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Harvard’s Covid-Positives Deserve Better Support

By Peter N. Jones, Contributing Opinion Writer
Peter N. Jones ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Weld Hall.

UPDATED: Nov. 5, 2021 at 12:02 a.m.

For Harvard students who lose the Color Health Inc. Russian roulette and get a positive Covid-19 result, their anxieties do not end at contracting the infamous virus. Awaiting them is a maelstrom of confusing logistics, limited supplies, and virtually zero human interaction. Even more stress-inducing is the iron curtain that stands between them and their lecture halls, practically guaranteeing a week spent swimming against the academic current.

Harvard must establish better systems of support for its students who test positive for Covid-19. With its twice-a-week testing program, indoor mask mandate, and social gathering restrictions, the College has implemented a cohesive strategy for mitigating and tracking the virus. Once a student tests positive, however, it appears that Harvard’s careful plan of action falls apart.

Harvard University Health Services has — if crudely — established isolation housing in the Harvard Square Hotel and Cronkhite Graduate Center. Students are ushered to these locations upon receiving a positive test result and told to remain in place for 10 days, during which they may not come into contact with any humans, save for one health check-up per day.

A friend of mine, who spent a portion of September in the hotel after contracting Covid-19, shared with me that unpalatable food and loneliness characterized her isolation experience. So too did Sawyer Feller ’25, who told me he spent six days there before his rapid test result was deemed a potential false positive and he was released. He complained of constant hunger and added that his ration of over-the-counter cold medicine had been partially consumed by a previous resident when he arrived.

Moreover, The Crimson reported in early September that an isolated student was rushed to Mount Auburn Hospital for severe dehydration after their pleas for water went unheard (or perhaps ignored).

These issues of sustenance and emotional support reflect areas in which HUHS can make easy, quick, and impactful improvements to students’ 10-day sentences under their oversight. Just as pressing, however, is Harvard’s need to establish better academic support for students stuck in the hotel or Cronkhite.

As it stands, the University essentially tells students “good luck,” pats them on the back, and sends them on their way to catch up with schoolwork (all while potentially lonely, hungry, or dehydrated). A friend of mine expressed that they spent isolation stressed and confused, managing unresponsive professors and convoluted make-up assignments without any structured system of support whatsoever. Some classes refuse to provide recordings of their in-person lectures; few offer class notes or summaries to those whom Covid-19 bars from class.

Recovery doesn’t have to be this difficult for Covid-positive Harvard students. Princeton University, for one, has laid out an elaborate contingency plan through which they aim to ensure students in isolation can keep pace with their studies. “At a minimum, faculty should establish a standing Zoom link,” Princeton says of situations in which a member of a class tests positive.

Additionally, the University of Southern California maintains constant video-conferencing links for all its in-person classes, which are available if a student or faculty member contracts the virus.

The University may find it unappealing to organize a private Zoom-webinar inlet to its lectures and seminars; to do so might threaten the sanctity and artificial scarcity of its classes. For the same potential reason that Harvard arguably deflates its acceptance rate to confer exclusivity upon its academic resources, the University might balk at transmitting precious material through something as accessible as the internet. Still, the open appearance is a price worth paying, as Harvard students’ studies shouldn’t suffer due to medical reasons.

Those apathetic towards the needs of Covid-positive Harvard students might contend that an easy means of avoiding the isolation program is cautious behavior. Sure, students could stop partying indoors or eat their meals with the same two people every night, but the fact that Harvard has, by bringing students on campus, created a small yet unavoidable risk of contracting the virus obligates them to ensure that Covid-positive students have every support measure they need. A student could be hyper-cautious and still test positive, due perhaps to a dining-hall passerby or problem set partner. Thus, it is Harvard’s responsibility to guide its students through the isolation process while caring for their physical needs, emotional wellbeing, and academic success.

Peter N. Jones ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Weld Hall.

Correction: Nov. 5, 2021

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that as of Thursday, Oct. 28, 72 Harvard students were in isolation housing. In fact, there were only 6 College students in isolation on campus.

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