online classes came after local and state public health officials advised it. All of these short-term measures promise to bring about long-term gains — both for our own peace of mind, and for the actual protection of our community.

Covid-19 requires a constant re-calibration of our behavior. In this new phase of the pandemic, we should anticipate sputters of covid cases even among our highly vaccinated community. When case counts rise, we must adjust. It’s not at all obvious what the correct calibration is, and each person will have a different level of comfort or lack thereof with social interaction. Still, we hope that the ballooning of cases we’ve witnessed at the Business School leads to a greater awareness that Covid-19 is still a threat to our university experiences and health, and might discourage reckless behavior.

We also believe that the situation at the Business School speaks to the continued importance of Covid-19 testing on campus. HBS students were previously testing for Covid weekly; now that cadence has been upped to every other day. The same exact upping of test cadences was mandated for undergraduates after our own Covid spike following move in; since its implementation, cases have been down. The University should consider getting ahead of outbreaks that may crop up in its other schools and institute thrice weekly testing for all Harvard schools if feasible.

The University should also find a way to make it immediately clear to its students and affiliates where the positive cases within Harvard are originating from. Instead of aggregating all graduate students into one category in the school’s public Covid-19 testing dashboard, Harvard should specify which graduate school these positive cases are traversing. This information would allow all students at the University to make more informed decisions about their own conduct and interactions across campus.

As much as we wish it weren’t the case, Covid-19 is still a threat. It’s important that we continue to act responsibly, react quickly, and do all that we can to prevent the spread of the virus on campus — not only for the safety of our community, but also to protect the sanctity of our in-person experience. We wish our peers across the river a good last day of virtual classes.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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