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Harvard students returned to Cambridge en masse over the last week to significantly-changed campus Covid-19 restrictions.
Grappling with the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the University now requires students who test positive for Covid to isolate in place — not in school-run isolation housing. It also stopped conducting contact tracing earlier this month, asking affiliates who test positive to notify their own close contacts of potential Covid exposure.
“The updates to guidance and protocols we have made recognize the unprecedented number of cases within our community,” Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen wrote in a Jan. 12 email to Harvard affiliates.
University administrators have said they expect cases to rise during the opening days of the semester. The school hasn't yet seen an overwhelming surge — but 425 affiliates have tested positive in the last seven days, according to the University's Covid-19 dashboard, compared to only 140 in the week after Thanksgiving break.
With most undergraduates just returning to Cambirdge, most cases this month have been among faculty, staff, and graduate students.
Harvard encouraged students to complete Covid-19 tests prior to arriving on campus. The tests, provided through Color Genomics, were mailed to students upon request.
Upon arriving on campus, undergraduate students were required to complete a rapid antigen test and then begin taking PCR swabs three times per week. Indoor social gatherings will be “limited in size” for at least the first two weeks of the spring term, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay wrote in a Jan. 5 email to Harvard affiliates.
The University provided students with HEPA filters in their dorm rooms and it will give out high-quality masks upon request.
Harvard will provide only grab-and-go meals for the first two weeks of the semester, leaving dining halls empty.
The University will also allow instructors to hold classes remotely for the first week of the semester.
The changes to campus public health guidelines come as the positivity rate in Cambridge sits at above 8 percent. More than 1,000 people have tested positive for the virus in the city over the last seven days, but cases have begun to fall from a peak in early January in both Cambridge and Boston.
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