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HUHS Director Nguyen Says No Additional Mandates Despite Campus Spike in Illnesses

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen warned students about high rates of respiratory illnesses on campus.
Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen warned students about high rates of respiratory illnesses on campus. By Delano R. Franklin
By Alex Chou and Camilla J. Martinez, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen warned students about high rates of respiratory illnesses on campus but said there are no plans to mandate additional booster shots in an interview with The Crimson on Friday.

According to Nguyen, the number of flu cases has increased more than twenty-fold last month compared to January 2023 — from three to 70. Moreover, the number of reported Covid-19 positive cases has risen to 16 last month, compared to 11 in January 2023.

“We’ve been seeing a substantial amount of respiratory illness across campus, and this includes students as well as employees of the University getting viral illnesses,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said he anticipates “some dropping of rates as we move further into springtime,” but that “we are here now at a point where we do have high rates.”

Despite the increase in respiratory illnesses on campus, Nguyen said HUHS does not see a need to return to some of the University’s earlier Covid-19 mandates.

“We don’t have any current plans to add additional mandates at this time, but we are very strongly encouraging folks who are eligible for the booster to get it,” Nguyen said.

“What we see is that people who would get infected, after having already been vaccinated, will have less severe illness,” he added.

Affiliates under the Student Health Insurance Plan are now eligible for unlimited outpatient appointments outside of HUHS and outside of CAMHS. Beginning Feb. 1, HUHS removed visit limits for outpatient mental health care and medical consultations.

“When we had these limits, it was not a significant number of students who approached those limits, let alone exceeded those limits,” he said.

Still, Nguyen said there was some student interest “in seeing us change these policies” and a “recognition that the last several years have been challenging, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.”

“We felt that for those students who do get to that point, we don’t want that to be a barrier,” he added.

This semester Harvard will launch the National College Health Assessment at Harvard, a survey that will “evaluate health and well being health-related behaviors,” according to Nguyen. The survey will be sent via email starting on Feb. 26 and will remain open through the first week of March.

CAMHS Chief Barbara Lewis said during an interview that CAMHS is making strides with increased hiring and greater staff diversity.

“We’re really looking at our mission and our vision of services in CAMHS,” Lewis said. “Our target was to increase the diversity of staff up to 65 percent and we are at about 60 percent right now.”

“We have pretty good representation of the student body, but not completely,” Lewis added.

Lewis said a diversity working group within CAMHS has been “driving this change over the past 18 months.” Those efforts have included diversifying recruitment strategies as well as staff training on cultural psychiatry, cultural humility, and cultural competence.

Lewis said that with six full-time clinical access coordinators, CAMHS has same-day availability for initial consultations.

“There is no wait time,” she said.

Additionally, all active registered Harvard students with the student health fee coverage have access to TimelyCare, a teletherapy and health coaching platform. According to Lewis, “70 percent of their staff represent diverse populations,” and approximately 17 percent of the Harvard student body has registered for TimelyCare, culminating in more than 9,000 visits.

—Staff writer Alex Chou can be reached at alex.chou@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Camilla J. Martinez can be reached at camilla.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @camillajinm.

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Student LifeUHSHealthMental Health