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HUHS Retires Covid-19 Self-Reporting and Contact Tracing Programs as Cambridge Cases Rise

Harvard University Health Services announced it would end some of its last remaining Covid-19 precautions last month, even as cases in the Boston area continue to rise.
Harvard University Health Services announced it would end some of its last remaining Covid-19 precautions last month, even as cases in the Boston area continue to rise. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Alexander I. Fung, Crimson Staff Writer

Amid rising Covid-19 cases in the Boston area, Harvard University Health Services retired its contact tracing team and Crimson Clear application last month, drawing mixed reactions from students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated Cambridge Thursday as being in the “High Covid-19 Community Level” following a rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. The Boston area has also seen a surge in Covid-19 positivity rates and viral levels in wastewater in the last month.

In an email sent to Harvard affiliates last Thursday, HUHS Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen recommended that affiliates receive the latest booster, mask indoors and on public transportation, wash their hands well, and test immediately after or before arriving on campus. Nguyen also advised those traveling from China, Hong Kong, or Macau to prepare for testing, as required by the CDC.

Before Dec. 22, 2022, students reported Covid-19 symptoms and positive tests through the Crimson Clear application and received instructions on health precautions and isolation procedures from the program.

Harvard’s Crimson Clear program and contact tracing teams are the latest measures to be retired from HUHS, punctuating a year in which Harvard steadily wound down its Covid-19 restrictions.

In January 2022, Harvard ended isolation housing for students who tested positive for Covid-19, and required students to inform close contacts themselves rather than through HUHS's contact tracing team. In May, Harvard stopped requiring regular Covid-19 testing from affiliates and in September, Harvard stopped offering free PCR tests to affiliates.

Harvard still requires that on-campus students receive the latest Covid-19 booster shot.

An HUHS spokesperson wrote in an email that the HUHS website includes guidance for those who test positive for Covid-19. HUHS continues to follow state and local Covid-19 data and is prepared to update Harvard’s guidelines if needed, the spokesperson added.

Still, some students are concerned that with the rollback of Harvard’s Covid-19 precautions, the University is not well-prepared to mitigate the spread of the virus in the spring semester.

“Given the rise in Covid cases, Harvard should not be eliminating its albeit already limited resources,” Melissa Shang ’25 said.

Shang, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, is at increased risk for Covid-19 and said Crimson Clear helped her obtain a Paxlovid prescription after she reported a positive test.

“I think that Harvard is operating under the assumption that given that the new variants are more mild, mass infection is fine, and that it’s just going to be like a cold or like a flu for most students,” Shang said. “However, there are many high-risk students and others who are like me, and Harvard should be ensuring that we have options to keep ourselves safe too.”

Matthew Chang ’23 said Crimson Clear and the contact tracing team provided “peace of mind” that there were protocols in place to prevent people from getting sick and to guide those who do. He added that a more relaxed mindset around Covid-19 would undermine attempts to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I feel like people are already in the mindset of, ‘Covid is not even a real thing anymore,’” Chang said.

Not all students think the retirement of the programs leaves Harvard underprepared. Fred W. Larsen ’24 described the programs’ retirement as “very good,” adding that Covid-19 is “a thing much like the flu that will be going around forever.”

Larsen also lauded the social benefits of reduced Covid-19 precautions.

“Large amounts of in-person socialization is really paramount to the Harvard experience,” Larsen said. “I’m glad that the University has acknowledged that it’s not worth sacrificing in-person social experiences to try to control your exposure to a virus with minimal risks to your health.”

Sebastian R. Feune ’25 said while Harvard has been “able to adapt relatively well” to the Covid-19 pandemic, the contract tracing and self-reporting programs lowered stress by providing guidance to students.

“Knowing Harvard students and how hard they push themselves, it can be daunting to have to deal with potential Covid-19 concerns,” Feune said. “There are people who may feel like this is added stress, and that they have to handle it themselves.”

—Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at alexander.fung@thecrimson.com.

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