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HUHS Director Giang Nguyen Praises Spring Covid-19 Policies

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen praised the University's spring semester Covid-19 policies — which now require students to isolate in their dorms and conduct their own contact tracing — at a faculty meeting Tuesday.
Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen praised the University's spring semester Covid-19 policies — which now require students to isolate in their dorms and conduct their own contact tracing — at a faculty meeting Tuesday. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen praised the University’s spring semester Covid-19 policies — which now require students to isolate in their dorms and conduct their own contact tracing — at a faculty meeting Tuesday.

Before the change in protocol last month, the University conducted contact tracing and provided isolation housing for students who tested positive for Covid-19. In response, some students said they are apprehensive about the shift in policy amid a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers also filed a grievance with the University last month over the updated Covid-19 guidelines, listing among its demands the need to restart isolation housing for undergraduates.

Nguyen said during Tuesday’s faculty meeting that despite initial “trepidation” about the new policies, the isolate-in-place policy seems to be “working very well,” adding that not “forcing students” into separate housing contributes to better mental health among students.

“When you have a highly vaccinated community as we do, the risk of severe illness is that much less,” Nguyen said. “We can really start implementing these types of changes in a way that maintains safety because we know we have a vaccinated community.”

According to Nguyen, the majority of those on campus will be exposed to Omicron, but masking will prevent most from contracting the virus.

Nguyen also noted that Harvard’s positivity rate has decreased since last month’s surge in cases but has not yet returned to the lower rates of the previous semester. During the first week of January, Harvard reported a record-breaking 977 positive cases.

Within the last week, 267 Harvard affiliates tested positive for Covid-19, marking a positivity rate of 0.74 percent, according to Harvard’s Covid-19 dashboard.

In a November interview before the Omicron-driven surge, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said Harvard would be working to unmask in indoor spaces in the spring. However, Nguyen reiterated Tuesday that although the University will eventually make masking and testing optional, “we’re not there right now.”

Following Nguyen’s presentation, faculty also voted 98 percent in favor of making the College’s temporary privacy policy permanent in the 2022-2023 student handbook. The privacy policy prohibits students from publishing or distributing course material without written permission from the instructor.

The remainder of the meeting was dedicated to discussing whether college degree credit should be conferred for summer school courses offered remotely.

Prior to the pandemic, students could only take summer courses for credit if they were taught in person. Last summer, the Standing Committee on Educational Policy passed a temporary authorization for remote course credit.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh said during the meeting that this temporary policy, in addition to other factors such as the College's move to provide summer courses to some students for free, had a “striking” effect on summer school enrollment — nearly twice as many students took summer school courses last year.

The faculty will vote on the permanent policy at next month’s faculty meeting.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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