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Harvard Will Move Ahead with In-Person Spring Semester Despite Rising Covid Cases

Harvard will move forward with an in-person spring semester despite a rise in Covid-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Harvard will move forward with an in-person spring semester despite a rise in Covid-19 cases driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Cara J. Chang and Isabella B. Cho, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: January 5, 2022 at 12:21 p.m.

Harvard will move forward with an in-person spring semester even as Covid-19 cases soar around the United States.

The University announced Tuesday it would require affiliates to receive booster shots by Jan. 31, but said the spring semester will proceed as scheduled — even in the face of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

In an email to Harvard affiliates Tuesday afternoon, University President Lawrence S. Bacow and other top administrators wrote that they “expect to have large numbers of cases at Harvard,” but the protection provided by widespread vaccination diminishes risk of serious illness.

“Although the transmissibility of Omicron presents new challenges, we are confident that by minimizing contact, masking, distancing, and testing regularly, we can maintain a safe academic, research, and work environment for everyone,” the administrators wrote.

Classes are scheduled to begin on Jan. 24.

For the first two weeks of the term, the University will restrict all on-campus dining to “grab-and-go” options and limit the size of indoor gatherings, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay wrote in a follow-up email Wednesday.

The announcement comes after several peer universities changed spring semester plans due to Omicron. Yale, Columbia, and Stanford all moved classes online for two weeks, with Yale delaying the start of its spring semester by one week.

Harvard announced last month it would move to remote operations for the first three weeks of January, prior to the start of the spring term. Harvard also closed home athletic events to the public through Jan. 23.

Cases have continued to surge on campus over winter break, even with most students gone for winter break. More than 610 affiliates have tested positive over the past seven days — a 5.07 percent positivity rate. Faculty, staff, and other Harvard affiliates make up the bulk of cases — over 68 percent of positive tests. Over 180 Harvard employees tested positive on Jan. 3, the first day after winter break for University staff.

The administrators said Tuesday that affiliates will be required to verify their Covid-19 boosters on the Harvard University Health Services Patient Portal by Jan. 31. Individuals who are not yet eligible for boosters must provide verification of their booster shot within 30 days of eligibility.

“If you are unable to get a booster before you return, you will not be barred from entering campus,” the administrators wrote Tuesday. “You will, however, be expected to arrange for the booster as soon as possible.”

HUHS plans to offer booster clinics in the coming weeks. Affiliates who previously received an exemption from the school’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate will not be required to submit further documentation.

The University also updated its isolation policies to match recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Affiliates who test positive but are asymptomatic may end isolation after five days, but must then wear a mask at all times for an additional five days.

Vaccinated affiliates who have not received the booster must quarantine for five days after close contact with an infected individual, per the Tuesday email.

Starting on Jan. 23, residential students in the College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who test positive for the virus will isolate in their place of residence rather than moving to designated isolation housing.

“This isolation model responds to the lower severity of symptoms of Omicron infection among vaccinated and boosted individuals, and its high transmissibility,” Gay wrote Wednesday.

The University’s coronavirus workplace policies, which include partial pay and benefits for some idled workers, will also remain in effect through April 1.

Individual Harvard schools will publish their own detailed plans for approaching the in-person semester, the administrators wrote.

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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