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Most freshmen arrive at Harvard College eager to participate in orientation activities, from wilderness hikes to leadership training. But this fall, some spent their first few days on campus in isolation amid a spike in Covid-19 infections.
Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in the Greater Boston area since mid-July. But even as Harvard has slashed its Covid-19 restrictions, students said the virus has continued to have a disruptive effect on the beginning of the fall semester.
Harvard University Health Services Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen shared Covid-19 guidance with affiliates in an Aug. 25 email, encouraging them to take a rapid test before arrival on campus and follow CDC guidelines, which dictate isolating for five days after a positive test. According to Nguyen’s email, students can attend class if they test negative after exposure to Covid-19.
In a subsequent email sent to students and residential staff on Aug. 31, Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 wrote that Covid-19 tests would be “distributed upon individual request 1 at a time until the supply is exhausted” from house building manager offices.
Umaama Hussain ’27 tested positive at the start of freshman orientation, and she said the tight conditions in her room made it difficult to socially distance.
“I kept my door locked, and every time I left my room I put on a mask, but we’d obviously run into each other sharing the same common space and the bathroom,“ Hussain said. “So that was a bit tough.”
After testing positive for Covid-19, Hussain contacted her proctor, who sent her a list of instructions regarding self-isolation. Though Hussain said she found Harvard’s response to Covid-19 sufficient overall with guidelines that were “pretty clear cut,” she said it was difficult to obtain necessities while self-isolating.
“I wish there had been a bit more support in terms of just getting food and essentials to the dorm,” Hussain said.
Mirika Jambudi ’27, whose suitemate tested positive for Covid-19 early in the year, also reported difficulty social distancing in her dorm.
“In Wigg, the rooms are super small, so there’s not much I can do to avoid suitemate contact, and Harvard has no procedure for what to do with that,” Jambudi said.
In response to student criticisms of Harvard’s response, HUHS spokesperson Tiffanie A. Green pointed to Nguyen’s Aug. 25 email.
“COVID-19 continues to circulate both locally and nationally. Harvard University Health Services urges members of the community to adhere to the precautions detailed in the Fall semester public health message to protect themselves and others,” Green wrote.
Elizabeth S. Pollard ’27 was one of several students to test positive after participating in the First-Year Retreat Experience pre-orientation program. Testing positive during orientation meant Pollard was unable to take part in many events, including field day and First Chance Dance.
“I feel like I was able to adjust pretty well and pick up on everything,” Pollard said. “But it was definitely unfortunate to have to miss out on all of those activities.”
Mower Hall resident Chanden A. Climaco ’27, who tested positive at the start of the semester, said he believes Harvard’s current guidelines are enough to prevent the spread of Covid-19 “as long as people are adhering to them.”
“I haven’t looked at Covid guidelines in a while,” Climaco said. “It seems like this resurgence has been one of the first times I’m actually hearing of Covid in several months, and so looking at what the policies were and seeing that they weren’t two weeks of quarantine that will be enforced was maybe a little surprising, but I don’t have a take on whether it was good or bad necessarily.”
Jack A. Kelly ’26, who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, said he feels a “little bit of frustration” over how administrators and faculty have handled the fall uptick.
“I felt like there weren’t super well-defined Covid policies, that when I was talking with professors, it almost felt like I was asking for special treatment,” Kelly said. “You should never feel like you’re asking for special treatment — you're just asking for it to be recognized that you have Covid, that you’re going to be a little bit behind, and that you’re going to need some support catching up.”
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