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Harvard is Lifting its Indoor Mask Mandate. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Harvard University released new plans for an optional masking policy beginning March 14.
Harvard University released new plans for an optional masking policy beginning March 14. By Cory K. Gorczycki
By Lucas J. Walsh and Vivian Zhao, Crimson Staff Writers

Just shy of two years after Covid-19 shuttered Harvard’s campus in 2020, the University announced it would lift one of its primary pandemic prevention measures — its strict indoor mask mandate.

The changes come even amid a surge in Covid cases among undergraduates. More Harvard College students tested positive for the virus last week than during any other seven-day period since the start of the pandemic.

The University announced the policy shift in a series of emails Monday morning. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming changes.

Why Now?

Starting March 14, the University will no longer require face coverings to be worn in most indoor spaces.

The announcement comes as Covid-19 cases in the Greater Boston area continue to drop. Massachusetts authorities have already lifted the state’s mask mandate, and the City of Cambridge announced last week that it will end its restrictions on the same day as Harvard.

But at Harvard, undergraduate cases have surged in recent weeks. In an email announcing the changes on Monday, administrators said that despite high case rates, very few affiliates have gotten seriously sick and none have been sent to the ICU.

In the emails announcing the changes, administrators stressed that students who wish to continue masking will be able to do so.

“Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or marginalized because they choose to wear a mask,” University administrators wrote to all Harvard affiliates Monday. “They should never feel obliged to explain the reasons for their decision.”

What Covid-19 Protocols will Stay in Place?

Individual schools and classrooms may still require mask-wearing, though it will no longer be mandated by the University. The school will continue to require masks in health care settings, on public transport, and at indoor gatherings that exceed 250 people.

Instructors at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were told to inform students by March 14 if they intend to continue to mandate mask-wearing in classrooms.

Students and faculty will also be required to conduct regular testing.

Affiliates who test positive must self-isolate for five days and continue to wear a high-quality mask with others for ten days.

Booster shots are required for all affiliates.

What About the Covid-19 Surge Among Undergraduates?

Harvard College’s high case rate is an outlier at the University. Over the last two weeks, undergraduate students have accounted for more than 79 percent of Harvard’s total case count.

Just after the University announced the changes to its mask requirements on Monday, the College sent out its own school-specific guidelines that include some stricter measures.

College students will not be allowed to gather in any indoor residential spaces for non-sponsored social gatherings until March 28. Housing Day festivities, which were already modified due to the pandemic, will continue as planned on Thursday.

The College also bumped the undergraduate testing cadence up from twice per week to three times per week. Students will also be required to test negative before leaving campus for spring break.

The policies will be reassessed on March 28 based on case counts and testing compliance.

—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at lucas.walsh@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Vivian Zhao can be reached at vivian.zhao@thecrimson.com

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