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As Students Vacate Campus Before Thanksgiving, Quarantines Keep Some Behind

A pedestrian walks through Harvard Yard in front of Sever Hall on a November morning.
A pedestrian walks through Harvard Yard in front of Sever Hall on a November morning. By Allison G. Lee
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

The majority of students living in residence this fall departed Harvard’s campus by the College’s fall move-out date on Sunday. Left behind, though, are a number of undergraduates who are quarantining and isolating on the empty campus into the holiday break.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email last week that Harvard’s protocols and “allow for and encourage” students in isolation and quarantine to remain on campus past the Nov. 22 move out date.

He added that if a student is sick, recently tested positive, or is in quarantine after suspected contact with someone who tested positive in the last 14 days, they should delay travel until their period of isolation or quarantine is complete, in accordance with current Center for Disease Control recommendations. The College is providing those undergraduates with housing, food, and daily testing.

In a follow-up email, Khurana also shared newly released information from the State of Massachusetts to higher education institutions regarding isolation and quarantine policy.

The revised Department of Public Health guidance states that students currently in quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure may leave after 10 days — instead of 14 days — if they are symptom-free and test negative on the eighth day of their quarantine or later. Students currently in isolation due to a positive COVID-19 test must remain sequestered until completing the 10-day isolation period.

Across the nation, people are weighing whether to reunite with family and friends for the holiday or to commit to social distancing guidelines. Warning that holiday travel could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the CDC advised people to stay put for Thanksgiving. It urged those who must travel to avoid contact with non-household members for 14 days prior.

When students signed the Residential Community Compact in order to return to campus this fall, they pledged to abide by all quarantine and isolation requirements, Khurana wrote.

“If you fail to observe quarantine or isolation requirements related to this updated guidance, you will be referred to the Community Council and may lose eligibility for housing in future terms,” he wrote. “If you are quarantining but it is necessary for you to leave campus, we want to remind you that anyone within the quarantine window can test positive at any point.”

Khurana also warned undergraduates that family members may be exposed to infection during transit or once they arrive at their home. He also reminded students that anyone traveling during this quarantine period should travel only by a private car driven by a family member and not a car service or rideshare or airplane or train or public transit.

Tresor M. Nshimiye ’24 — who is set to leave quarantine on Wednesday — said his family had planned to drive up from Ohio last Saturday and bring him home. But these plans were dashed when he was instructed to quarantine after an exposure to a student who tested positive for the virus. Now, he is no longer able to spend the holiday with his family.

“I really missed out on the opportunity to share a Thanksgiving meal,” he said. “It feels like campus is a ghost town.”

Audrey N. Kang ’24 said she was supposed to fly home on Sunday. But after she came in contact with a fellow student who tested positive for COVID-19, she had to cancel her flight and begin a period of quarantine, remaining on campus for that duration.

“None of us want to bring on the plane and none of us want to bring COVID-19 back to our families,” Kang said. “So even if the chances are low, I decided it’s still better to stay a little longer.”

Kang finished her 10-day quarantine period Tuesday after testing negative, but she said she chose to remain in quarantine for the full 14 days until Saturday due to the uncertainty of when she should book her new flight home.

Though Kang won’t spend Thanksgiving at home, she said she is excited to celebrate the holiday with her friends on campus.

“We have a friend who lives in the Boston area who will drop off turkey and stuff outside the dorms, and we’ll hang out on Zoom” she said. “We're gonna have a Harvard quarantine Thanksgiving!”

—Contributing writer Meimei M. Xu contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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