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When It Comes to Covid Cases, Harvard Should Draw a Line In The Sand

By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

In light of last week’s uptick in Covid cases, Harvard abruptly postponed Crimson Jam: a large, outdoor concert that, right up to its cancellation, we really believed would be a safe-enough moment of unmasked revelry.

The deja vu of it all made the cancellation, reasonable as it was, sting. Many of us remember the throng of last-minute event cancelations that preceded our campus evacuation in March 2020. Crimson Jam’s postponement and the administrative communication that followed brought a previously far-fetched thought to the forefront of many of our minds: If Covid cases continue to rise through the winter months — if the end of the tunnel keeps extending — could we be forced to evacuate campus again?

In the words of B.o.B, we could really use a wish right now.

Harvard, please don’t send us home. Not again. And especially not without letting us know what it would take to get there.

A recent flurry of emails from Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair makes it clear that restrictions on campus will fluctuate with caseloads. The University is trying to adapt to “changing conditions” as positive tests mount. Administrators emphasized that the success of “our campus strategy” hinges on community compliance with rules put in place to reduce transmission. Partying was singled out as an affront to this strategy; testing cadences were increased in response. Most pacifying to us, the University took time to reaffirm its commitment to doing everything possible to maintain the in-person academic experience in these emails.

We feel the exact same way — and we’re terrified of the alternative.

Our trepidation makes sense. Our previous move-out experience was brutal, abrupt, and disruptive. The thought of having to flee, pick our lives back up again, and lose another year of college to Covid is beyond scary. The administration should anticipate this unease, and ought to help us navigate it. We need clear guidance on what exactly it would take for us to be sent back home.

This metric for a move back home could take the form of a variety of numbers: Daily positivity rates, number of severe cases, even student compliance statistics. It needs, above all, to be a specific, easily trackable threshold that we know we must cross before being thrust back to our childhood bedrooms. The measure would, ideally, also offer intermediate cautionary measures that correspond with these specific quantitative numbers.

In determining appropriate reactive guidelines, we urge the administration to consider its actions broadly: Where does Harvard stand in the context of other colleges’ Covid responses? And, more importantly, how does our response square with the public health situation and guidance of Cambridge and Boston?

Current University-published Covid numbers are not nearly enough. As of yesterday evening, the University reported 76 new cases over the past seven days. But what do those numbers really mean? We simply don’t know. This number of cases back in the spring amongst an unvaccinated campus would have been a nightmare — but now with the help of Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J, the game has changed. In order to make sense of this number, we need greater specificity regarding infections, including rates of severe illness and breakthrough infections.

A clear, metrics-based framework for where we might be headed would allow the student body to keep an eye on current numbers with a sense of how close we are to a move-out or to more severe restrictions. That knowledge alone would prove extremely reassuring and likely encourage students to adopt safer behaviors, knowing what may come if they don’t. The colored reopening system Harvard rolled out during the 2020-2021 school year functioned similarly. Good behavior led to a move to a less restrictive campus. In this new phase of the pandemic, we need a similar carrot to nudge us toward good behavior.

If we are treated like adults who can peek into the decision-making process, we must act accordingly. We need to abide by campus Covid regulations as strictly as possible. Parties, for example, have already been identified as a key source of transmission; for the community’s sake, we need to think twice about attending them.

None of us want to be sent home. The College needs to reaffirm that campus-wide eviction remains the absolute last resort, and offer a clear boundary that we can’t afford to cross.

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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