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All three of Harvard’s schools at its Longwood campus have transitioned back to the primarily in-person instruction that is vital to the clinical curriculum, with administrators reporting that Covid-19 protocols there are effectively preventing transmission.
Harvard Medical School retained some of its in-person curriculum through hybrid formats throughout the pandemic, but has pivoted this semester to focus on teaching in person, according to Lisa M. Muto ’79, HMS executive dean of administration.
The number of Covid-19 cases at the Longwood campus is very low, and there has been “no evidence of on-campus transmission,” Muto said.
The Harvard School of Dental Medicine also maintained clinical instruction in person last year, and has successfully restored its full program on campus this semester.
“You can’t really teach dentistry unless it’s hands-on,” said Charles H. Frizzell, the Dental School’s dean for administration and finance.
“We haven’t really had any clusters at all — no transmission between practitioner and patient or vice versa, very nominal number of cases, and they tend to be something that happens outside,” Frizzell said. “It’s not really being transmitted here.”
At the School of Public Health — which went completely virtual last year — most classes are back in person, but some large classes have had to stay online, due to the limited number of large classrooms on the Longwood campus.
“All of our courses are on campus with the exception of a few very large ones, where we really don’t have classrooms large enough to accommodate them, so they continue to be online,” said Katie Hope, HSPH executive dean for administration.
Adherence to Covid-19 regulations, according to both administrators and students, has been high.
“[The low case rates are] due to people being compliant with the rules,” Muto said. “All of our policies are in alignment with University policies, and there is a real culture of safety in the science world.”
Julia Healey, a master’s student at HSPH, said students she knows are all taking mask and vaccination requirements seriously.
“It lets everyone feel a bit safer on campus to know that everyone’s adhering to those policies,” she said.
While the return to the classroom has largely gone smoothly, some students said they were less satisfied with Harvard’s handling of residential life on the Longwood campus. The only residential hall in Longwood is Vanderbilt Hall, which mostly houses first-year medical and dental students.
Masking is required in all hall spaces and students must test once a week. According to Marium M. Raza, a first-year medical student living in Vanderbilt, student lounges and communal kitchens were originally open to all in-residence students this semester, but in late August, they were locked and kitchens were restricted to two people at a time.
Raza, vice president of advocacy on HMS and HSDM’s student council, said she was told these restrictions resulted from some lack of compliance with masking.
Student representatives are “in conversations” with facilities staff about when those measures could be relaxed, she added.
Yoseph D. Boku ’21, president of the student council, wrote in an emailed statement that he believes procedures for reopening social spaces in Vanderbilt — where he also lives — have been unclear and lacked student input.
He also noted that first-year medical students living off-campus do not have access to Vanderbilt Hall, complicating any social event planning for first-year students.
Despite strict regulations in the residential hall, some noted there have been numerous opportunities to get to know their classmates better, albeit outside.
“I’m doing gatherings outside as well, which has been a lot of fun,” said Michael Friedman, a first-year dental student living in Vanderbilt.
Healey said she and many of her peers have enjoyed getting to see one another in person after a year of online classes.
“Everyone I’ve talked to, other students, have really enjoyed the environment of being back on campus, getting to do group work actually together in person,” she said.
Several Longwood students said they felt Harvard should be more clear in communicating Covid-19 protocols, especially with the patchwork of University, Boston, and hospital-specific guidelines students there have to follow.
“I feel with everything that’s happening and trying to do classwork, that if there was just one consistent [rule] across the board or policies that are across the board, that can be helpful,” Friedman said.
Tyler S. LeComer ’19, a second-year at the Medical School, said he believes the past virtual year has created a “major disconnect” between the HMS administration and his class. Last year, he said, the student government served as the only pipeline between students and administrators.
“From students to administration, there was no direct interaction like there would be in a typical year,” LeComer said. “I think that that is part of what made it difficult to get students and administration in the same room talking about what Covid regulations might look like.”
Administrators said the Longwood schools keep web pages up-to-date with the latest Covid-19 guidelines. Hope noted that though transparency and communication is important, school leaders have to respect people’s privacy and HIPAA rights.
Frizzell said the schools maintain “constant communication” with students amid the rapidly changing health situation.
“We take every opportunity we can to communicate because a lot of the rules have changed — they keep changing,” he said. “We try to get out the information as much as we can, without confusing everybody at the same time.”
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