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Classroom Protocols Effective at Preventing Covid-19 Transmission, HUHS Says

Harvard University Health Services touted its protocols as having prevented any transmission of Covid-19 in the classroom so far.
Harvard University Health Services touted its protocols as having prevented any transmission of Covid-19 in the classroom so far. By Delano R. Franklin
By Claire H. Guo, Crimson Staff Writer

The positivity rate for Covid-19 on Harvard’s campus dropped to 0.16 percent over the past week, and the University said it has yet to identify a positive case caused by transmission in the classroom.

Harvard University Health Services Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen touted the University’s “campus protection strategy” for combating Covid-19 in a Thursday interview with the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

In the interview, Nguyen said HUHS has not yet identified any case in which someone was infected through exposure in the classroom.

“At Harvard, we have created an environment for teaching and learning that enhances the safety of everyone involved, thanks to a range of preventive measures,” Nguyen said, citing frequent testing, mandatory indoor mask use, and comprehensive contact tracing.

HUHS has identified indoor social gatherings where people remove their masks as the greatest cause of transmission.

“In social settings, staying safe means keeping close contacts to a minimum, keeping your mask on, and planning outdoor events whenever possible,” Nguyen said.

Though a rash of Covid-19 cases among undergraduates at the start of the semester caused concern and led Harvard to implement more frequent testing, the positivity rate among College students has since declined. The overwhelming majority of positive cases over the past week have been identified in graduate students, according to Harvard’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Even though some classes are not conducive to social distancing, Nguyen explained that masking indoors is sufficient to prevent transmission.

“When everyone is properly masked, physical distancing is less critical than masking,” Nguyen said. “Medical experts on our advisory group have emphasized this point, noting the experience within clinical settings throughout the pandemic.”

While students have reported confusion over how to respond to contract tracing notifications, Nguyen advised those who are notified that there is “no need to panic.”

Nguyen said students who learn that they are a close contact should immediately submit an extra Covid test. If they are fully vaccinated and do not exhibit symptoms, they can continue to attend class but should avoid large social gatherings. If students who are notified they are a close contact develop symptoms or are not vaccinated, they should quarantine and notify HUHS.

Nguyen acknowledged the stress caused by Covid-19, and encouraged Harvard affiliates to prioritize their mental health.

“Taking care of yourself and each other goes beyond COVID safety protocols, too. The pandemic has brought with it added stress and anxiety to so many people,” Nguyen said. “Be kind and considerate with your fellow Harvard community members and reach out to a professional if you need help yourself.”

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

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