Confused About Harvard’s Covid-19 Guidelines For Fall 2021? Here’s a Guide.

As Harvard embarks on a return to in-person learning and on-campus living, the University has adjusted Covid-19 safety protocols for its vaccinated and larger student population.
By Claire H. Guo and Christine Mui

Masked students use laptops at the Smith Campus Center.
Masked students use laptops at the Smith Campus Center. By Santiago A. Saldivar

UPDATED: Sept. 2, 2021 at 1:35 p.m.

As Harvard embarks on a return to in-person learning and on-campus living, the University has adjusted Covid-19 safety protocols for its vaccinated and larger student population.

With the University-wide vaccination mandate in place, health guidelines vary most between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. As of Monday, 94 percent of employees and 92 percent of students have been inoculated against the coronavirus. The student vaccination rate is up from 87 percent on Aug. 18, before students moved in and international students were offered vaccines upon arrival.

Drawn from Harvard documents available online, here is an overview of Harvard’s updated Covid-19 guidelines for the fall semester:


All Harvard University affiliates are required to get fully vaccinated for Covid-19, except when provided an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Unvaccinated affiliates may need to follow additional guidelines, such as more frequent testing cadences.

Social Distancing

With a few exceptions, individuals are no longer required to follow distancing requirements, indoors or outdoors, though the University encourages those who are unvaccinated to physically distance when possible.


Indoors: Regardless of vaccination status, everyone is required to wear a mask indoors, except for a few exceptions. Those include when actively eating or drinking, spending time alone in a dorm, and visiting other residences where everyone is vaccinated.

Outdoors: While outdoors, unvaccinated individuals closer than six feet from others must wear a mask.


Harvard will continue to partner with health software company Color to provide testing kits and test results. Similar to previous semesters, individuals will self-swab and drop off samples at designated boxes throughout campus.

Unlike in the fall 2020 and spring 2021, Harvard will process tests at its own clinical lab instead of sending them through the Broad Institute. Harvard University Health Services said on its website that the new lab was created to "expand testing capacity to larger numbers of community members."


Vaccinated students, faculty, and staff: once per week

Unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff: twice per week

Students can view their testing schedule on their Color dashboard.


Negative: No additional action is required.

Unsatisfactory or Inconclusive: Individuals should submit another sample. Results may be unsatisfactory because the sample sat in a collection bin for too long, the tube cap came off, or other reasons.

Positive: Individuals should immediately minimize exposure to others. HUHS will reach out to explain next steps as well as conduct contact tracing.

Isolation and Quarantine

Isolation: Upon testing positive, affiliates will need to isolate into separate housing or in their own rooms, usually for at least 10 days.

Quarantine: Unvaccinated individuals who have been exposed to a positive case will be required to quarantine. Those who are exposed but fully vaccinated and asymptomatic do not have to move into isolation housing, including roommates of infected individuals. While in quarantine, they may grab and go with meals in the dining hall.

University Support: Harvard will conduct wellness checks, and provide academic support for those who are in isolation or quarantine.

The contact tracing and case investigation process remains the same from the past year.

Crimson Clear

Previously, Harvard required affiliates to complete a Crimson Clear form every day before entering a University facility. This semester, Harvard asks affiliates to fill out the form after experiencing symptoms, testing positive, or being exposed to Covid-19.

Outdoor Settings

There are no social distancing or mask requirements for fully vaccinated students while outdoors, including for outdoor performances and rehearsals.

Indoor Settings

Indoor gatherings inside residential dorms and houses are limited to 10 people. Capacity limits are lifted for larger gatherings, but they must be sponsored by Harvard and supervised.

Masks do not have to be worn while eating and drinking at indoor gatherings, although it is advised that attendees be notified beforehand if food and beverages are provided.

In libraries, students may temporarily remove masks to take a sip of water, but they must put it back on between sips.

In classrooms, students cannot remove their masks even to take a sip of water.

Masks are required for instructors in the FAS at all times indoors.

According to University-wide rules, which are superseded by school-specific policies, one professor or lecturer at a time can remove their mask in the classroom. They must keep a 6 feet distance from others, be fully vaccinated, and submit to Covid-19 testing twice a week. Before removal, they must announce to students: “In accordance with University guidance, the lecturer of this course will be removing their face covering for the purposes of instruction only. A distance of 6 ft from all class participants will be maintained at all times while unmasked. Per University policy, face coverings are required for all other classroom participants.”

For indoor rehearsals: performers are required to stay masked. They may only remove their masks on performance day if approved by their school, and while staying 6 feet apart and 14 feet away from the audience.

Any unmasked performers must be fully vaccinated and exhibit no Covid-19 symptoms. While vaccinated students are only subjected to weekly virus testing, performers must submit at least two tests per week.

Athletics and Fitness

Consistent with University mask rules, all outdoor activities may continue without face coverings if participants are vaccinated. Any club and intramural sports played indoors require participants to wear masks at all times.

While only some Harvard gyms and fitness centers remain open, the indoor face covering and distancing requirements still apply. The only exception is for pools, where masks are required to and from the locker room and encouraged on the pool deck.


Face coverings are required on all University vehicles, including shuttles and evening vans. The number of vehicle occupants may return to levels before the pandemic.

CORRECTIONS: September 2, 2021

A previous version of this article misstated the masking rules for instructors in classrooms. In the FAS, masks are required for instructors at all times indoors. University-wide rules allow for masks to be removed in certain situations, but these rules are superseded by school-specific policies.

A previous version of this article misstated the masking rules in libraries. Students may temporarily remove masks to take a sip of water in libraries, and put it back on between sips.

A previous version of this article misstated the dining rules for students in quarantine. They may grab and go from the dining hall.

A previous version of this article misstated the masking rules for brass or woodwind musicians. They must wear a mask at all times while rehearsing, but they may use slitted, instrument masks under certain conditions.

—Staff writer Claire H. Guo can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.

—Staff writer Christine Mui can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MuiChristine.

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